Metro Manila · Intramuros
The fortified city of Intramuros was built during Spanish colonial times to protect the seat of government. Located along Manila Bay near the southern bend of the Pasig River, Intramuros’ location was very strategic for trade and for defense. Today, museums and old buildings bring centuries of Philippine history back to live, making Intramuros one of the top tourist spots.
History of Intramuros
Before the Spanish came to the islands, this area by the bay was the home for the Tagalog and Kapampangan tribes which already traded with nations like Borneo, Indonesia, India, and China. In the year 1565, the explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi sailed from Mexico (then called New Spain) to what will later be known as The Philippines, establishing the first Spanish colony in Cebu. After a couple of years and a lot of bloodshed, Manila was declared as the Spanish colony’s new capital.
There were many developments inside the walled city during that span of time when the walls were being built. Different orders constructed churches, convents as well as schools in the fortified city, making it the center for religion and education in the Philippines at the time.
Aside from its socio-political relevance, the fortified city was also a witness of how the Spanish prepared for marauders. The walls were fortified and there were several defense structures, including the bulwarks, the ravelins, and the redoubts strategically placed along the walls. Drawbridges were put in place, locking up Intramuros from 11 in the evening to 4 in the morning. Since the walls were constructed in a span from the late 1500s to the late 1800s, they weren’t made based on a uniform plan. They followed the contours of the bay, hence its rather irregular shape. The walls today cover 64 hectares of land. They are 8 feet thick with some of the walls reaching up to 22 feet.
In the Second World War, the city was severely damaged. The first casualties in the fortified city were the Santo Domingo Church and the Universidad de Sto. Tomas. It was reconstructed in the year 1951 when the old city was proclaimed a National Historical Monument. In a 2010 report by the Global Heritage Fund, the walled city was identified as one of the heritage sites in the world that were deemed as irreparable. The report also mentions that the national heritage is slowly being destructed due to insufficient funding, bad management and bowing down to pressures of 'development'.
Intramuros today is still one of the best places to go to when one wants to get a feel of how Manila was like centuries ago, despite the fact that one can see mismanagement in every nook and cranny. Some of the walls are used as “public comfort rooms” for men, and the outskirts of the walled city are lined with informal settlers. However, going to Intramuros can still be enjoyable and informative.
Many of the walled city’s structures are still intact, including two of the once eight churches located in Intramuros: the San Agustin Church, completed in the year 1607, and the Manila Cathedral, which had to be reconstructed eight times, the last time in 1958. Intramuros still houses several colleges within its walls, among them the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (School of the City of Manila), the Colegio de San Juan de Letran (College of San Juan de Letran) and the Lyceum.
Because of the foot traffic in the Walled City, chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks have sprouted. The establishments, however, were built to match old Spanish era architecture.
Location And How To Get There
If you are coming from the Quezon City area, commuting to Intramuros would mean taking the MRT-3 and stopping at the last station – Taft - about 6 kilometers away from the walled city. You would have to take another train ride on the LRT-1 connected nearby. Get a ticket going to Central Terminal just 500 meters away from Intramuros. You can either walk to the place if you have GPS or just ride one of those pedicabs from the Central Terminal. The pedicabs would usually charge around Php 20.00 to Php 50.00 or less than a Euro.
Tel: (63) 2 525 93 18
Guide for Megacitizens
There are no fees upon entering the heritage site but there are reasonable fees for visiting certain sites inside the walled city.
Taking a cab going to Intramuros during the rush hour is not advisable, taking the MRT-3 and the LRT-1 and other modes of transport such as the jeepneys will ensure a faster and less costly trip to the place, provided you get in.
You can easily walk Intramuros but visitors who want to see all the tourist places inside the heritage site in a day’s time should get a pedicab or a calesa, the traditional carriage. Negotiate with the drivers for a reasonable price. Right at the entrance, there are pedicabs waiting for tourists. The drivers sell maps of the walled city as well.
There are a few restaurants in Intramuros – some would even make you forget that you are indeed in the orient. Marso Café and Restaurant offers delicious mais con hielo (sweetened corn on ice), while Barbara’s Café is the place to go for a cup of coffee. Here’s a list of restaurants in Intramuros:
- Casa Marinero (Casa Marinero Building, General Luna corner Sta. Potenciana Sts.)
- Derang - Derang House of Grill (#340 Magallanes St. cor. Sto. Tomas St Intramuros)
- Ilustrado (744 Calle Real Del Palacio (Gen. Luna St.))
- Senor Miguel Diners (Victoria St.)
- Sitio Victoria (Gen. Luna cor. Victoria Sts.)
- Puerta de Isabel II (Muralla St., cor. Magallanes Drive)
- Andria's Taste (Chamber 8, Puerta Isabel II Murabel St.)
- Cafea (Chamber 14 Muralla Street Corner Magallanes St.)
- Barbara’s (Plaza San Luis Complex General Luna St.)
- Bacolod Chicken House (G/F Femii Bldg. Aduana St.)
- Ciudad Fernandina (Baluarte de San Andres Muralla St.)
- Stix 'n Box (Real st. Corte Real)
- Father Blanco's Garden (Plaza San Luis Complex General Luna Corner Real St.)
- The Heritage Cafe & Restaurant (Plaza San Luis Complex)
Things To Do
- A tour around Intramuros is never the same without a ride on a calesa or kalesa (carriage) in the vernacular.
- Counting Dr. Jose Rizal’s footsteps is a Rizalista thing to do. See how many steps the Philippine hero took inside Fort Santiago before he was executed in what is now known as Rizal Park. The Rizal Shrine tells his life story and shows where he was incarcerated by the Spaniards.
- Picnics beside Casa Blanca right at Puerta Real or maybe inside the church grounds of San Agustin is a fine way to spend a quiet afternoon in the walled city.
- Casa Manila is an accurate and beautiful replica of an old colonial house in Intramuros. It shows a lot of curious details, such as a manual ventilation system and a toilet for two. The cozy patio contains a nice café.
- Bahay Tsinoy is a memorial museum dedicated to the Filipino Chinese who peddled various products in the streets of Manila during the Spanish colonization. There’s a makeshift house inside where you can have a feel of how it was to live in such homes back then.
- The San Agustin Museum, located in a reconstructed monastery, showcases paintings, sculptures and other religious art, well-preserved Agustinian robes and other relics. Do not miss the marvellous and secluded "inner garden".
- Perhaps the most entertaining way of getting to know the main sights of Intramuros and the history of Manila is to take the outstanding city tour with Carlos Celdran.
- Visit Silahis and The Manila Collectible. These arts and crafts stores can be your last stop when you leave the walled city. You can buy souvenirs or just have a look at the impressive range of local products and art handicraft.
What about a time travel to the year 1900? This August, a photo exhibition presented by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) brings back to life the colonial past of the Philippines.