A Walk Through History

Manila

Intramuros, a walled city within Manila, still stands proud to this day—persisting through the rise and fall of the Spanish, American, and Japanese occupations. First to colonize the Philippines, the Spaniards landed onto the islands on 1521. They slowly conquered the lands by sword and by cross, crawling up from the central islands of Leyte and Cebu before establishing a new city in Manila. The historic spirit of Intramuros has remained unbroken, despite going through natural disasters, and even World War II. Little by little, the city has rebuilt itself; yet, today, it’s not hard to imagine dainty women clad in blouses of pineapple fiber and long skirts, walking down cobblestone lanes with dapper men. Here, history stands side-by-side with the present; universities, shops, and “informal settlements” contrast with stone bulwarks, government offices, and Spanish-era homes. Every corner of Intramuros bears exploration, but the following few are the crucial touchpoints of Philippine history that have survived through time.

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Updated a year ago

Baluarte de San Andres

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Manila, Philippines • Recommendation • 

Ascend the perimeter wall just east of Puerta Real, also known as the Royal Gate, and contemplate the battles against the invading Americans, and, later on, the Japanese, that must’ve confronted its stone face. Intramuros has several entry points, whether you’re coming from north, east, south, or west of the walled city. The Puerta Real opens up the south wall and served only the Governor-General (the appointed representative of the Spanish crown) during the Spanish occupation. The Baluarte de San Andres had the crucial role of fortifying the east of Puerta Real. A baluarte, or bastion, was a military stronghold, defending the city. Some of the forts that dot the perimeter wall of Intramuros are still armed with cannons, as if awaiting battle. Baluarte de San Andres is sparse of features compared to its companion fortresses; but with the National Museum in the distance and the Manila Bulletin (a major broadsheet in the Philippines) office just behind it, this bastion offers tourists a quiet spot to begin their journey into Manila’s history.

  • 62 Muralla Street, Intramuros, Manila City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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Baluarte de San Diego

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Manila, Philippines • Recommendation • 

On the other side of the Puerta Real gate, the Baluarte de San Diego features scenic gardens and the remains of a round structure. From 1979 to 1982, archeological excavations were conducted on the sunken tower found here. It is one of the oldest structures of the walled city, shifting from its own circular fortress to part of the larger wall. Visitors can look down at the pit into the tower that has been built and rebuilt through city development, direct foreign attack, and an earthquake. The bastion juts out of the wall, as all of the baluartes do, to give the artillery a better view of the perimeter—and, if needed, their attackers. To date, gardens surround the area, allowing visitors to take advantage of Baluarte de San Diego’s views.

  • Santa Lucia Street corner Muralla Street, Intramuros, Manila City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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Baluartillo de San Jose

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Manila, Philippines • Recommendation • 

Following the defensive wall past the Baluarte de San Diego, you’ll come across the Baluartillo de San Jose. The stone fortress juts out to a point where at its tip, a store house stands, known as the Reducto de San Pedro. Going to street level, a tunnel reveals itself cutting through the wall and to the reducto (redoubt, a reinforced refuge). Winding through the walls and bulwarks of this little city, tunnels like these once coursed with the military’s ammunition before its storage in the reducto. During the latter part of the American Occupation in the Philippines, the Baluartillo de San Jose was also known as No. 1 Victoria Street, serving as headquarters to General Douglas MacArthur. The urgency of defense and battle have long been replaced by the leisure of tours and casual strolls on the perimeter wall. Atop the baluartillo, or small bastion, a view of the reducto surrounded by putting green of the Intramuros Club Golf Course stretches before you.

  • Santa Lucia Street, Intramuros, Manila City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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Plazuela de Santa Isabel

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Manila, Philippines • Recommendation • 

In a humbler corner of Intramuros lies Plazuela de Santa Isabel. A park and courtyard, the plaza is part of the Santa Isabel College, one of Asia’s oldest colleges founded as early as 1632. It remembers those lost in the tailend of the Second World War, The Battle of Manila A little monument, called the Memorare Manila 1945, stands in the heart of the plaza. A single hooded figure cradles a child as bodies are strewn around them. It’s a sombre sight, grounding the deaths that hang over Intramuros not just in World War II, but in the battles that came before.

