I remember hearing someone ask recently, “what’s Manila’s famous landmark?” Paris has the Eiffel Tower, London has Big Ben. What do people think of when they think of Manila? And although the city of Manila has many historical landmarks — Luneta, Intramuros, the old-world charm of Escolta — one “tourist destination” it’s always been known for is its majestic sunset. It’s kind of weird to think of the Manila sunset as a “landmark” because don’t sunsets look the same everywhere?
Well, anyone who has ever seen the sunset along Manila Bay would tell you they don’t.
In fact, I can still vividly remember some Canadian visitors from a few years ago telling me that the sunset in Manila is the most beautiful sunset they’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. I also recall a time in 2019 when the Manila Bay area underwent rehabilitation. Hundreds of visitors flocked to the site when it reopened. It was quite the sight for me — a multitude of people braving the traffic and the packed crowds just to see the sunset. Isn’t that amazing?
When I was a kid growing up in rural Bulacan, my dreams were not beach vacations or overseas trips. I used to dream of being at the top of a building in Manila, with a picturesque view of the city skyline. I always set my “dream” at dusk. I always imagined the Manila skyline as one drenched in orange hues, dotted with the warm glow of the setting sun. Growing up and having the chance to visit Manila during sundown did not disappoint. And maybe this is the same charm that keeps drawing visitors to the bay.
Conveniently located along the western edge of Luzon, Manila Bay offers an unobstructed view of the setting sun upon still waters. However, the harbor also played a significant role during the Spanish-American War, apart from this gorgeous view. In 1898, just as war was starting between Spain and the United States, the Americans realized that taking control of Spanish troops stationed in the Philippines would be critical to winning the war. Under the excellent command of Commodore George Dewey and with detailed information from the United States Consul in Manila, the United States squadron at the time managed to catch the Spanish unit unaware. It overwhelmed the ships with their superior naval gunnery. As the first major battle in the Spanish-American War, the Americans’ victory in the Battle of Manila Bay marked a critical point in their subsequent takeover of Spanish fleets in the Philippines.
“Perhaps the reason Manila Bay deserves to be a “landmark” of the city is precisely this: it represents the ability of the Philippines’ capital to embrace modern developments while still preserving its rich history”
Today, the very same harbor that served as the setting for this historic battle now remains to be an important port for trade and commerce. (Fun fact: when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources launched a seven-year rehabilitation program for Manila Bay in 2019, they called it the “Battle for Manila Bay.”) The prime location and recent rehabilitation of Manila Bay have attracted tourists and business people alike over the years, so much so that they developed the surrounding area into a bustling business district, with plenty of malls, casinos, hotels, and luxury condominium buildings cropping up in recent years.
Now, when people think of Manila Bay, what comes to mind is an area sprawling with big buildings and leisure spots, but with the same majestic sunset that we’ve grown to love. Perhaps the reason Manila Bay deserves to be a “landmark” of the city is precisely this: it represents the ability of the Philippines’ capital to embrace modern developments while still preserving its rich history.
(The Philippine Daily Mirror welcomes Jess Pacis as a regular columnist for Know Your Philippines in our Lifestyle section. She is a writer and development worker based in the Philippines.)