Whether you plan to spend a couple of weeks in Manila or just a few days before your official beach stop, I truly recommend a visit to Manila’s Intramuros. Touring around Intramuros introduced me to things about my culture I never knew about. I didn’t grow up with any Filipino friends, my parents didn’t teach me Tagalog, and so prior to my 3 month stay in the Philippines, I knew almost nothing of the history. Intramuros is a great introduction to what the Philippines is about.
Intramuros is latin for within the walls which is exactly what it is. A city within the walls. It is the oldest district in Manila. Many have occupied, even briefly, but is was the Spanish who started constructing the city in the 1500s. Back in those days only the Spanish, the Mestizos and the wealthy were allowed within the walls. Spanish rule ended in 1898 and was in turn was occupied by the U.S. In 1945 during the war most of the buildings in Intramuros were destroyed. Until 1979 the city wasn’t preserved properly but the city is now doing the best it can to take care of what is left. So now, come explore with me through my pictures on a day around Intramuros. WARNING: POST IS PICTURE HEAVY AND WILL BE DIVIDED INTO PARTS.
It wasn’t till planning my trip back to the Philippines that I heard of Intramuros. I couldn’t believe it. It’s probably one of the most important landmarks in the city. I was young visiting in 2007 and hadn’t even realized I stepped foot inside. We didn’t visit the old Spanish buildings or churches, but instead was volunteering at an orphanage for children with needs. All this beauty was just around the corner but no one told me!
Starting the day early our driver dropped us (my mom and I) in front of the Manila Cathedral pictures above. We went inside really quickly despite the fact my outfit wasn’t considered Church appropriate (didn’t plan the Church part before hand). The outside is beautiful and located on Plaza de Roma where you can find space to either park your car, or begin your walk inside Intramuros. We were approached by a man in a bright yellow plaid shirt and we decided to take his offer and have him tour us around. We got on his kalesa and he began with the history of Intramuros.
Our first stop was San Agustin Church. It’s adjacent to the San Agustin Museum which you can enter for a fee but we didn’t go in either. It looked closed when we got there. I tried opening those huge doors with no luck. There’s a large parking lot here. It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list as one of Philippines “Baroque Churches”.
In the picture above, you can see directly across the street is where you can enter a collection of courtyards and houses replicating what you would have seen in Intramuros in the 18th century. Here you can find restaurants, cafes, original souvenir shops (not the tacky kind), a hotel and a museum. The museum, Casa Manila, costs a little extra and I didn’t find the time to go inside. But roaming the courtyards with its fountains and climbing old staircases is free and so photogenic. If you chose a Segway or bike tour the starting point is here. My family took the Segway tour and enjoyed it – but me, I still prefer a kalesa.
All this as you enter. The stairs lead up to a restaurant which is often rented out for weddings. This is an example (and the location) of what an old Spanish colonial house were to look like. Where the restaurant is located now is where the sala (foyer/entrance) used to be. And walking through to the courtyard is where the residents would park their kalesa’s.
You then enter into another courtyard that leads to the White Knight Hotel. Since seeing the hotel I’ve been curious about what it’s like to stay the night. Our guide was walking us through all of this. This would be my dream courtyard! My mom told me my Abuelita once owned a house not to far from here with this same beautiful style of courtyard and stairs. But during the war the Japanese kicked them out and burned the house once the war was over. I still need to ask my grandma if she has pictures of it because I am dying to see them!
Climbing up and over stairs, underneath little arches and through courtyards with wells and water fountains. Inside an old Spanish building. I loved it. Parts of this structure remained intact after the war and you can feel the history through these walls. We walked down into another courtyard as the sun was starting to come out. The entrance to Casa Manila is here and you can see parts of it through the windows that were open in this courtyard.
Our kalesa driver met up with us and took us past the church along the old walls. Intramuros was once surrounded by a moat but after the Americans took over they turned it into a golf course.
Along the wall our guide pointed out bullet holes from battles years ago. The sun was high up at this point, I was still a little hung over from the night before, and I remember feeling faint. Thankfully they were selling cold bottled water close by which basically saved me. We continued on around the corner and stopped for a quick photo of Baluarte de San Diego which holds the remains of the first stone fort built-in Manila. There is an entrance fee and from what I can see outside – there are beautiful lush gardens. I told myself I was going to come back this way after the tour.
Intramuros is still a functioning little district of Manila. There are several schools and office buildings. We stopped for a while walking up to a view from Baluarte de San Francisco de Dilao. It must have been lunch break because students were streaming into the streets. Interesting mixture of kalesa’s, cars, guards in old uniforms riding motorcycles and lots of people. There were a bunch of street food stalls along this side of the wall. The other side is definitely much quieter.
After making our way through a thick crowd we came upon my favorite abandoned building. Intendencia. There are plans to restore this building but for now, it looks as if the jungle is taking it back for themselves. Our guide told us they film movies inside. Across the street is the Pasig River. The other side of his building is restored but I prefer the cryptic look of this side.
From here we crossed a somewhat busy street to Fort Santiago. Our guide agreed to give us a tour of this area as well. He was so nice and reminded me a lot of my Lolo! The first thing you see when you enter is a huge plaza called Plaza Moriones. Along the side are old abandoned houses/buildings. As well as different style kalesa’s you can hire to take you around the plaza (which is huge by the way). Click Here to read Part II of A Tourist in Intramuros.
Have you explored Intramuros before? What do you think of this old city within the walls? I would love to hear what you think in the comments below! Or simply “Like” the post .