A morning stroll in Intramuros, Manila: A quiet peek into history on a Black Saturday
The three days preceding Easter Sunday are my favorite times to explore Metro Manila. While half of the local population takes off for parts unknown, I stay right where I am, grateful for the temporary respite from the chaos, crowds, and choking traffic. While contemplating where to go on a Black Saturday, I hit upon the idea of visiting the historic district of Intramuros, Manila. With nothing to do and his playmates out of town, my son gamely agreed to come with me. As expected in the most solemn days of Holy Week, there were only a handful of tourists when we reached Intramuros at 9AM. The trees and towering walls provided ample shade from the mild sunshine, allowing for a pleasant stroll among the fascinating ruins.
Founded in 1571 by conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the walled city of Intramuros was the center of political, religious, and military activity in Manila during the Spanish colonial period. Massive walls and fortifications surrounded the government palaces, churches, monasteries, and courtyard houses that rose within the 64-acre citadel. Wars and natural disasters have destroyed much of the original walled structure, but the district’s historic character is preserved by its cobblestone streets, leafy plazas, and colonial buildings.
The most important historical attractions in Intramuros are Fort Santiago and the San Agustin Church. Fort Santiago was where Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal was incarcerated before his execution in what is now known as the Rizal Park. Inside the fort are Spanish-style plazas, courtyards, fountains, and the area’s centerpiece, the Rizal Shrine. The shrine houses a museum that features various Rizal memorabilia, as well as a replica of the national hero’s ancestral house in Laguna. The newly-restored Manila Cathedral-Basilica, a majestic symbol of the resilience of the Catholic faith in among Filipinos, has undergone a massive structural retrofitting while preserving the details of its Romanesque Revival architecture. With its awe-inspiring orange half-dome, mesmerizing stained-glass windows, and regal aisle, the Manila Cathedral is every Catholic bride’s dream wedding venue.
We explored Intramuros on foot, climbing up and down its wide ramparts, and admiring the colonial architecture that has survived numerous man-made and natural disasters. By the time we reached Fort Santiago, Motito had had enough of walking and asked to ride the calesa, a horse-drawn calash that was introduced by the Spanish in the 18th century. Well, I thought, why not? It had been decades since my last calesa ride, and this was going to be my son’s first. We happily climbed aboard one of the horse-drawn carriages that were queued near the fort. For P350, the coachman gave us a 30-minute annotated tour of Intramuros while offering to stop at important landmarks for Instagram-worthy photo ops. It was half-past noon when we finished our calesa tour, when the sun started really beating down on all of creation. After a quick lunch at a nearby restaurant, we decided it was time to go home.