For a bit of history when in Manila, there’s no better place than Intramuros, which is the historic core of the city and has constant reminders of yesteryear.
Intramuros (officially meaning “city within the walls”) is the oldest district and the historic core of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Also called the Walled City, construction of the defensive walls was started by the Spanish colonial government in the late 16th century to protect the city from foreign invasions. Guarding the old city is Fort Santiago, its citadel located at the mouth of the Pasig River.
Intramuros was heavily damaged during the battle to recapture the city from the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War, and while of course restoration has been ongoing ever since, the Global Heritage Fund identified Intramuros as one of the 12 worldwide sites “on the verge of irreparable loss and destruction”, citing its insufficient management and development pressures.
As Manila is not exactly overflowing with tourist destinations, I found Intramuros to be among the highlights of my time in the city. I enjoyed the Spanish colonial architecture and old buildings, such as Fort Santiago. I don’t know much about the true history of these buildings, and I didn’t use a guide when walking around (you can also get a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, if that floats your boat!), but I did enjoy being part of history for an hour or two as I explored the little nooks and crannies of this sprawling complex beside Manila Bay. I took a taxi from my hostel to the Intramuros, although I cannot remember exactly how much it cost; not very much really, as taxis are cheap in the Philippines.
Intramuros is the only district of Manila where old Spanish-era influences are still plentiful. Fort Santiago is now a well-maintained park and popular tourist destination. Adjacent to Fort Santiago is the reconstructed Maestranza Wall, which was removed by the Americans in 1903 to widen the wharves thus opening the city to Pasig River. One of the future plans of the Intramuros Administration is to complete the perimeter walls that surround the city making it completely circumnavigable from the walkway on top of the walls. There has been minimal commercialization occurring within the district, despite restoration efforts. A few fast food establishments set up shop at the turn of the 21st century, catering mostly to the student population within the Intramuros, such as Chowking and Jollibee.
The interesting thing when planning your stay in Manila is to consider that most of the tourist attractions (or at least the historic ones) are within the walls of the Intramuros anyway, including Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, and the nearby Rizal Park. There was also a lovely little museum here called Bahay Tsinoy, which chronicled the timeline of the Chinese-Filipino community in Manila, much the same way as the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore tracks the history of the continent. The entrance fee was only 100 Pesos and is well worth a look if you want to get out of the sun’s glare.