Intramuros: a walk back into the Philippines’ colonial past (Updated Travel Guide)

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Intramuros, the old walled city of Manila, is a world frozen in time; in stark contrast to the modernity of infrastructures outside of it.

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Intramuros, the old walled city of Manila, is a world frozen in time. The ancient cobblestone walls and pavements are in stark contrast to the general modernity of infrastructures (and life) outside of it.

The roof of Manila Cathedral in Intramuros
Manila Cathedral's roof

Intramuros: a walk back into the Philippines’ colonial past (Updated Travel Guide)



    For travelers who want an easy walking tour in Manila, then Intramuros is for you. For first-time visitors in the country, Intramuros will give you a fairly good grasp of the Philippines’ Spanish colonial past.

    After you have gotten a fairly solid idea of the Philippines’ culture and heritage, you might then want to embark on a journey of discovery to know more about what it has to offer to visitors. A great way to begin would be to come up with a Philippines itinerary so that you would not miss out on the best places to see around the country. 

    History of Intramuros


    The area where Intramuros currently stands is the site of a former kingdom occupied by Tagalogs on the banks of Pasig River. Upon the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the buildings were constructed and was settled in by the late 1500s. Intramuros was built as an exclusive city that featured schools, churches, and government buildings. The walls were later constructed to protect the city from natural calamities as well as from intruders. Intramuros was the seat of power during Spanish rule.

    The intricately-designed door of San Agustin Church in Intramuros
    San Agustin Church's door


    My personal love for Intramuros


    I first fell in love with Intramuros in the early 1990s during my elementary days. I don’t know but I just have this thing for anything of historical value — old houses, old items, old books, to name a few. That day as I took my initial step in Intramuros, I was instantly in awe of the beauty of the bare walls and colonial architecture.

    Being from the province, I have not been back again since then. Nonetheless, I have dreamt of one day seeing Intramuros again and exploring it at my own leisurely pace.

    I went to college but I have just been there not more than five times. I was already working when I had the luxury to visit Intramuros as often as I wanted. What surprised me was that each visit to this place was always like the first — in awe of the beauty of the Spanish era buildings and ruins around me.


    Buildings and places that you must visit in Intramuros


    It’s hard for me to single out a favorite site or structure in Intramuros. However, if you only have limited time to walk around, here are some of the buildings that you definitely must see in Intramuros:

    1. Manila Cathedral


    The silhouette of Manila Cathedral in Intramuros
    Manila Cathedral's silhouette 

    The grand Manila Cathedral, founded in 1571, is one of the most easily recognizable structures inside Intramuros. The current building is the fifth cathedral constructed after the previous ones were destroyed by natural calamities and the second World War.

    Pieta statue inside Manila Cathedral in Intramuros
    Pieta statue inside Manila Cathedral

    The Manila Cathedral is also a popular wedding venue. The Cathedral is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

    2. San Agustin Church


    The interiors of San Agustin Church in Intramuros
    The interiors of San Agustin Church

    The San Agustin Church, founded in 1571, is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historical landmark by the Philippine Government. San Agustin Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines.

    A Santo Entierro in San Agustin Church in Intramuros
    Santo Entierro inside San Agustin Church

    The present building, which is made of stone, is the third church to be built on the area as the first two wooden structures were destroyed by fire.

    3. Palacio del Gobernador


    The Palacio del Gobernador building in Intramuros
    Palacio del Gobernador

    The Palacio del Gobernador currently stands on the site where the former official residence of the Governor General during Spanish rule was located. The Palacio del Gobernador presently houses the Intramuros Administration and the Commission on Elections.

    4. Plaza de Roma


    Plaza de Roma, located just across Manila Cathedral, was the main public square of Intramuros. It was used for a number of gatherings and events before it was converted to a garden by the Governor General in the late 1700s.

    5. Plaza San Luis


    Casa Manila in Plaza San Luis in Intramuros
    Casa Manila inside Plaza San Luis

    Plaza San Luis took its name after one of the ancient barrios of Intramuros. It is currently used as a commercial and cultural complex composed of a museum, restaurants, and events venue. Plaza San Luis is located just across San Agustin Church.

    6. Fort Santiago


    Fort Santiago is the primary fortification of Intramuros, built in the late 1500s. It faces Pasig River; being a defense fortress, this is a strategic location against pirates and other intruders.

    Things to do in Intramuros


    There are fairly a good number of things to do in Intramuros. Since the land area of Intramuros is not too big, you can allot half a day to explore it.


