The Intramuros Manila is a walled city and one of Manila’s oldest districts. The Spaniards built it during their occupation of the Philippines in around 1571. It is a city surrounded by sturdy walls and moats all around, with some walls reaching as tall as 18 feet. It was the capital for military, religious and political power and most of its residents were elite Spaniards and Mestizos. Now though, the Intramuros Manila stands as a monument of the Philippines’ diverse history.
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That said, the violent history has left scars on the city. Allied bombings shattered parts of it, and the US filled the moat to prevent disease. Today, a golf course stands where the moat was located. With such a challenging history, the Intramuros Manila has a lot to show.
The area still maintains its Spanish era charm, and the walls prevent the tentacles of modernization from touching it. It still has some unmissable places, and here is our breakdown of the most indispensable stops for your tour of the Intramuros.
1. Fort Santiago
A Palisaded Tagalog fort had to make way for Fort Santiago, and this place was dubbed the point zero of Manila—where it all started. It became a strategic place for anyone who controlled the region, with the British, Americans, and Japanese staking claim to it over its lifetime. The Americans left the most devastating damage at the end of the war, but the Philippines have done their best to restore it and make it tourist-friendly again. The addition of the Intramuros Visitors Center, art galleries, and cafes at Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier make it a very attractive spot indeed. Find out about the life of national icon Jose Rizal at the Rizal Shrine or scale the walls overlooking the Pasig River for sprawling views of Manila or collect souvenirs at Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier when you visit Fort Santiago.
2. San Agustin Church
This impressive Baroque church was finished in 1606 and is one of the 12 churches in Intramuros, Manila. It has withstood what time has thrown at it from wars to earthquakes, and if you want a look into the spiritual life of the Intramuros, this is the place. The earthquakes trompe l’oeil ceilings, Renaissance façade, and Monastery feature one of the best collections of ecclesiastical art since the Spanish occupation to date. You will find paintings, relics, and artifacts showing Catholic history, and the crypt houses also hold remains of historical Filipino figures.
3. Manila Cathedral
Plaza Roma in the Intramuros, Manila, was once the political, religious, and economic capital of the Philippines and one of the most stunning churches the Manila Cathedral is found here. It was one of the first Filipino churches and still serves as a church today. It has been built several times with the current structure dating back to 1958, but around it, you will also find the churches Intramuros city hall on the east and Governor’s Palace to the west, making it a place you should definitely visit.
4. The Walls of Intramuros
The Intramuros wouldn’t be what it is without its walls, and thankfully it is a highlight for many of its visitors. Even with a small part of it missing near Plaza Mexico, its rich history of fortifying the city still shines through. Although it signifies the horrific Spanish occupation of the Philippines, the walls have critical historical importance to the people. Some areas have fallen derelict, but you will find some well-preserved areas at the Victoria gate where the cannons point at the golf course that used to be the moat.
5. Bayleaf Hotel’s View Deck Restaurant
Elite Spanish must have had fine dining within the Intramuros Manila, and the Bayleaf Hotel gives a taste of what life must have been in the Intramuros. This 57-room boutique hotel is ten storied, so, at the rooftop restaurant, you can see pretty much the whole Intramuros. It has awesome drinks, a romantic vibe, and fantastic menus.
6. Plaza Mexico
Did you know that the Spanish ruled over the Philippines like an overseas Mexican Province? Yes, it was part of their Asian network of the galleon trade that involved trading Chinese goods for American Silver. The goods from this trade made their way through Mexico in transit to Spain. On the trades 400th anniversary, the Mexican president erected two monuments—Mexico and the Philippines. The Philippines monument is at Plaza Mexico, and history buffs can take pictures next to this historic monument.
7. Memorare Manila
If you are walking through the Intramuros, taking a breather under the shaded Plazuela de Santa Isabel is always welcome, especially if you’ve been under the sun. Here you will see the Memorare Manila monument erected to celebrate the civilian dead from the Battle of Manilla. It was one of those bizarre wars where the Japanese slaughtered Filipinos in one last-ditch effort for Manila. Made by Peter de Guzman, the monument depicts six suffering figures surrounding a hooded woman cradling a lifeless child in her arms in great distress. This gives onlookers a glimpse into this horrific past.
8. Bahay Tsinoy
The Philippines has been attractive for many people, but it was the Chinese who came before the Japanese that had one of the most peaceful times around. The Bahay Tsinoy is a museum celebrating this phase of Filipino history. It tells stories of life before the Spaniards and success stories of people like former President Corazon Aquino and the late Jaime Cardinal Sin. Artifacts held include a Kapitan Chinas chair, and household items, and other relics from the Chinese occupation of the region.
9. Plaza San Luis Complex
While it looks ancient, the Plaza San Luis Complex was, in fact, built in the 1970s. That said, the historical accuracy in depicting a wealthy Spanish-Filipino ilustrados homestead is uncanny. It was the brainchild of ex-first lady Imelda Marcos, and nowadays, it has a shopping center, boutique hotel, tour companies, and even a museum.
10. Lunch at Barbara’s
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Lunch at Barbara’s has become part of the tradition for Intramuros visitors. It is a massive heritage restaurant with intricate and charming décor, and the allure of old-world ambiance is also unmissable. The food is exquisite Filipino, and it comes with performances including folk songs and traditional dances making for a memorable dining experience. You may have to get reservations if you are a group, but individual walk-ins will likely get seating.
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