Manila/Intramuros

Manila Cathedral, facing the main square of Intramuros

Intramuros (Latin: within the walls) is the historic centre and oldest district of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.

Also known as the Ciudad Murada ("Walled City" in Spanish) because of its most famous feature: a nearly three-mile-long circuit of massive stone walls and fortifications that almost completely surrounds the entire district.

Understand

San Agustín Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the city's foundation in 1571 to the end of Spanish rule in 1898, Intramuros was Manila.

The Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi laid the foundations of the new capital on the former site of Maynilad, a palisaded riverside settlement ruled by a native chieftain. To protect the inhabitants from attack, in the late 1500s construction began on a series of stone walls and fortifications that would eventually enclose a pentagonal area approximately 0.67km² in size, within which lay a tight grid-like system of streets and a main square surrounded by government structures. The defensive curtain was more or less completed by the 1700s, although improvements and other construction work continued well into the next century.

Within the protective walls rose a city of stone palaces, churches, monasteries, convents, schools, and fine courtyard houses. In the centuries that followed, Manila (meaning Intramuros) served as the capital of the Spanish East Indies - the centre of commerce, education, government, and religion in Spain's most distant imperial possession.

Except for a brief period under British rule (1762-1764), Intramuros remained a Spanish city until 1898, when the US took control of the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War.

In 1945, during the fierce Battle of Manila between American, Filipino and Japanese forces, Intramuros was almost completely destroyed. Instead of rebuilding on the same site, many of the religious orders and educational institutions that once resided in the walled district packed up and moved elsewhere. Although steps were taken to protect the city's historic character, vague laws and poor enforcement led to many unsightly modern buildings being built upon the ruins of the old. In 1979, the Intramuros Administration was established and stronger measures introduced in order to preserve what was left.

Many of the city's ancient gates and most of the walls have since been restored. On the other hand, there has been almost no progress in the reconstruction of key landmarks (such as major churches and old government buildings), due in part to a serious lack of funds and the existence of new structures.

Get in

Map of Intramuros and the surrounding area

By taxi

For visitors who don't mind shelling out a little extra - and putting up with rush-hour traffic jams - Manila's relatively inexpensive taxis are probably the easiest and most direct way of reaching Intramuros from elsewhere in the city. The current flagdown rate is ₱40, and the fare goes up in increments of ₱3.50 every 300 metres.

By train

The nearest railway station is Central Terminal (LRT-1) . Though within sight of the eastern walls, the station is a pretty long walk from the western part of Intramuros (where many of the major sights are located), so tourists headed in that direction might consider covering the rest of the journey by taxi.

By water bus

The Pasig River Ferry used to stop at Plaza México station, not far from the ruins of the Intendencia (Aduana) building, but according to reports the service has been suspended for an indefinite period. If operations resume in the future, the ferry will likely use this same stopping point.

Get around

It's hard to get hopelessly lost in Intramuros, thanks to the district's orderly street plan. General Luna (also known by its old name, Calle Real del Palacio) is the closest thing Intramuros has to a main street and gives visitors easy access to most of the major attractions, including San Agustín Church and Manila Cathedral. Follow this street all the way to its northwestern tip and you'll find yourself in front of Fort Santiago; go the other way and you'll eventually end up in Rizal Park, which is just over the border in the nearby Ermita district.

If you do lose your bearings, don't panic. Keep in mind that except for a small section near the river, the entire district is surrounded by walls - so there probably isn't much of a chance that you'll inadvertently end up in the wider city beyond. A quick look at a map (and perhaps a little help from passers-by) should easily put you back on track.

A calesa parked in front of Manila Cathedral

See

Walls, gates, and fortifications

Main gate of Fort Santiago

Except for a small open stretch near the River Pasig, Intramuros is completely surrounded by the massive stone walls that gave the district its name. Starting from the northwestern end of the fortifications and moving anti-clockwise (Note: This is not a comprehensive list!):

Plazas, monuments, and public buildings

Statue of King Carlos IV of Spain in Plaza de Roma

Churches

Manila Cathedral (interior)
San Agustín Church (interior)

Museums

Casa Manila (courtyard)

Ruins

Other buildings

Do

Buy

For visitors looking to take something home, stores and galleries selling everything from native art to tourist kitsch aren't difficult to find in this district, especially near major landmarks like Fort Santiago. That said, Intramuros isn't really known for its shopping - to find more options one might consider heading out to the malls of the nearby Ermita area and further afield.

Eat

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

If you're feeling peckish - or need something more substantial to go with your beverage - the cafés listed here also generally offer light meals and snacks, making them a good alternative to the restaurants listed in the previous section.

Sleep

Hotels of any kind - from the luxurious to the spartan - are easy to find in Manila, but there aren't many choices within Intramuros itself. Until recently, most visitors have had to base themselves somewhere outside the walls; this has now changed with at least two new hotels setting up shop inside the district boundaries within the last few years. In addition to the options listed below, other conveniently located hotels can be found in the neighbouring Ermita district.

Tourists willing to put up with (and pay for) long taxi rides might also consider bedding down in the high-end hotels of the posh Makati business district, miles to the southeast.

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

The international telephone country code for the Philippines is 63. The area code for Metro Manila (including Intramuros) is 02.

For further information about this district, contact:

Go next

Manila's sprawling Rizal Park, the National Museum and many other attractions are located just over the border in the Ermita district, within sight of Intramuros' southern walls.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 27, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.