Intramuros in a day

Mon, 04/09/2007 - 00:02
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by Alan Robles

Visitors to Intramuros are pretty much on their own. There are no good and detailed maps that can be bought off the street, the map Intramuros Administration issues is just a thin sheet of paper. The IA's site gives more information, if you can endure the tedious flash presentation at the start. Although there's a button that will let you skip the introduction, clicking it could frustrate you enough to make you want to start your own revolution. This link will bring you directly to the good stuff.

On the plus side, the security guards (nattily dressed in period Guardia Civil uniforms) have all been briefed about the walled city and should be able to help tourists who don't know where to go. The minus is that the guards can sometimes be antsy about people who they think are snapping too many pictures. Like Gollum and the One Ring, the Intramuros Administration seems to consider the Walled City its Precious and actually charges anyone it considers to be a professional photographer huge fees -- after deciding if they're worth giving a permit. IA officials claim the practice started when it was discovered that Intramuros was being used as a backdrop for karaoke videos -- clips which moreover featured women decked in less than, ahm, shall we say, historical attire.

Should you want to join a tour group, the young Ivan Man Dy offers walking tours that have been cited in Lonely Planet. Check out his site for schedules.

f you're bent on hoofing it on your own, consider buying a book to help you: the best available, Ciudad Murada, by Jose Victor Torres, is sold in large bookstores and the Tradewinds Books on the third floor of the Silahis Center along General Luna street. Dr. Torres is an officer of the Intramuros Administration and packs this slim softcover with historical details of every section of the walled city. The volume has a small fold out map, plenty of black and white photographs and brief discussions of the site's landmarks (most of which were destroyed in 1945). There's even a chapter on each of the walled city's 32 streets.

Start early morning if you can; bring a cap, a small towel and a bottle of water, the heat and humidity can be oppressive. Enter through the Puerta Real, the gate opposite Rizal Park (planetarium side), near the National Museum. The “gate” which General Luna Street passes through was punched into the wall by the Americans; the actual entryway passed a small fort (the Revellin de Real de Bagumbayan) to the left. Visitors had to cross the moat in a curved bridge that led to this fort, and from there cross another bridge that connected to the main wall. The fort has been converted into an aquarium and is a surprisingly quiet and charming courtyard considering it's only a few meters away from jeepney traffic.

Once through the wall, you can turn left, and climb up the ramp so that you're on the rampart itself. The green expanse of grass you'll see outside the wall was once the moat. Walking in the direction of Manila Hotel will bring you to the Baluarte de San Diego, which stands on the site of the walled city's oldest stone structure, the Nuestra Señora de Guia. This was a circular tower built in 1586 along what was then the seashore. The tower proved unstable, was built over and forgotten. It was only unearthed in 1980. The IA has developed the surrounding area into a grassy park which serves as a light and sound museum.

Walk back the way you came, along the wall towards Puerta Real in the direction of City Hall (you'll see its distinctive clock tower). You'll come to the Baluarte de San Andres which commanded an expanse of moat so wide, boats and Chinese junks could dock in the area. Continue walking along the walls, this time keeping City Hall to your right, until you reach the Baluarte de Dilao, a fortification bristling with cannon, meant to overawe the local Japanese and Chinese communities which then lived across the moat ("dilao" means yellow). The walls have been restored enough for you to walk clear around to the Puerta de Isabel II, passing through the Walled City's bustling university quarter with its three campuses: Mapua Institute of Technology, Lyceum of the Philippines and Colegio de San Juan de Letran.

You'll have to get down from the rampart at the Puerta Isabel II. You'll have no choice. the part of the wall beyond that still hasn't been rebuilt.With the Maestranza riverside area cleared of squatters, the IA is planning to start work. There are also plans to have Maestranza, which has already been tiled, serve as a terminus for a river bus.

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