    Here is a list of things to do that you can add in your itinerary:

    1. Take a walking tour around Intramuros


    Intramuros is best explored on foot to give visitors a better appreciation of the beauty of the architecture and other landmarks in the area.

    2. Eat in a restaurant


    Sinigang na baboy at Casa Manila Patio in Intramuros
    Casa Manila Patio's sinigang na baboy

    Nothing really novel about eating in a restaurant but when it’s in Intramuros, set amidst historic buildings, the dining experience is elevated. Most restaurants in Intramuros offer Filipino cuisine so if this is what your taste buds crave, then head over to the walled city.

    I suggest eating in a restaurant at dinnertime because the lights in Intramuros look dramatic and romantic.  

    3. Visit a museum


    A statue inside San Agustin Church in Intramuros
    A statue inside San Agustin Church

    A visit to a museum is a good idea if you enjoy looking at antique and historic artifacts. In Intramuros, you may opt to visit any of the several museums located within its walls. These are:
    • Casa Manila
    • San Agustin Church Museum
    • Rizal Shrine Museum
    • Rizaliana Furniture Exhibit
    • Bahay Tsinoy
    • Archdiocesan Museum of Manila
    • Light and Sound Museum
    • National Commission for Culture and the Arts Gallery
    • Fr. George J. Willmann, SJ Museum
    • The Bonsai Library and Museum
    • The Silahis Center
    • Baluarte de San Diego
    • Likha-an sa Intramuros
    • Destileria Limtuaco Museum
    • iMake History Fortress LEGO Education Center
    • Instituto Cervantes de Manila
    • Museo de Intramuros
    • The Attic Museum
    • Colegio de San Juan de Letran

    I have been to Casa Manila and San Agustin Church Museum and their collections on display were all impressive. Most of the museums in Intramuros only charge minimal admission fee.

    4. Ride a calesa or horse-drawn carriage


    Before I proceed, allow me to provide a disclosure that I do not endorse any form of entertainment or attraction that involves animals. However, the calesa or horse-drawn carriage has culturally been a part of old Manila. It is still used as a form of transportation in some parts of Manila, such as  in Intramuros. Guests who prefer not to walk around Intramuros may opt to hire a calesa to take them around the famous landmarks in Intramuros.

    Skaters on a street in Intramuros
    Skaters on a street

    How to go to Intramuros

    • From Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, ride a jeepney or van bound for Buendia. You may ask the driver to drop you off at Liwasang Bonifacio (also widely-known by its former name, Plaza Lawton). From Liwasang Bonifacio, it's just a short walk to Intramuros.
    • If there are no Buendia-bound public vehicles, you can opt for a jeepney or van going to Quiapo. From Quiapo, you can ride a jeepney going to Pier 15, which passes inside Intramuros.
    • If it's your first time to go to Intramuros and a little apprehensive about public transportation, you may get a cab or use the Grab mobile app.  

    MAP OF INTRAMUROS

    Things to Remember

    • Intramuros is a public place so there is no admission fee for guests who would like to visit.
    • Intramuros is best explored during the dry season, which can be from January until May.
    • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes when walking around Intramuros. If you are traveling solo, you may want to bring a selfie stick with you so you can capture great moments as you explore Intramuros. 
    • You may take as much photos as you want of the landmarks in Intramuros.
    • Intramuros is generally a safe place especially because there are guards stationed in may corners and buildings. However, always take caution and secure your belongings especially if you are exploring an unfamiliar place.
    • Intramuros is accessible by car.
    • Always ask permission if you would like to enter a building or a square.
    • There are many dark corners in Intramuros so it can get creepy in some areas. In fact, a number of the scariest places in Manila are in Intramuros 
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      9 comments

      1. Now I want to know what happened that is unmentionable! You guys must have walked miles, no wonder you were tired.

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      2. OMG! The last time I was in Intramuros, I was probably 10. Memories....

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      3. Sounds like you had a great photo tour! I would love to make similar kind of trips and have my camera with me and just take pics of everything interesting. I always plan I will start it somewhere near my neighbourhood for one day, but haven't done it yet.

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      4. You captured some awesome photos on this adventure. It's great that you were able to get together to do this.

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      5. Lovely photos, hope you've had a great weekend!

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      6. It is always extra fun to take an adventure with a friend. You captured some wonderful images!

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      7. San Augustin Church has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I think it is beautiful and the history is fascinating.

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      8. Amazing photography, love the stained glass - so pretty! Looks like you had fun.

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      9. This looks like a great travel plan. I would love to visit here someday!

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