Walking through history: One fine day in Intramuros, Manila

  • Monday, May 09, 2016

A week ago, I had this opportunity to accompany my parents for a weekend trip to Manila.  We had our entire Saturday morning free so I asked them if we can do an impromptu trip to some place near the Metro where I can take photos. I was just excited to try out my new camera lens that’s why. Since I’m a history & culture enthusiast, a photo walk in the historical walled-city of Intramuros was a perfect choice.

Intramuros is not a new place to me since I’ve been in here several times already especially during my childhood days. Together with Luneta Park, Manila Zoo and Ocean park, Intramuros was a frequent destination during our vacations in Manila since it was just a few meters away from where we used to stay. This time around, it’s also nice to play tourist once more in a familiar place but haven’t really took the time to explore. 

It was a pretty short ride from Ermita where we took a jeepney and got off in front of the Manila city hall and the crossed the street towards the iconic building of Manila Post Office where I couldn’t help it but be amazed by its massive majestic columns. From there we took another jeepney going to pier 15 and got off in front of Plaza Roma. 

It was around 9:00 in the morning when we arrived in Intramuros. And then we started walking around where several kalesa and pedicab offering guided tour of the area approached us. The fee was 350 per hour for a kalesa ride and 150 per hour for the pedicab but we opted to just walk around since my idea for that day is just to have a leisurely walk in order to take snapshots of anything interesting along the way. 

And yes, Intramuros never failed to amaze me. It’s narrow alleyway made of concrete cobblestones, lined by colonial-inspired stone buildings and heritage houses with modern cars and kalesas parked along sides. It was a beautiful sight to see showing a perfect balance of the old and the new civilization. 

Intramuros means “within the walls” in Latin. According to Wikipedia, this small stone-walled territory in the western part of Manila, right by the river of Pasig was once the settlement of the Spanish conquistadores established by Miguel López de Legazpi in the 1500s. It is the seat of Spanish sovereignty in the Philippines for more than 300 years and the political, religious and military center of the colony. It is said that only the Spaniards and the mestizos were allowed to enter and reside within the walls. The fortress was built as defences against native uprisings and threats of invasions from Moros and chinese pirates.

One of the most prominent landmark you will notice once inside the Intramuros is the Plaza Roma located right in front of the famous Manila Cathedral. It is said that during the Spanish colonial times, this public square was the Plaza Mayor of Manila where major public events are held. At the center of the plaza is a fountain with a monument to King Charles IV of Spain which was erected in 1824 in honor of his having sent the first batch of smallpox vaccine to the Philippines.  

Just across the plaza, do visit the Manila Cathedral also known as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Concepcion. Erected at its present site in 1581, the basilica has encountered several beatings over the years, from earthquakes to typhoons and world wars and still standing tall at the present. Isn’t it amazing? What we actually see today is the eight restoration of the church. In fact, during our visit the church is undergoing constant fortification to ensure its longevity.

After the cathedral, we walked through the cobble stone street of General Luna towards Casa Manila. Casa Manila is a museum showcasing the exquisite architecture and interiors of a typical Spanish residential house in the 18th century.  It has an entrance fee of 75 pesos and cameras aren't allowed inside.

Mom striking a pose outside Casa Manila
And then we proceeded to San Agustin Church just right across the street of Casa Manila. Considered as the oldest stone church in the country and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the church boasts a majestic interiors with its amazing trompe o'l'oeil ceiling murals and  elaborate carved wooden doors. Once inside the church, it’s like you’ve been transported to a century old churches in Europe. This I would say as my personal favourite subject to photograph. Every details in this church from its antique floor tiles up to its well decorated ceiling and its majestic chandeliers is just breathtaking. Another trivia I learned is that this church is the most in-demand church for weddings so don’t be surprise if during your visit you can’t roam around inside because there is a wedding ceremony.

