When the Philippines was under Spanish colonial rule during the 1500s to 1800s, the center of Spanish occupation was Intramuros. Founded in 1571 by the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, Intramuros was built on the ruins of a native settlement by the Pasig River.
Miguel Lopez de Lagazpi proclaimed the site as the new capital of the country. Today, Intramuros is a 64 ha area in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. It is the oldest district of the city.
Built as a fortress city, Intramuros is nearly fully surrounded by stone walls spanning 3 kilometers in length. The walls are 6 meters high. The name “Intramuros” means “within the walls”, which is why it is also referred to as the Walled City, or Ciudad Murad in Spanish.
Government buildings, churches, military barracks, schools, hospitals, convents, cobblestone streets and colonial homes could be found inside Intramuros. A vibrant community, it was the center of political, military and religious power of the Spanish colonists.
Only the Spanish elite and mestizos (mixed race, such as a Spanish-Filipino person), were allowed to live inside the Walled City. The local Filipino and Chinese populace had to leave before the city gates were locked at night.
Surrounding the old city was a moat created in 1603. Entry and exit points were controlled through seven fortified gates. Because of its location near Manila Bay, which is a major port of entry into the Philippines, Intramuros came to be under attack on several occasions throughout history.
Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese as well as Sulu pirates had all attempted to capture the city. However, none were successful. During World War II, much of Manila was bombed and Japanese forces took Intramuros and used it as their fort and prisoner-of-war camp.
The Allied forces bombed the city to liberate it from Japanese forces and many structures inside the Walled City were destroyed. Many colleges and convents decided to rebuild outside the Walled City instead.
The moat was later filled to prevent it from becoming a breeding ground of disease. It has been transformed into a golf course. The garrison that used to be Fort Santiago is now one of the most popular attractions inside Intramuros.
In the 1980s, the Philippine government led a major restoration of the city, although there have been some modern-day establishments built inside. Old lamp posts have been installed to increase the Spanish-era atmosphere. Many of the gates and parts of the wall have been restored.
One of the most popular and important sites is Fort Santiago, which was the citadel. The Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned in the fort before he was executed in 1896 by the Spanish army.
The Rizal Shrine houses many of his written works, mementos and personal belongings, such as clothing and artworks. The shrine is dedicated to his life’s work. There are bronze footsteps in the fort to represent Jose Rizal’s final walk from his prison cell to the location of his execution.
Near the fort is the Manila Cathedral which features neo-romanesque architecture. It serves as the see of the Archbishop of Manila and was where Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the clergy during his 2015 Papal visit to the country. The cathedral has many beautiful sculptures, stained glass and carvings on its walls and doors.
Another popular location inside Intramuros is the San Agustin Church. Built between 1587-1606, it is considered the oldest church in the country. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and feature baroque architecture.
The medieval splendor and historical heritage of these two churches make them a popular venue for church weddings.
Other points of interest inside Intramuros are plazas, restored city games and museums such as Bahay Tsinoy, which is dedicated to the contributions of the Chinese-Filipino community, and Casa Manila which recreates a wealthy Intramuros home.
Take a cab to Intramuros. By LRT, alight at Central Terminal Station then either take a cab or a 25-minute walk to Intramuros.