Quiapo used to be the toast of the elite, the center of art, fashion, and higher learning in Manila, together with its neighbors Binondo, Avenida, Escolta and Sta. Cruz. However, since the Carriedo Station of LRT Line 1 was constructed on the site, the dirt and grime of the train’s passing has settled in the area. Hence, Quiapo today is more of a rundown commercial district rather than an “old downtown,” as its name means in Spanish. From being the Fifth Avenue of the local upper class, it is now the Bronx of bandit natives.
Despite its filth, pollution, crimes, and swaths of poverty, Quiapo has not lost its magnetic charm among shutterbugs and pilgrims alike. Not only that it is a haven for buying inexpensive goods, most especially cameras and electronics. Its streets teem with human interest: Black Nazarene devotees walking on their knees as they pray towards the altar; blind masseurs kneading customers on a sidewalk; fortunetellers laying out their cards to those aspiring to win the sweepstakes; Muslim stores festooned with precious stones from wall to wall; and old women offering cure through selling roots and other witch-like weeds.
Odds and ends
At the heart of Quiapo lies Plaza Miranda, a popular venue for political rallies. On August 21, 1971, during the Miting de Avance (rally) of the Liberal Party, a bomb exploded in the square, killing nine and injuring nearly a hundred. Today, the plaza remains the center of activities in Quiapo. It is filled with hawkers, some of them children, selling simple toys, balloons, and other knickknacks.
In front the square is Quiapo Church, home of the Black Nazarene and host of the Black Nazarene Procession that attracts millions of pilgrims. The serious religiosity in the church is seemingly being confronted by specks of paganism found everywhere around it. Directly in front it is a row of fortunetellers in al fresco booths.
On its left are peddlers selling multicolored candles shaped like voodoo dolls, while on the right is an array of herbal medicine vendors, offering cure for everything, sometimes, even roots that can abort babies. A narrow street near the church is also lined with merchants selling anting-anting (lucky charms), touted to protect its wearer from illnesses or enemies, or in short, transform the wearer into some sort of a superman.
Just nearby the Catholic Church is The Golden Mosque, the place of worship of a sizable Muslim population living in Quiapo. These Muslims make a living by spreading their souks all over the district. Their little shops sell anything from crystals and precious stones to counterfeit CDs.
If Raon is the electronics paradise in Quiapo, the newly-rehabilitated Felix R. Hidalgo Street takes the cake when it comes to shopping cameras. Kodak, Nikon, Fuji, and Konika, together with non-branded stores, have set up shop in the street, shoulder-to-shoulder, offering both vintage and brand new SLR’s and DSLR’s, as well as camera accessories and services, at a fraction of their original prices in malls. Most of the cameras here, however, are being traded under quality inspectors’ noses; hence, extra caution is advised when buying cameras, especially second-hand ones. The other side of Hidalgo, across the street fronting Quiapo Church, is an infamous lair of pirated CDs.
Apart from its cameras, Hidalgo is known as a heritage street, regarded in the late 19th century as the most beautiful in Manila. Among the historic buildings that remind of its glory are the gothic Basilica Minore de San Sebastian, the baroque Quiapo Church, Ocampo Pagoda or Bilibid Viejo, Nakpil-Bautista House (residence of national heroes Julio Nakpil and Gregoria de Jesus), the renaissance-style Boix House, the Spanish neoclassical Paterno Mansion, the courtyards of Zamora House (home of Manuel Zamora, inventor of the anti beriberi medicine “tiki-tiki”), Padilla House, Don Jose Sulpicios Orpilla Mansion, and Ocampo Mansion (residence of Ave Maria composer Francisco Santiago and the former site of the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music).
Shopping for souvenirs
Hidalgo Street has several buildings with stalls of Muslims selling both authentic and faux jewelry, clothes, crystals, lucky charms, batik and semi-precious stones.
The small stalls under the Quezon Bridge in Quezon Boulevard near Plaza Miranda sell native items from all over the Philippines. Most of the goods on sale, such as bayong (native bag) and lanterns, are made of shell and abaca. The items range from P5 for a small leather coin purse to thousands of pesos for paintings and big clay jars.
Near the shops is the two-storey Balikbayan Handicrafts in C. Palanca Street. It is a more upscale, air-conditioned souvenir store offering more choices, such as furniture and accessories, in addition to native crafts. For RTWs and supplies, there is SM Quiapo and an Isetann mall in Hidalgo.
How to get there
Quiapo is at the very center of Manila, the capital. It is directly below the Carriedo Station of LRT Line 1 (open: 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., P15), and at a walking distance from the Recto Station of LRT Line 2, although for safety reasons, it is more advisable to ride a jeepney than walking from Recto to Quiapo (P7, look for the ones with signs “SM Manila,” “Baclaran” or “Taft” and ask the driver to drop you off in Quiapo Church). Your best bet, however, are taxis from any point in Manila (P30 flag down rate).
Do not take or wear any jewelry or watches, even fake ones, to Quiapo, as there are many snatchers, pickpockets, robbers and thieves lurking in the area. Some snatch even fake jewelry. Even if the jewelry does not mean anything to you, the act of snatching might puncture your neck, wrist or ear.
It is also advisable to always watch over your personal belongings. Distribute your money in your bag and hidden pockets. Put your bag in front of you, not behind or on the side, as many thieves are quick at slashing pockets and bags with small knives. Do not publicly display your camera, cellphone and other gadgets as these will attract hooligans.
As much as possible, stay in or near Plaza Miranda, where there is a police desk or a police controlling traffic. Refrain from buying pirated CDs because apart from being illegal, you might be caught in the middle of a raid, which happens frequently in Quiapo, especially in Hidalgo. Politely decline anyone who approaches you for alms or even for help, as these are most likely an interlude to scams.