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Intramuros: Manila’s walled city

The oldest neighbourhood in Manila is Intramuros – Latin for ‘inside the walls’. In the 16th century, Manila became the capital of the Philippines and the administrative centre of Spanish colonial rule. Wars and revolutions have left their mark; many Baroque churches and palaces have been destroyed and the wall is partially reduced to a ruin. However, the area still exudes a colonial atmosphere.

Intramuros is a planned neighbourhood with a straight street grid, large squares and a monumental governor’s palace. The metres thick city walls and the fort with dozens of canons were built to control the rebellious population. Throughout Manila’s turbulent history, the neighbourhood has been reduced to rubble on various occasions, especially during the Second World War. Yet it still remains a lovely place to soak up the city’s colonial history. We’ve selected 3 highlights of Manila’s walled city.

The Manila Cathedral

Manila’s 8th cathedral

The current cathedral is the 8th reincarnation of Manila’s first cathedral, which was constructed here in 1581 with bamboo and palm leaves. A typhoon, city fire, various earthquakes and bombings destroyed the cathedral time after time. The current cathedral was built in the 1950s and was designated a basilica in 1981 by Pope John Paul II.

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Manila Cathedral, Plaza Roma, Intramuros, Manila

Where national hero Rizal died

The Spaniards ruled Manila for more than 3 centuries. The Chinese, Japanese and Americans have also had a presence here. They all operated from the impressive Fort Santiago. This location has great historic importance to the Philippine people as their national hero José Rizal was imprisoned in the fort and spent his final days there. The Rizal Shrine is a museum dedicated to this freedom fighter.

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Fort Santiago

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Fort Santiago, Heroes Square, Intramuros

The San Agustín Church

The Church of San Agustín, the sole survivor

The Spanish Augustinian Order was quick to begin converting the recently colonised population of Manila to Catholicism. The first church inside the walled city was built in 1587 and included a monastery. The Baroque building features an ornate altarpiece, pulpit, choir stalls and trompe l'oeil frescoes. The San Agustín Church is the only building in Intramuros that survived the Battle of Manila at the end of the Second World War.

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The San Agustín Church, General Luna Street, Intramuros

Photo credits

  • The San Agustín Church: suronin, Shutterstock