Monday, January 23, 2012


Photo courtesy of eazy traveler .

I walk the streets of Intramuros and feel a sense of deja-vu, of delicious familiarity. I was surprised when one of my friends invited me a chicharron, a dish that reminds me of that of my land (although here this crunchy fried pork rind is called Tsitsaron ). The landscape around me makes me refer to colonial images of Arequipa, Peru , Antigua in Guatemala or Mexico .

Interior courtyards and houses in Intramuros

Church of St. Augustine.

It is no coincidence. Intramuros was founded on the basis of an ancient Tagalog settlement, at the confluence of the Manila Bay and the Pasig River, by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1571, who had arrived from Mexico to the island of Cebu , then head toward the north to get to this place.

Intramuros, Manila. See location in Google Maps.

Intramuros was the capital of the new Spanish colony of the "Felipinas" islands and was a key point on the trade route between Asia and America (Manila and Acapulco) that by means of galleons, realized the dream of Columbus that Spain could reach the West Indies. And while the Americas benefited from products such as mango, silk, paper, envelopes and Manila shawls, Filipinos also received a major Latin American influence, in terms of food products, religion, art, mestizo architecture (of course, in the language as well. A plethora of Spanish words that are included in the modern Filipino language, there are some of Aztec origin, such as Nanay -mom-or, Tatay- dad).

The name of Intramuros evokes the idea of ​​an isolated area, protected from urban sprawl and housing historical treasures within itself, but also gives the idea of ​​protection against attacks by pirates or invaders (in this case Chinese, Dutch and English).

Remains of bastions and fortifications

But Intramuros also involved social exclusion, the separation between those who were inside the walls (white and mestizos) of those natives who lived outside them. It appears however, that in the mid-nineteenth century this characteristic was dissolved into a more inclusive society for people of all races and social strata, as a British traveler tells of the time recorded.

Filipino mestizas in the late nineteenth

Intramuros fortification was designed as a trapezoidal layout, located on a wedge formed by the sea and the Pasig River (now the land reclamation difficults that reading). Inside the walls there is a rectangular gridiron, which included the main square, surrounded by the major powers of the time: the cathedral, the prison the house of the governor. In that sense, Intramuros is similar to other fortified cities in Latin America, such as Lima , for example.

Intramuros in 1784.

Intramuros in the seventeenth century, showing the surrounding area or "extramuros"

Besides the cathedral, the city was dotted with the towers of churches from other congregations, such as Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians.

The Cathedral before 1945
Views of the Cathedral

The streets, like other Hispanic colonial cities, have compact profiles, with no setbacks or front gardens but with balconies and arcades, whose townscape had changed over the years due to successive disasters that devastated the city.

However, the buildings are arranged around courtyards and cloisters, allowing light and ventilation to indoor environments, generating a microclimate and providing an internal social and functional space.

The city is surrounded by fortifications, carried out throughout centuries, and gates, artistically decorated as in the case of the Parian Gate or the Real Gate.

Parian Gate.

Real Gate in 1899.

Video of Intramuros in the Spanish era

Jose Rizal, maximum hero of the Philippine independence, was arrested and shot at Fort Santiago in Intramuros. Before dying, he wrote his immortal poem " My Last Farewell".

Intramuros remained intact until the colonization of the Philippines by the U.S. which conducted widening of streets and gates.
The following video shows the effects of modernization during the American colonization, which transformed to Manila from a "sleepy Spanish village" to a strategic city in Asia, thanks to urban renewal, implementation of services and infrastructure as well as economic development. The documentary says nothing, however, that the colonization took place after a shameful betrayal by the U.S. the Filipinos and the Filipino-American War of Independence took between 200,000 and 1.4 million deaths (that's why I insist that we should always hear both sides of the story).

But I would not be the Americans but the Japanese who cause most damage to Intramuros and Manila in general. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and in retaliation after an American response, Japan invaded the Philippines (it was actually the pretext that they were expecting). Manila, which was under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, surrendered promptly to avoid the destruction of its historical heritage and loss of lives.

- "Are you going to leave Manila, Douglas?"
- "Do not worry, Carlos. I'll move to Australia for a while, but I shall return."

, A Japanese soldier hides among the shadows of the fortress.

In the 3 ½ years that lasted the brutal Japanese occupation, between 1 and 2 million Filipinos were killed. In their final battle against the Americans (who, in one of those twists and turns of history, became the liberators of the Philippines), the Japanese did not hesitate to kill through the bayonet to the local population, including children and pregnant women, and to set Manila on fire during their withdrawal .

Note: This historical video contains scenes that may impact the susceptibility of some readers.

As a result of the crossfire between the two sides, Intramuros was devastated and all its structures destroyed, except for the Church of St. Augustine. In the Battle of Manila alone more than 100,000 Filipino civilians were killed.

- "That is equal to the deaths by the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki" an old guide said to me on a terrible and not so accurate comparison , but it reflects the deep pain of that experience he had in his own flesh and has accompanied him throughout his life.

Intramuros, Manila in 1932, before its destruction in 1945

Photo courtesy of DebraEve

Today, much of the Citadel has been rebuilt (incidentally, with the help of Spanish American and Japanese cooperation) although it is one of the monuments in the list of endangered heritage by UNESCO. Intramuros is not a depressing, tragic memorial as it is, for example, the island of Corregidor. By contrast, it exudes joy, festivity and frenzy, and while some foreigners are playing golf in the course around the monument, many locals express in their boisterous and extroverted character an optimism for better times. I am aware, however, that this place is not merely historical site, is a symbol of the tenacity and sacrifice of the Filipinos to achieve independence, who finally succeeded in 1946.


To thank you very much for your kind company Visayas in Intramuros.


  1. Hello sir.

    Are you from the Philippines, too? I was kinda confused if you're a Mexican or a Filipino.
    Btw, I love your blog. It's too nice to come across someone who blogs about architecture esp in the Phils. I've never been to Intramuros. It's too far from DAvao City. The farthest I've been is in Cebu City and I've gotten to visit CarCar City.. fyi, it's one of the oldest city in the phils. I saw buildings built on the 1950's.. It's actually creepy, like I immediately had goosebumps growing while looking at the buildings there. If you haven't gone to Carcar, you SHOULD visit it, you will never regret it. :)

    By the way, would you care to exchange links? I followed you already. Please write more, I'll be eager to read more posts from you, sir. :)

  2. Thanks avangarde. I am actually Peruvian, I visited Davao and I enjoyed durian with Coca Cola. I also spend some time in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental. I love the Philippines, the landscape, the food and the people. Thank you for your comment and I promise I will update more impressions about your beautiful country's architecture in the future
    Maraming salamat!

  3. Hi! Do you have any information regarding the Beaterio de la Compania de Jesus or the Light and Sound Museum in Intramuros, Manila?

  4. Needed to post you that bit of note to be able to give thanks over again about the awesome concepts you’ve documented in this case. I am satisfied that you simply shared this helpful information with us. You can also visit Properties for Sale UK Discover our developments in the UK and explore Berkeley Group’s portfolio of 70+ projects across Greater London, Birmingham and the South of England.