Flashback to two decades ago: When I was still working as a staff writer at a (now defunct) lifestyle magazine, my weekend R&R meant going to Intramuros, also referred to as the “walled city”, where acoustic musicians entertained a small crowd of amblers with the popular strains of Paolo Santos’s “Moonlight over Paris”, Jimmy Bondoc’s “Let me be the one”, and Matchbox Twenty’s “Unwell. Intramuros, then became synonymous to Valentine’s dates, family bonding, cheap eats, and affordable trinkets at the Clam Shell shops. “A place to be”, according to the youngsters who were able to get their fill of safe, “gimik” nights without blowing their entire week’s allowance.
Ever since activities were halted, I never visited the place again. Until recently, Intramuros has started hosting cultural activities. Last October, Intramuros1, held a one-day open house, with a free pass to most, if not all of its museums and historical sites.
The nearly 70 hectares historical walled Spanish bastion was built in the 16th century and had survived a few earthquakes, restorations and the Spanish-American war in 1898.
This place, we discovered is just one FX or jeepney commute to where we live, costing about Php 30 (about US$0.6) per person/route via FX (or Php20 or about US$0.4 if by jeepney). Travel time was approximately 45 minutes minus the traffic.
The Manila Cathedral
Our first stop was at the Manila Cathedral, along Plaza de Roma. It is also known as the main Catholic Church in the country, and which is quite famous in the present time, being a popular venue of many celebrity weddings. It was actually the first time I saw the interior of this church, even though I had visited Intramuros for several times already in the past. I particularly like the stained glass windows and its neo-Romanesque grandeur of the interiors. A pipe organ, consisting of more than 5000 pipes, stood majestically at the choir loft.
A couple or so blocks away from the Cathedral is the Bahay Tsinoy. The life-like figures of Chinese settlers (also called Sangleys or merchants by the Spanish) in the Philippines during the early 19th century, have always been fascinating, yet they never fail to give me the goosebumps! This photo is that of a barber and his customer.
Casa Manila2 is a replica of a 19th-century Spanish colonial house. By the standards during that period, this three-story house was already considered a mansion. A mix of European motif furniture and several Chinese ornaments that can be found in the house, which evidenced trading activities with the Chinese when the Suez Canal opened. The floor planks and walls were made of hardwood, and the sliding windows were adorned with shells called “Capiz”. The shells are from the Placuna Placenta oysters. In some areas in the Philippines, some modest old homes still have those kinds of windows.
Parian3 is my most favourite part of Intramuros, sited along Plaza San Luis. I feel some sort of connection to this ghetto, being that I have Chinese ancestry. Bereft of the elegant structures that are common features in other parts of Intramuros, Parian has the memories of the daily grind and the tragedy of the early Chinese settlers in the city.
There were yet several places to see that day but because we had to comb through the area on foot (not being able to avail the free Tranvia ride due to the volume of riders), notwithstanding that my shoes almost yielded to the bumpy surface of the cobblestone pavements and the long queues of people, it was impossible to get to all the sites there within the free pass window of 9 am to 5 pm. Of course, freeloading Is the most fun part :p
1Destruction of Intramuros, by Dr. Benito J. Legarda Jr.
2The Casa Manila museum
3The massacre of 1603: Chinese perception of the Spaniards in the Philippines