Into Intramuros, The Walled City

by Zia Kalong

Intramuros Walls | Contributed Photo

There is so much history in the ancient Walled City’s every brick and mortar – from cobblestone steps, antique lamp posts, to colonial architecture.

The Intramuros‘ Walls, built in 1571, were designed to serve as an impenetrable fortress for Spanish government officials and their families against foreign invaders. Still, it also symbolized the flagrant social divide between the mestizos and the Indios. The fortified city became the capital of Spanish dominion and housed their wealthy elite for almost 400 years. What was meant for detriment had been turned into an advantage. A century later, Intramuros’ historic district stands witness to the Filipino people’s history and heritage.

Today, the city’s colonial houses, grandiose churches, and historic military barracks attract and enamor visitors with their unmistakable nostalgia. A stroll inside Intramuros, which means “within walls” or “inside the wall” in Spanish, is quite like a literal walk down memory lane. The oldest district in Manila is home to cathedrals, museums, cafés, plazas, gardens, art galleries, including the NCCA Gallery of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and countless other attractions that capture the heart and soul of old Manila as well as its bittersweet colonial past.

The Manila Cathedral | Contributed Photo

The famous Fort Santiago on the western side of Plaza de Armas, for instance, is not only admired for its arched gates, manicured gardens, fountains, and lily pond. Its most significant value lies in its hallowed history as the barracks wherein Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal was imprisoned, awaiting execution for inciting rebellion against Spanish rule. Today, the Rizal Shrine museum within the fort grounds contains pieces of the hero’s memorabilia, a recreation of the cell where he spent his last days, as well as the courtroom trial.

The San Agustin Church in the Walled City | Contributed Photo

Intramuros houses some of the most notable churches and cathedrals in the catholic nation. One of the oldest and most famous churches in all of Asia, the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica, or simply Manila Cathedral, is located right at the ancient city’s heart. Visitors can also find the oldest church in the Philippines, the San Agustin Church, inside the historic citadel. In 1993, UNESCO declared San Agustin Church a historical landmark and crowned it as a World Heritage Site. It was the only building left intact after World War II and thus the only existing church dating back from the Spanish colonial period.

Through the centuries, fire and flood have threatened to efface the city from memory, but Intramuros has withstood the test of time. Indeed, if these walls could talk, they would tell the stories of our forefathers’ legacy and sing the praises of old Manila’s grandeur. Today, the historic walls stand not only as a monument to the country’s colonial history but also as a testament to the Filipino people’s resilience, fortitude, and hard-fought freedom.

“Today, the historic walls stand not only as a monument to the country’s colonial history but also as a testament to the Filipino people’s resilience, fortitude, and hard-fought freedom.”

Suyomano, a digital learning platform for Filipino arts and culture, offers a historical virtual tour of Intramuros in partnership with Don’t Skip Manila, an organization focused on promoting Manila’s attractions history. To learn more about the virtual tour or sign up for a free trial of the class, click here.



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( Zia Kalong is a regular Philippine Daily Mirror columnist. She is a Filipina writer nurturing a deep love for cultures, stories, and the written word. Her mission in life is to find beauty in both the curious and the mundane, to share the story of the Filipino people, and to stay caught up in the wonder of the world.)

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