Intramuros is more than just a historical site. It is a standing reminder of 300 years of Spanish rule and was a mute witness as to how the Philippines was born as a republic. If the walls of the city can talk, it would have given us an animated illustration of the grandest celebrations and the horrors of destruction inside and outside its walls.
Writing about Intramuros was on point as the country is currently celebrating the Quincentennial Commemoration of the Battle of Mactan. The arrival of the Spaniards, led by Magellan, marked the start of Spanish rule in the country and the walled city was at the heart of the action during that 300-year rule. Intramuros was at the center of politics, religion, education, and commerce for three centuries and we will get to see these influences as we continue exploring Intramuros.
West Gates of Intramuros: Puerta de Postigo and Puerta de Sta. Lucia
Intramuros used to have 8 gates in the earlier days. 3 on the north, 3 on the west, 1 on the south, and 1 on the east. Only 5 of the gates remain intact today. The other three were either destroyed during World War 2 or demolished to give way to the road network going into the walled city.
Puerta de Postigo was built in 1662 and led directly to the palaces of the Gobernador and the Archbishop of Manila. The gate is historical as this was the gate where Dr. Jose Rizal walked out of Intramuros during his execution. One can see traces of foot prints that were once installed to show tourists where Rizal walked in Intramuros on his last day. The gate was now converted into a police barracks.
Not far from the Postigo gate is the Puerta de Sta. Lucia. The gate is one of the original gates of Intramuros and was built in 1603. Its side chambers were expanded in the 18th century. It is a popular entry point if you are coming from the promenade along Manila Bay.
Both gates were destroyed during World War 2 and was reconstructed during 80’s. Both gates have been re-used as security offices with the construction of the bigger gates of Intramuros.
Museo de Intramuros (San Ignacio Church)
The Museo de Intramuros is the site where the San Ignacio Church once stood. The church was completed in 1889 and was designed by the first Filipino Architect, Felix Roxas Sr. The construction of the church was coined as their “Golden Dream” but was heavily damaged during World War 2. The church burned for 4 straight days because of the local hardwood used for its construction.
The church is undergoing reconstruction and is going to be re-purposed to become the Museo de Intramuros. It will soon be the repository of historical and cultural artifacts collected through time.
Plazuela de Sta. Isabel / Memorare Manila 1945
The Plazuela de Sta. Isabel is a small park that stands on the original site of the Sta. Isabel College. Established in 1632, it is one of the oldest girl schools in the world that once catered to Spanish female orphans. It was in 1733 that it was accorded the name “Real Colegio de Sta. Isabel. However, the school building was completely destroyed during World War 2, forcing the nuns to relocate in Ermita.
A small park was created on part of the original site of the college. The Memorare Manila 1945 was installed on the plazuela that honored the lives of the civilians who died during the liberation of Manila. Over 100,000 defenseless civilians were killed at that time from the brutality of the Japanese forces and the bombardment of Allied forces. The monument stands to remember that fateful episode in Philippine history.
San Agustin Church and Museum
Among the 7 original churches inside Intramuros, the San Agustin Church was the only church that was spared from the destruction of World War 2. Completed in 1607, it is the oldest stone church in the country and it is one of the four Baroque Churches in the country that was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a historical landmark having witnessed the drafting of the terms of the Surrender of Manila to the Americans and the horrors of being a concentration camp during World War 2 where hundreds of civilian lives were slaughtered by the Japanese.
The grand architecture of San Agustin Church can be seen from both the outside and the inside of the church. Its facade is patterned to the magnificent churches built in Mexico while one would be in awe at the grand interiors of the church. From its beautifully designed navel, its baroque pulpit, and its amazing choir loft with its pipe organs, everything is a grand representation of the how religion was viewed in the past.
The adjacent convent was converted into a museum that, by far, has the most extensive historical and cultural collections that I have seen from a religious museum. It, literally, walks you through history with its wide century-old collections of religious and secular artifacts. I enjoyed looking through its collection that includes a century-old baroque altar and antique ivory images of saints. The life-size images reminded me of my lola’s collection in Ilocos. It still gives me the creeps.
The museum also gives you a glimpse on the influence that religion had in the Philippines and in the region. The museum has an extensive collection of Chinese jars and porcelains. It gives you a glimpse of their way of life with their antique collection of paintings and personal effects. It allows you access to its choir loft where you get to see a top view of the church and a face-to-face encounter with its pipe organ.
The Crypts of San Agustin is one of the main attractions in its museum. The tradition of burying the earthly remains of the dead inside the church is not new to me but I find San Agustin’s one of the most organized and extensive inside a church. Located inside one of the caverns, it is the final resting place of prominent Filipino families including that of famous Filipino painter, Juan Luna.