Adjacent to the church is the San Agustin  Museum which houses century old collections of statues, paintings, replicas, and church memorabilias by the Agustinian congregation. With a museum entrance fee of 100 pesos and  80 pesos for senior citizens and students, you can already experience how to stroll back in time and learn as much as you can about Philippine history, arts and culture. For the lovers of arts and culture as well as photographers, a visit in this museum will surely be a visual treat as every corner of this museum is perfect for photo-ops. I was able to visit the museum few years back during my board exams and were all hungry, so we decided to skip it and dine at the nearest fastfood. To give you an idea on what to see inside the museum, heres some of the photos I recovered from my old phone. For me the highlight of the exhibit should have to be the choir chamber in the second floor overlooking the church’s altar where one can see up close the painting on the church’s ceiling. 

At first glance, one would think it is a solid carving but on a closer look it’s an intricate three dimensional mural painting called trompe l’oeil which in French means deceive the eye. Well I must say I was deceived, even my camera was also tricked. It was a delight to capture the beauty of this church and to think this was done decades ago leaves you in awe. Also found inside the choir chamber is a massive pipe organ paired with equally huge music book. Just look how huge it was! Wow! The choir seats made of solid wood would definitely catch your attention too especially at how intricate the carvings in this huge seats. 

We went back to Manila Cathedral and crossed the street to get to Fort Santiago.  Being the oldest Spanish fortress in the country and the seat of power of Spanish Empire during the colonial times, and was later used as a prison by the Japanese during WW2. There are just so many interesting things to discuss about this heritage site so I decided to make a separate post about Fort Santiago and Rizal Shrine.

For many people I know, Filipinos and foreigners alike, Manila is just another busy city flocked by gigantic Malls and traffic jam left and right. For many travellers, it’s just a stopover to go to different beautiful tourist destinations in the province. But beyond its typical reputation of a dirty and crowded city lies a must-visit historical site in the heart of Manila.

It was indeed a pretty nostalgic walk for me. Not only did I get to experience the way of life during the colonial times but this trip was made extra special because I get to share it with my parents just like the way we used to. Well, it’s not every day I get to do this and to bond with my parents once again is something I’m thankful about. It’s like I’ve been transported back to my childhood years once more where a new place makes you restless and leaves you wide-eyed and very eager for surprises. Somehow it felt that way for a moment especially when you have mom and dad by your side.

So what are you waiting for? Explore. Intramuros is a great place to stroll and it’s best to experience it with your loved ones.

How to get there?

From NAIA:  You can take a cab and ask the driver to take you to Intramuros. It would cost around 500-700 pesos for an airport yellow taxi and 300-500 pesos for regular taxi depending on the severity of the traffic. For a budget conscious traveler, you can take the airport shuttle (costs around 20 pesos) and get off in the LRT/MRT Edsa terminal. Ride LRT 1(cost around 12pesos) up to the Central Station. From the Central Station, you can walk since Intramuros is just a few meters away or you can take a pedicab if you’re not into long walks.

From Ermita:  You can take a jeepney that passes by Manila City Hall (costs around 8 pesos). Then cross the street and take a jeepney with signage pier 15 (costs around 8 pesos) and then get off in front Plaza Roma.

Archie's Notes:

1. Wear your most comfortable clothing because you’re in for a long walk.
2. The best time to go is during the morning around 9am when the temperature is not that humid or late in the afternoon around 3pm.
3. Do bring an umbrella because sometimes the weather can be so unpredictable.
4. Drink a lot of water to hydrate yourself prior the tour and do bring refillable water bottles with you. It would come in handy if you get thirsty during the tour and can save you a lot of money too.
5. Be vigilant and always keep an eye on your valuables especially your mobile phones. Manila is a highly urbanized city and thieves and pickpockets are just around the corner so it’s better not to be too trusting to strangers. If you need to ask for directions, do so in designated tourism centers or to employees of establishments around the area.
6. Beware of scammers. There are a lot kalesa and pedicabs offering guided tour for a fee which costs about 300 for pedicab up to 2500 for kalesa per hour. Never ride unless you have agreed with the rates of the driver and don’t hesitate to ask for a discount because the driver might give you a 50% discount.

Thank you for dropping by! I hope you enjoyed your time here. Please feel free to drop me a comment and share your thoughts about your experiences and travels in Intramuros or traveling in general. And if you like, please stop by my instagram @archieoffduty and find more travel ideas for your future travels. I would really appreciate it. Thanks! ;-)>

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  1. This is a great post! If you are in Metro Manila, Intramuros is a must visit place. Thanks for sharing