Intramuros in a day

Mon, 04/09/2007 - 00:01
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Cathedral and Spurious palace
Manila Cathedral and Governor's Palace
photo by Alan C. Robles

Back down at street level, walk from the Puerta Isabel II down A. Soriano Ave (formerly Aduana) towards the huge governor's palace, a misbegotten project of the 1970s Although it was built where the original Spanish governor's palace once stood, the difference is the original structure only had two stories, its modern replacement has eight. Its construction ruined the Intramuros skyline and caused an outcry among consevationists and led to the creation of the Intramuros Administration, which enforces building regulations within the walled city.

You'll pass two ruined structures: the first one on the right is the Aduana, or customs house, the second further on to the left, is the Ayuntamiento. Once a marble-halled suite of offices that housed the city government, it was destroyed in 1945 and has been scheduled for restoration for over 20 years now, but don't hold your breath: Intramuros' walls took two and a half centuries to complete.

Fort Moat
Fort Santiago
Photo by Alan C. Robles

Coming to the fire station, turn right, and (fighting off calesa drivers who will implore you to take a horse and carriage tour) walk the short distance to the Fort Santiago complex, admission P40. This is a riverside bastion which Filipinos have no fond memories of: it was the site of the original native village, Maynilad, that the Spaniards destroyed and took over in 1571. The new owners built up this corner as a moated citadel and named it after Spain's patron saint, James ("Santiago"="San Diego"= St. James).

Fort Santiago was meant to be an inner keep that the white inhabitants could flee to should the rest of Intramuros fall. As you might imagine, it came equipped with the usual amenities, such as dungeons where Spaniards imprisoned rebellious natives. Fort Santiago's most famous captive was national hero Jose Rizal, who stayed there up to the time of his execution. There's a shrine and a small museum in his memory. Images of footsteps on the ground trace the hero's final walk to his martyrdom. When the Japanese ruled the Philippines they used the dungeons for holding and torturing guerrillas and pretty much anyone they didn't like. One legend has it that the Japanese sadistically locked prisoners in an underground chamber that would be submerged during high tide.

From Fort Santiago you can retrace your steps back across Plaza Roma to the Manila Cathedral which was built, or rather rebuilt, in 1958-- the sixth church to occupy the area since 1581. As far as cathedrals go it's fairly unremarkable, nondescript evem. Walk a few blocks further down General Luna and you'll come to Intramuros' most fascinating structure, San Agustin Church. Completed in 1604 it has survived fires, earthquakes, and four invasions, though it lost one of its two belltowers to an earthquake in 1880.

With its classic columns, Chinese stone lions and wooden baroque pulpit (complete with the carving of an inverted pineapple), it's a marvellous fusion of cultures, and is a Unesco World Heritage site. Near the ornate altar is the tomb of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the conquistador who founded Manila. The adjoining monastery is a museum ((entry P40) of historical religious art. The admission fee allows access to the garden of Father Blanco, a 19th century priest who studied Philippine medicinal plants. When you leave the museum try to leave a donation, they could certainly use it for the upkeep.

Casa Manila
Casa Manila
photo by Alan C. Robles

Right across the street from San Agustin is Casa Manila, an entire block that's been restored so that it recalls the residence of a rich Intramuros family in the late 1800s. The sumptuous three story museum house, stone at its base, wooden on the upper floors, is built around an inner courtyard and was stocked with actual antique furnishings from old homes. The chambers -- several bedrooms, a music room, a study, and a small chapel, are gorgeously caparisoned, the floors shine like mirrors and the big windows are lined with capiz panes, which turn brignt sunlight into natural lighting. It must have been some life.

If you've survived the stroll without having collapsed into a nearby eatery or carinderia for refreshments, keep walking down General Luna towards Puera Real, where you started. On the left side you'll find Ilustrado restaurant, ,a fine-dining restaurant where you can splurge a little on paella, a glass of wine or beer. Afterwards you might want to go to the Silahis Center, which has three stories of handicrafts, books and period prints.

Finish your tour by passing through the street behind San Agustin church, turning right at the corner and proceeding along the wall until you come to the Puerta de Santa Lucia, which leads out of Intramuros to Bonifacio Drive. If you've taken your time with the tour, it should be mid-afternoon -- enough time to stroll over to Manila Hotel, have a drink and watch the sun set on Manila Bay.




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