San Agustin Church and Museum is a must place to visit in Intramuros. I was impressed by its extensive collections that walked me through the rich history of the church and the country. Its massive hallways made me imagine how it felt to have walked through it centuries ago. A visit to this church and museum is worth the time and could actually fill in a whole blog space.
Plaza Luis Complex
Adjacent to the San Agustin Church is a complex composed of 9 replica houses that represented Spanish-period bahay-na-bato. Collectively known as Plaza Luis, the houses were built based on archived pictures and plans. The houses were built in similar fashion and use just like its old counterparts where the base is made from adobe stones and the upper floors with wood.
Walking inside the complex will give you a glimpse of how the rich lived in the old days with its beautiful house interior designs complete with a central fountain area, grand staircases, and cobble stone-lined hallways. Similar to the old days, the first floor were rented out to businesses. The topmost floors were living areas of the owners. At present, it houses a museum and function areas of restaurants.
The Plaza Luis Complex now functions as an event place with restaurants and novelty stores within the compound. The architecture and interior designs cannot be missed as it gives you that Spanish-period vibe.
Cuartel de Sta. Lucia / Gallery of Philippine Presidents
Cuartel de Sta. Lucia is the ruins of a barracks that once stood adjacent to the Puerta de Sta. Lucia. Built in 1781, it was originally referred to as the Cuartel de la Artilleria de Montana. It became the barracks of the Philippine Constabulary in 1901 before becoming the first site of the Philippine Military Academy in 1905. The structure was severely damaged during the war.
The walls of the barracks were only re-constructed part of the cuartel after the war. The inside of the barracks was converted into a park. Adjacent to its ruins is the gallery of past Philippine Presidents. The spot is a good place to relax before moving to your next Intramuros spot.
Baluarte de San Diego
The Baluarte de San Diego is one of the oldest stone fortifications in the walled city. It was completed in 1587 and faces the Manila Bay on the western side of Intramuros. The baluarte, during its heydays, had a metal casting factory. Unfortunately, the Baluarte de San Diego got damaged caused by natural and man-made calamities. It got severely damaged in the liberation of Manila and was completely restored in 1992.
The restoration of the Baluarte de San Diego created a relaxing park with a unique mix of fort ruins and manicured lawns. The spade-shaped baluarte is one of the photogenic spots in Intramuros and is a preferred location for event photography. A pictorial for a debut was ongoing when I visited the park. The geometry of the fort is a great subject or backdrop for pictures.
The fort is also a great place to enjoy the views of the Ermita skyline and the Manila Hotel. You can sit down on the fort’s walls to enjoy the warm afternoon sun and breeze. It offers a panoramic view of the golf course outside the walls against the backdrop of Manila’s skyline. A perfect way to cap of your visit at Baluarte de San Diego.
The original Puerta Real gate was first built in 1663 and was located on the present General Luna entrance of Intramuros. The gate was used by the Governor-General exclusively during state function. The old gate was destroyed during the British Invasion in 1762 and was rebuilt in its present location in 1780.
Local guides in Intramuros shares that only carriage of the rich can enter through Puerta Real in the old days. During those times, only the rich can afford to stay within the walls of Intramuros and that required a separate entrance for residents. Meanwhile, the peasants and the commoners would have to use the other gates of the walled city.
At present, Puerta Real was re-designed as an events venue for celebrations. And true to its original calling, one needs to have the money to be able to celebrate in its gardens.
Puerta del Parian
The Puerta del Parian is one of the earliest entrances in Intramuros. It was built in 1593 and was named after the Chinese community in the area of Lawton and Arroceros Park that was called “Parian de Arroceros”. The parian was the commercial center of Manila and the gate connected the community to residents of Intramuros.
The Parian gate became the official gate of the Governor-General when Puerta Real was destroyed in 1762. Just like the other gates of Intramuros, it was also severely damaged during the Liberation of Manila and its restoration was completed in 1982.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Intramuros is more than just a historical attraction in Metro Manila. It sits at the heart of the 300 years of being under the colony of Spain. It saw the joyous celebrations that brought smiles to Filipinos, the hushed words said because of the fear that colonizers held on us, and the tears that rolled from the pains of war and death. And just like its walls, it also showed us how strong Filipinos can be through the grandest of days and the darkest of nights. The Filipino spirit will keep burning.
As we face the battle against COVID19, I seriously hope that we get to see beyond our differences so we can unite and work together to win this part of our generation’s fight. This is the time that we need to get our act together and think of others more than ourselves. This is the time that we need to build the walls around us to protect us and not between us to divide us. When we do this and win, remember we can enjoy more of the Philippines safely.
You can check out my upcoming Youtube video this weekend on my channel: #ByahengOffTheGrid.
Getting there: You can take the LRT 1 and go down at the Central Station. Take the pedestrian tunnel behind the Metropolitan Manila and exit at the farthest exit. From there you can walk to the Anda gate of Intramuros.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.