  • Anda Street corner General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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Walk the hallowed halls of this basilica where Popes and Manila's former Archbishops have offered up a mass from one time to another. Before it rose to glory as a cathedral, this place of worship was made of nipa and bamboo. It served the Spaniards in growing the Catholic Church of the newly founded Manila. As early as the 16th Century, the Manila Cathedral was a major seat to the religious heads of the country. Through time, stone replaced bamboo, crafted in the Neo-Romanesque Byzantine style featuring a majestic mix of round arches, white statues atop the façade pilasters, and stained glass windows. Like many parts of Intramuros, the Manila Cathedral has had to rise from its own ashes multiple times. It’s been brought down to the ground by fire, earthquakes, and war in its long history. Still, the church endures—and, in 1981, it was appointed as a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II. Devout Catholics and curious tourists flock under its light blue dome to offer up a prayer or simply bask in the beauty of the timeless basilica.

  • +6325273093
  • Cabildo corner Beaterio Street, Intramuros, Manila, Metro Manila, Philippines

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San Agustin Church

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Manila, Philippines • Recommendation • 

Like the Manila Cathedral, the San Agustin Church was first built with nipa and bamboo. When the Chinese pirate Limahong raided Manila, the church was razed to the ground. After a second incident, the church was rebuilt in stone. San Agustin Church reinforced the spread of the Catholic faith, but during the Japanese occupation in World War II, its hallowed halls served as a concentration camp. Unlike majority of Intramuros in the Battle of Manila, it stayed upright amidst the wreckage. The adjacent monastery was completely destroyed, but the church stood. Bask in the opulence of 16th-century crosses, Parisian chandeliers, and a majestic pipe organ. Look up, and the ceiling can play tricks on your eyes with its three-dimensional paintings—a style called trompe l’oeil. San Agustin Church also hosts an extensive collection of religious artefacts for history buffs and devout believers. Its charm carries on, hosting weddings and regular Masses—a living tradition inherited from the Spanish.

  • +6325247141
  • General Luna Street, Manila City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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Plaza de Roma

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Manila, Philippines • Recommendation • 

In the heart of Intramuros, Plaza de Roma looks out onto Manila Cathedral, Ayuntamiento de Manila, and Palacio del Gobernador—seats to early Manila’s civil and religious powers. The Catholic Church and government palaces, in the custom of colonial Spain, became the center to a given city; the closer you were to the center, the greater influence you held in society. Plaza de Roma hosted public events, like bullfights, in the square before it was converted into a garden. A monument of King Charles IV stands at the very center, an arm outstretched in a commanding pose, commemorates him for bringing smallpox vaccine into the Philippines.

  • Andres Soriano Avenue, Intramuros, Manila City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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Palacio del Gobernador

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Manila, Philippines • Recommendation • 

Once the utmost seat of power to Spanish-run Manila, this “palace” housed the Governor-General before sovereign power made its way up the river to Malacañang Palace. Currently, it houses the Intramuros Administration and the Commission on Elections. The Intramuros Administration manages the walled city, its restoration, cultural programs, and future projects. While the Commission on Elections, carries the weight of suffrage in the Philippines.

  • +6325599119
  • General Luna Street corner Postigo corner Soriano Street, Intramuros, Manila City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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Fort Santiago

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Manila, Philippines • Recommendation • 

End your exploration of Intramuros where the Spanish walled city all began. This citadel at the mouth of the Pasig River was built in the early days of newly established Manila to guard against foreign invaders. Fort Santiago was originally palm and earth until it was finally built in stone, with intricate carvings and a European coat of arms adorning its gate. It served to keep out the unwanted, but also keep within its stone cells an incarcerated hero. Dr. Jose Rizal, one of the country's most prominent historical figures and widely considered its national hero, spent his last days here awaiting execution. His crime? Writing two novels, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo (The Subversive), whose stories were critical of the Spanish regime. Trace Dr. Jose Rizal’s final steps as bronze footsteps trail his path from Fort Santiago to Bagumbayan field, now Luneta Park, where he was executed by firing squad. Many regard his life and work as a seminal point in Philippine history, leading to national independence. Intramuros remains a living city where the nation’s history is as tangible as stone and bronze. Locals and tourists alike flock to this walled city to unravel the nation’s story as it reveals itself through the remains of religion, politics, and militant force.

  • +6325271572
  • General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila City, Metro Manila, Philippines

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