At the southern tail of the Pasig River lies Intramuros, capital Manila’s oldest district built in the 16th century by the Spaniards. Intramuros is Latin for “walled city,” since the area is enclosed by thick, high walls with moats and a fortress. Inside Intramuros is a golf course, a medieval baroque church, Manila Cathedral; the High Renaissance-style San Agustin Church, and the garrison Fort Santiago, which contains a light and sound museum and the former prison of the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.
Before Intramuros came into being, it was first a big Indian-Malayan-Islamic settlement ruled by rajahs (kings), datus (chiefs) and a sultan, who then started to call the area by the city’s present Filipino name, Maynila, which means “There is nilad (star-shaped water plant) here.” It was in this area that Tagalogs and the natives of Pampanga first traded with other Asians, including the Indians, the Chinese, and the Muslims, which explains why archeologists were able to dig pre-Hispanic porcelain and other artifacts in Intramuros. Such artifacts are housed in National Museum.
Medieval Spanish buildings
Because of Maynila’s location and rich resources, Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi conquered it and declared it the capital of Spanish colonies in the Philippines, thereby driving away the area’s natives to build new roads, forts, schools and churches for the Spaniards. Among these structures are Palacio del Gobernador (Governor’s Palace) and Ayuntamiento (Municipal Hall), which now lay in ruins after being bombed by the Japanese during WWII.
There are, however, several original buildings that survived and are still being used. Examples of these are Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace), Santo Domingo Church (now Bank of the Philippine Islands), Hospital de San Juan de Dios (Lyceum of the Philippines), and San Nicolas de Tolentino Church (present-day Manila Bulletin, the nation’s oldest newspaper company). The University of Santo Tomas and the Ateneo Municipal de Manila were respectively transferred from Intramuros to Manila City and Quezon City.
Capitalizing on Intramuros’ Hispanic legacy are restaurants that evoke of the Spanish colonial rule in their menu and interiors. Popular for this are Barbara’s and Ilustrado in General Luna Street. Barbara’s (Plaza San Luis, General Luna; +632-5273893/+632-5274086/+63 2 527 4090, open: 11a-2p M-Sa and 6p-10p M-Sa) is just a stone’s throw away from the San Agustin Church. It serves Hispanic and traditional Filipino fare in an old-world setting. Illustrado (744 General Luna, +632-5273674, firstname.lastname@example.org, Restaurant: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 6-10 p.m. Mon-Sat; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun; Coffeeshop: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon-Sat; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun), a few blocks away from the church, serves Spanish-Filipino cuisine like paella and rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish). A must-taste is the restaurant’s ice cream that comes in flavors like ginger and sampaguita (jasmine).
Apart from fine-dining restaurants, Intramuros also has fast-food chains like Chowking (FEM I Bldg, Aduana, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily), Jollibee (Aduana cor. Muralla, M-F: 6 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Weekends: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.), and Greenwich (Ground Floor, FEM II Bldg, Aduana). Among the mid-range restaurants are Bistro Marinero (General Luna cor. Santa Potenciana, +632-5272261 / +632-5278461 loc. 367 or 373) that features Western and local fusion dishes and “payday” combo meals and buffets, and Max’s Restaurant (283 Cabildo Street, +632-5270532 to 33), which specializes in fried chicken and other Filipino favorites.
Shopping for souvenirs
The Silahis Center (744 General Luna, Calle Real del Palacio, +632-5272111, email@example.com) sells handmade Filipino folk art and goods. Other floors within the same showroom display fine art, trade books and antiques.
While hotels of any kind are easy to find in capital Manila, Intramuros itself is lacking in quality bed space. Hence, most tourists billet in nearby Manila Hotel or go to the neighboring Malate and Ermita for hotels, condos, apartments or rooms for rent.
How to get there
Located at the heart of capital Manila, Intramuros can be reached via taxi from all points of Manila (taxi flag down rate: P30). Since the traffic is usually heavy when entering the area, it can also be reached through a short walk or a jeepney ride from the Central Station of LRT Line-1 (ticket fee: P15, 6 a.m. to 10 pm.). Jeepneys pick-up passengers going to Intramuros in a narrow street beside a waiting shed, fronting the ruins of the Metropolitan Theater. There is also a jeepney terminal in front Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), but you have to wait for the jeep to be full before it leaves (fee: P7, one way).
The Pasig River Ferry Service, which has stations in Guadalupe in Makati and in Quiapo in Manila, stops by the Plaza Mexico of Intramuros to drop-off or pick-up passengers every hour (ticket: P25-P45, visit the Plaza Mexico station for ferry schedules).
When to go and going around
Entrance to Intramuros is free. It can be visited all-year-round, except between July to September, as some parts of the area can be drenched in flood because of the rainy season. If the weather is pleasant, it is advisable to navigate the area on foot since it is compact and the landmarks here are close to each other. If, however, the weather is too hot to handle, you can opt to ride a tricycle (P30-P35 one way) or a pedicab (bike with a sidecar, P20-P30 one way) at Intramuros’ entrance beside PLM. If you want to experience the traditional transportation being used during the Spanish era, ride a calesa or horse-driven couch (P50 per person for a tour of the entire Intramuros). Calesas are parked in front Fort Santiago.
For assistance, check out the Intramuros Administration at 5F, Palacio del Gobernador, General Luna cor. Andres Soriano Streets, Intramuros, Manila; +632-5272961 (Intramuros Visitors Centre), +632-5273138 (Tourism Marketing & Promotions Division). This government agency oversees restoration, preservation and development projects in Intramuros.