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Intramuros, an old Spanish city, was established during the Spanish rule at Manila. Manila is a sea-side city and capital of the Philippines. The city developed just beside the Manila bay. The site Intramuros, ruled by three chieftains -- Rajah Sulayman, Lakan Dula and Raja Matanda, was originally a large Malayan-Islamic settlement named 'Maynilad'.

The name originates from “may nilad”, 'nilad' being a water plant whose star-shaped flowers huddle in abundance along the low-lying riverbanks.

The strategic location of Mayniland, being on the Pasig River and the Manila Bay, made it an ideal civilisation, including Chinese and Islamic merchants who had come from China, Borneo and Indonesia. Maynilad was also the seat of power for native chiefs who ruled the area before Europeans first arrived in Luzon.

We paid a short visit to Manila last August. The Bangladeshi ambassador to Philippines, Iktiar Chowdhury invited us to behold this magnificent city.

The new part of Manila is very modern with many new high rise buildings. The gorgeous “Ayala Museum” is also located in this area. The museum is famous for their collection of traditional gold jewellery.


have never seen such intricate designs in jewellery anywhere in the world. The museum of architectural works is also very modern and their style of display is very contemporary and interesting. Around this place many shopping malls, cafés and restaurants with lovely interiors have sprung up. On the other hand, old Manila still caters to traditional houses, keeping intact their Spanish periodical architecture and culture.

Visiting Intramuros, the walled city built by the Spaniards upon their occupation of Manila, is a marvellous way to spend the day in Manila. The name “Intramuros” is taken from Latin, meaning “within walls''.

The walled enclosure of the city or fortress also describes its structure as it is surrounded by thick, high walls and moats. During the Spanish colonial period, Intramuros was considered to be Manila itself.

The planning of the city of Manila was commenced by Lopez de Legazpi who had become the first Governor General of the region. He established forts, roads, churches and schools. The plans for Intramuros were based on King Philip II of Spain's Royal Ordinance issued on July 3, 1573 in San Lorenzo, Spain.

The design was based upon a star fort or traceitalience (a very flat structure composed of many triangular bastions) and covered 64 hectares of land, surrounded by 8 feet thick stones and high walls that rose 22 feet in height. It was built to protect the seat of the Spanish government from hostile native revolts and raiding Chinese sea pirates.

Intramuros was completed in 1606 and it served as the centre of political, military and religious power of the Spaniards during the time that the Philippines was a colony of Spain.

Inside Intramuros, there are several Roman Catholic churches, like the Cathedral and the San Agustin Church, convents and schools and many other things. Only Spaniards and Mestizos were allowed to take part in political issues and take residence inside the walls of the city. Christian natives and Chinese inhabitants lived outside the walled city.

Our first stop was the cathedral. The grand church still retains its style of Spanish architecture. The long, vertical, round shaped columns are intricately designed.

This church is almost five hundred years old. The first cathedral, made of bamboo, was constructed in 1581.It was damaged many times by typhoons, fire and earthquakes. The sixth and current incarnation of the cathedral was completed in 1958 and was consecrated as a minor basilica in 1981. It is dedicated to Saint Mary under the title 'Our Lady of the Conception, Patroness of the Philippines'.

This church is different from others because of its elaborate pipe organ. The beautiful musical instrument is used for national programmes. The gorgeous, arch shaped, stained glass windows are still eye-catching.

There are many ways to move around inside Intramuros. Some tourists love to walk and some people travel by car, but the most interesting mode of transport is the horse cart. These vehicles were used on the streets of Manila in the 18th century. Now these horse-drawn carriages can usually be found waiting for passengers near Fort Santiago.

From the cathedral, we embarked upon a tour of the rest of Intramuro on a horse carriage. As we went along our way, our tour guide described all the places of historical interest. We saw the first girl's school of the city, convents and some more Spanish churches and the mayor's office and residence.

We soon arrived at a traditional house with a thatched roof that is actually a craft shop for tourists. Philippines is famous for handicrafts. Their traditional fabrics from natural elements such as banana trees and pineapples are well renowned.

The old houses in the walled city were true to their Spanish style of architecture, from their doors and windows, to their gates and nameplates. The war museum is also situated in this area, displaying a rich collection of historical weapons.

We stopped in front of Fort Santiago, Santa Clara. It was the former military headquarters of the Spanish colonial government. Although the fort sustained very heavy damage during the 1945 Battle of Manila, several key portions of the compound were subsequently restored - including its iconic gate with a wooden relief featuring Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor-slayer), the patron saint of Spain.

This is now considered a major landmark and one of Manila's most popular tourist attractions, partly because José Rizal - the national hero of the Philippines - was imprisoned here prior to his execution on 30 December 1896. The Rizal Shrine, a small museum dedicated to his life and work, is housed in a restored section of one of the fort's former barracks.

The most interesting attraction for tourist however, is a residence house called Casa Manila. This house is a typical upper-class colonial Intramuros home. The interiors are filled with antique furniture, artwork, and other artefacts from the Spanish era, all carefully arranged to illustrate what life was like for wealthy families of that period.

The San Agustin Museum is also very impressive. There are many collections including Spanish colonial-era ecclesiastical vestments, sacred vessels, religious art, manuscripts, and other important cultural artefacts. The building itself is steeped in history, fashioned out of the surviving portions of a monastery that was heavily damaged during the Second World War.

San Agustin Church is a true Spanish Baroque treasure, with magnificent trompe-l'œil ceilings and a splendid high altar. Consecrated in 1607, this ancient building managed to survive the Second World War (although it, too, sustained heavy damage) and is said to be the oldest stone church currently standing in the Philippines.

It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993 as part of the group "Baroque Churches of the Philippines". Miguel López de Legazpi (1502-1572), the first Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, is buried in a tomb near the high altar; other funerary monuments can be found along the walls or set into the floor. The church is also a very popular venue for weddings.

There are many small cafes for students and tourists. The whole atmosphere is very joyful and enthusiastic. We took some appetizers very quickly and started window shopping. Manila is famous for pearls and coral. The salt water yellow pearls are really attractive. We also bought samples of their handicrafts, including classic crocheted placemats, table runners, napkins and table cloths.

Nazneen Haque Mimi
Interior Consultant

E-mail: journeyman. interiors@gmail.com
Photo credit: Tamim Sujat



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