Travel to Philippines: Manila: Intramuros
In 1571, six years after establishing Spanish sovereignty over Cebu, Governor Miguel Lopez de Legaspi moved to Manila, where his forces had just defeated the local ruler, Rajah Suliman. Legaspi ordered the rajah's wooden fort rebuilt in stone. On the left bank of the River Pasig, at the river's mouth, the walled area expanded to enclose an area roughly 600 yards by 600 yards, subdivided into a grid of perhaps three dozen blocks. The enclosed area--logically enough called Intramuros--survived under Spanish rule for 300 years. It survived the American takeover in 1898, too, and was probably at its peak for the international eucharistic congress of 1937. Eight years later, while taking the city back from the Japanese, American forces obliterated Intramuros. Since then, the district has been haphazardly rebuilt: parts look very much like the old Spanish city; other parts have modern buildings whose owners seem oblivious to the history of the place; still other sections have been taken over by squatters who periodically rebuild their shacks whenever the government demolishes them. Nominally, the authorities recognize the historical importance of Intramuros: they have detached it from the city of Manila and made it the responsibility of a federal Intramuros Administration. The reality, however, is that Intramuros falls far short of what it was in 1940--and of what local authorities hoped to rebuild.
The most intact elements of the old city are its walls, fringed by an 18-hole golf course run by the Club Intramuros. The pond is not mere landscaping: it's one of several ponds remaining from the Spanish moat, which was complete with watergates into the city and which lasted until a few years after the American arrival in 1898. The golf course followed in 1907, sooner than you might have guessed.
A ravelin, or detached fortification, lies in the midst of the course. In the distance beyond it are the high rises of Ermita, a now-seedy commercial district south of Intramuros. There are equally seedy neighborhoods--seedier, in fact--on the north side, across the Pasig River. It's all part of the flight of wealthier Manilenos to the urban periphery.
The Puerta da Santa Lucia dates from the early 1590s, when Governor Gomez Perez Dasmarinas was governor and captain-general of the Philippines. Dasmarinas wrote to Madrid in 1592 about his efforts to secure Manila. The full text of his letter has been published online by the Gutenberg Project, but here is an extract: "I must proceed carefully and cautiously; nevertheless, in the preparation and repairs of this city, the defense of the coasts and seas, in order to resist the enemies that might invade them. I would have displayed greater zeal and energy (both in these and in other provisions), had not the fathers, superiors of the orders, and other religious [persons], in all or nearly all of them, opposed me by raising scruples, both in private conversations and in their pulpits and sermons, contradicting my authority and raising up obstacles. For indeed, in the building of the wall and fort of this city, the scruples that they have urged against me are well known—namely, that this country had no need of the defenses; that the Indian, to whom the country belongs, does not request them; and that the whole thing results in labor and oppression for the Indians." Dasmarinas (the name also appears Das Marinas) was killed by Chinese pirates the next year. The gate lasted longer--until World War II--and was rebuilt in 1982 at the order of Imelda Marcos. (Odd how dictators are so often attuned to heritage, but in glorifying their country's past they hope to glorify themselves.)
The Puerta Isabel II is named for the queen who sat on the Spanish throne in 1861, when this gate was built to relieve congestion at adjacent ones. Old pictures show streetcars here. They also show a drawbridge, surely an anachronism even in 1861. A good collection of such photos has been published as a substantial book by the Intramuros Administration under the title Intramuros of Memory (1983).
In front of the gate is a worn statue of Isabella. She became queen in 1833 but was deposed in 1868. She spent the next 36 years, until her death in 1904, in France. Accordingly, her statue was put in storage in 1869, though in 1896 it was taken out and put on display about a mile to the south, in front of the Malate cathedral church. The statue was brought here in 1975.
The massive wall has plenty of room for shops. Guess who!
The guard at the door is a reminder that all is not well in the Philippines.
Outside, a more typical--and much, much cheaper--place.
Not much to look at, but this is what's left of the Intendencia or the office of the Intendent, a local administrator. (Odd that English keeps the word "superintendent" but not the lower rank.) The building, wrecked in 1945, was not particularly old: it had been rebuilt after the earthquake of 1863 as a two-story structure, square, with a courtyard and a facade of budget classicism. In its later years it was a mint and also a customs office. The story of earthquake damage is a familiar one in Manila: another quake of 1880 did great damage to the buildings of Intramuros.
A restored gateway.
The center of Intramuros was the Plaza de Palacio, later the Plaza McKinley, now the Plaza de Roma. We're looking south to the cathedral, which was rebuilt in 1958 but looks very much like the destroyed cathedral, except for the bell tower (the original cathedral lost its tower in an earthquake of 1880). Private homes, now gone, were on the opposing or north side of the square. The old palace, also gone, was on the west, while the Ayuntamiento or government office building survives in ruins on the east.
In the center of the square, still holding forth, is Don Carlos (Charles) IV. The imperial pose is just that, and no more. Charles came to the Spanish throne in 1788 but, though imperial in his own self-esteem, was dominated by his wife, Maria Louisa. Perhaps Goya's portraits of the royal family, whose members he reduced to grotesques, are truer. In any case, Charles abdicated in 1808, left the Spanish throne to Napoleon's brother, and accepted a French pension. In 1819, he died in Rome. Five years later, this statue was put up.
Almost nothing is left of the Ayuntamiento, which had been rebuilt after the earthquake of 1880 and which housed not only the city's administrative offices but those of the governors general, including the American ones. For the first meeting of the Philippine Assembly, in 1907, the building was wrapped in American flags.
Facing the cathedral. So much for cultural preservation.
A few blocks away is this great survivor, the San Agustin Church, the oldest church in the Philippines. It's the fourth building on the site, but the one and only in stone. Completed in 1604, it had twin bell towers, but the left one was pulled down after an earthquake of 1863 left a medial fissure running from top to bottom. The church also survived the quake of 1880, as well as World War II.
San Agustin is off to the left in this view of the historic main street of Intramuros, the Calle Real, now General Luna. On the right is the Barrio San Luis, which looks like a miraculous survival of the colonial city but which in fact is a careful restoration, based on historic photographs and other documents. We'll look more closely at the taller building in the middle distance.
This is the Casa Manila, in the style that the Intramuros Administration fosters under the name "Spanish," though it reality it's indigenous, traditionally with an adobe ground floor and an upper story of wood. The living quarters are upstairs.
A similar structure--now an antiques store.
The Casa Manila is honest enough to admit its youth.
The same courtyard from a different angle. Five buildings have been built in the historic style--except that the tile roofs are not quite right. After repeated quakes, the authorities in 1880 insisted on ugly but less lethal corrugated sheetmetal.
View from the mercifully shady study. The magnificent hardwood floor is, like the rest of the building, entirely new.
More authentic: a shantytown seen from a Casa Manila window.
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