A definitive and characteristic site at the heart of Manila, Intramuros is one of the must see places in the city, if not the whole country. Through the ramparts of this ancient walled town are centuries of history within the crumbling old buildings, shrines and monuments.
The beating heart of the Spanish colony, Intramuros is a living window into life during the early years of Manila’s inception. Here are some of the highlights of this impressive medieval quarter:
One of the major portals into Intramuros is the imposing Fort Santiago. The ancient battlement was built way back 1571 by the Spanish conquistadors, defending Manila from marauding Chinese pirates. The fort also served as a prison and torture chamber during the Second World War. Within the historic walls are memoirs of the past as well as other cultural attractions.
San Agustin Church
A recognised World Heritage Site since 1993, the San Agustin Church is best known for its European appeal and long history of destruction and rebuilding.
Beside the prominent religious landmark is a quaint little museum that features some impressive Spanish Era furniture, vestments, and religious artwork.
Right in front of Plaza de Roma (about 10-15 minutes’ walk from Fort Santiago’s main gate) stands the Manila Cathedral, a historic church that has been destroyed and then rebuilt several times. It is currently the seat of Manila’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese and is considered to a very important place of worship in the Philippines. The building is one of the most impressive in the country, with its crypts comparable to the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Cathedral. These crypts also serve as the final resting places for late Archbishops of the city.
If you already have church fatigue, it’s time to visit the museums that dot the walled city. Bahay Tsinoy is one of the most interesting in the area, featuring the historical and cultural contributions of the ‘Tsinoy’ or Filipino-Chinese community.
Ruins of the Intendencia (Aduana)
The restored building played an important role during the Spanish colonial government, housing administrative units and customs. Damaged during countless years of war, the building was rebuilt to house the Philippines’ Central Bank, although was again destroyed by a massive fire during 1979.
Just across the street from the famous San Agustín Church, Casa Manila is the perfect recreation of a typical colonial Intramuros home of an upper-class family. Step inside to see real antique furniture, old artwork, and many other artifacts from the old Spanish era, carefully staged to show visitors everyday life for well-off families during that period.
The Silahis Center
Before you leave Intramuros, buy some handmade Filipino goods from The Silahis Center. The showroom also sells books, fine art produced by Filipino artists, and antiques.
Barbara’s is a famous restaurant housed in a real Spanish colonial-style structure. It is right across the San Agustín Church, making it a popular venue for wedding receptions among locals.
Even if you are not staying in the Manila Hotel, you can still enjoy its historic architecture by simply having coffee in one of its many restaurants. The hotel was opened in 1912 just across from the main entrance of Intramuros, and has become a popular landmark since.