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The Walled City: The toast of Asian travelers

Plaza España is formerly known as Aduana Square

A foreign tourist’s trip to the nation’s capital almost always begins with Intramuros, a special historical district of Manila, which was the seat of government, center of religion, education and the economy during the Spanish period. Destroyed in most part in 1945 during the Liberation of Manila, its postwar restoration tried to recreate a throwback look and ambiance of the colonial-era way of life.

With a land area of less than a square kilometer, the so-called Walled City is punctuated with buildings inspired by the typical Iberian stone house architecture, massive fortress walls, cobblestone streets, and landmarks such as Fort Santiago, San Agustin Church and Manila Cathedral, which have been mainstays in tourism promotion calendars since time immemorial.

Memorare Manila 1945 serves as a marker for the civilian victims of the Battle of Manila.

But beyond the iconic images, it is a treasure throve of pocket parks, monuments, intriguing historic nooks,  and commemorative plaques chronicling lesser-known events.

Despite its proximity to most parts of the metropolis, this “city within a city” seems to be a frontier that a huge number of urbanites haven’t set foot on this unique district.

If there is a compelling reason to visit Intramuros very soon, it was recognized by the prestigious 27th World Travel Awards as Asia’s Leading Tourist Attraction last October. This is proof that its eclectic character never fails to charm the continent’s travelers from all walks of life.

Over the years, the Intramuros Administration has encouraged various modes of appreciating the wonders within the walls at a slower pace—from plain walking, horse-drawn kalesa, pedicabs, Segway electric two-wheeled vehicle, and more recently, bicycles.

Interestingly, the area has become a haven for bikers in recent months, due to the GCQ-related out-of-town restrictions.

Club Intramuros Golf Course, one of the oldest golf courses in the country. Plaza Mexico’s historic structure was donated by the Mexican Secretary of The Navy Shipyards.

On top of the usual must-sees in the district, there are scores of equally interesting spots, which are both historically significant, and for the younger generations, Instagrammable. 

Often overshadowed by the taller edifices in the area is Plaza Sampalucan, a tree-lined park along the Real de Palacio or Gen. Luna St. Now known as Memorare Manila 1945, it memorializes the hundreds of thousands who perished and were brutalized by the Japanese troops during the siege for the city during World War II. Its centerpiece is the black marble sculpture inspired by Michelangelo’s masterpiece “Pieta” depicting the grief of a mother over the death of her children.

A block away from the main road are the ruins of Cuartel de Santa Lucia, which was built in 1781 for the Spanish artillery and was used in 1901 as the headquarters of the American-era Philippine Constabulary. In 1905, it was opened as a military school and became the first site of the Philippine Military Academy before it was transferred to Baguio. 

Beside it is the Galeria de los Presidentes dela Republica Filipina, a garden gallery where bas relief sculptures of past Presidents are exhibited. Canopied by trees, it provides a cool and breezy shade to promenaders and bikers seeking shelter from the heat of the sun.

Dine at Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant Café and get to witness a cultural dance performance. Escuela Taller de Filipinas, a vocational school dedicated to heritage conservation.

Plaza España is a diminutive triangular open space facing the ruins of the then Bureau of the Treasury. Its centerpiece is a monument to King Felipe II after whom the Philippines was named after.

Situated near the banks of the Pasig River is Plaza Mexico, which commemorates the 400th anniversary of the expedition of Spanish conquistadors Miguel López de Legazpi and Andres de Urdaneta from New Spain (Mexico) in 1964, and the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade relations which ran for 250 years. On the other side is a statue of  Mexican president Adolfo López Mateos, who visited the city in 1962.

Escuela Taller de Filipinas might not be the typical historic spot, but is an attraction in its own right because of the involvement of its artisans and craftsmen in built heritage conservation.

The district also boasts of more than a dozen public and private museums and galleries, such as Fort Santiago’s Rizal Shrine, San Agustin Museum, Bagumbayan Light and Sound Museum, Archdiocesan Museum of Manila, Casa Manila, and the Museo de Intramuros. Currently closed due to the pandemic, these repositories will reopen soon to cater to culture vultures for a glimpse of the city’s checkered past.

Complete your time travel and grab a bite at the signature dining haunts which seem to transport you back to the past.

A must-try is Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant at the Plaza San Luis Complex, which is known for its cultural music and dance performances and Spanish-inspired lunch and dinner buffets. It opened a few months back for à la carte and takeaways at its smaller dining extensions.

Other must-tries are the ecclesiastical-themed café Ristorante delle Mitre, Ilustrado Restaurant, Patio de Conchita, and The Bayleaf Hotel which has several food and beverage outlets.

A new toast of the town is the La Cathedral Café which relocated to a bigger roof deck across the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica, and is tops for dinner with the lighted view of the church.

Adding a touristic pull to the Walled City is the sprucing up of its immediate environs in the City of Manila—Jones Bridge, Kartilya ng Katipunan Shrine, Anda Circle, and Lagusnilad Underpass.

With the renaissance it is undergoing within and without the fortifications, Intramuros is worth paying that well-deserved bicycle trip soon.

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Article and Photo originally posted by Business Mirror last November 21, 2020.

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