As seen in the last few posts, I’ve been enjoying my visits to the old part of Manila. During these moments and my sporadic visits, I always make it a point to reflect on these places, especially those places that have played a significant part in our history.
For those who don’t know, Intramuros used to be the walled city/enclave of the Spanish colonial government back in the 1500’s all the way up to 1898. During those years it was the seat of Spanish colonial power and the Roman Catholic church, hence the architecture and the prevalence of churches in the walled city. But more than that, Intramuros became the focal point of the entire archipelago; trade, commerce, culture all flourished in the walled city. Thanks to Manila Bay and the Pasig River, there was an influx of both foreign and local influences that helped shaped the lives of the people residing in Manila. After 1898 and with the arrival of the Americans, the walled city started expanding outwards and thus we have the birth of a modern Manila. A Manila fashioned in the image of an American city, no thanks to a very brilliant American urban planner by the name of Daniel Burnham.
With all the changes happening around Intramuros, it still remained the same. Very much Spanish and a glaring reminder of our roots and identity. Despite being bombed horribly by the Americans during their liberation of Manila, the walled city still stood steadfastly strong and resilient. Listening to the sounds of the walled city, the buildings that have withstood the test of time and man, the encroaching urban decay, I still felt a deep connection with it.
As a history major and teacher, I have read about, studied, visited and toured the walled city. Lately, I have found myself visiting it more so than usual. Looking back at those visits it dawned on me that the walled city isn’t just a monument to some forgotten past, it is actually a link to our identity and our own collective experience as a nation.
Walking along the streets, I realized that in this enclave every aspect of it has a story to tell. In the streets, I can imagine our forebears enjoying the vast plaza, the feel of a gentle ocean breeze and the sight of galleons and ships making their way across the harbor. There were a lot of beautiful moments in this city as artists and writers made their way around the walled city, enjoying the sights and sounds of the orient. By the bay, people painting, reading, playing and enjoying our famed sunset.
In many ways, the old Manila, is the romanticized view of a very optimistic past. But it was also the sight of abuse, revolution, death, and sacrifice. The picture that we see today also tells a story of the struggles of our country. Countless people have died in its streets, a bloody revolution and liberation have left indelible marks on the city. These two events, despite being decades apart, are grim reminders of how much has been lost and how much has also been gained.
The years following the liberation of Manila, Intramuros was a witness to the baby steps of our country. As Manila progressed and marched into the great beyond of hopes and dreams, our grip on history and our past slowly languished. Even today, we see how much we have forgotten our past and how little value we place into it. The state of our museums, artifacts and cultural centers are all perfect examples of our neglect. Once again, Intramuros is the perfect example of this neglect. Street corners and alleyways poorly maintained and buildings left to the elements to further decay and pollute what was once the capital of our country. Historical places where our national heroes and our forebears gathered to read, write, and orate are now avenues of our disregard and disrespect of our heritage. Filth and urban decay have set foot into this enclave and claimed it their own.
Amid all of these changes, there are still places where our heritage is not forgotten but put on display for all to see. Churches, shops, shrines and historical movements have all sought to preserve and keep our history alive. Renewal in the form of bringing back interest in Intramuros have no doubt been successful, as attested by the number of “Old Manila” themed weddings have sprouted up here and there. Centuries old stores that I was able to visit still hold on dearly to the old Manila charm that brought foreigners and locals alive to converge on the city. Truly there is still something in the air and in the cobbled streets that makes the walled enclave exciting. There are still many nooks and crannies that call and beckon for closer inspection.
So for those who have yet to explore and trudge the streets of Intramuros, now’s the time to go back to it and discover a walled enclave filled with mysteries. For the tourists, this city is the best place to start your education of our country’s history. As you walk along the streets, seize the moment to look at the places that have shaped it, read and listen to the stories that still echo beyond time.
Note: For foreigners you will be coming from Pasay. If ever your decide to go straight to Intramuros from the airport just follow the directions given in the link above.