Manila is known for its mix of modern and old. However, what draws many travelers to Manila is its past. The city brags to visitors of its Intramuros neighborhood, essentially the old walled city. Intramuros was once where the Spanish of Manila ruled beginning in the 1500s. While most of Intramuros was destroyed during World War II, the government had good sense to restore and rebuild Intramuros’ past beginning in 1980. Today, travelers can expect to bump into medieval forts, historic hotels and plenty of reminders of this corner of Manila’s Spanish past.
Travel back in Manila’s colonial past at Fort Santiago: Most travelers visiting Manila’s Intramuros area begin their wandering at Fort Santiago. Spanish conquistadors built the fort back in 1571. The site lords over the entrance to the Pasig River and makes for a good launching point to delve deeper into the Philippines’ colonial past. The space is now somewhat of a shrine to national hero Dr. José Rizal. Rizal was imprisoned at Fort Santiago just before his execution.
Head to Intramuros’ Soul Survivor, San Agustin Church: San Agustin Church is not just Intramuros’ soul survivor, but it is also the sole survivor of World War II in the area. While most of Intramuros was destroyed during the war, the San Agustin Church remained. Built between 1587 and 1606, the church is the oldest in the Philippines. The UNESCO World Heritage site also boasts a museum where you can see a number of riches from Manila’s past.
Look in Manila’s 19th century window at Casa Manila: While a reproduction, Casa Manila makes for a fine model, showcasing what a Spanish colonial house looked like in the 19th century. Casa Manila was reproduced so that visitors could see the architecture and interior design of the late Spanish period. You can expect to see plenty of antique furniture and art from that time period.
Stay at the Manila Hotel: Within the Intramuros area of Manila, you can rest up for the night amidst history as well. The first hotel in the Philippines, Manila Hotel, opened its doors in 1912. It still bears that grand and classic look. As a Philippine landmark, the hotel has welcomed high society and has also played the role of setting to many historic events. Travelers who select to stay at the Manila Hotel while in town can rest their heads where the likes of Marlon Brando, The Beatles, Bob Hope and General Douglas MacArthur have all stayed.
Photo: Patrick Roger