Intramuros, Manila

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Intramuros, which is located along the southern bank of the Pasig River, is the oldest district of the city of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. It was built by the Spaniards in the 16th century.


Its name is derived from two Spanish words intra and muros, which literally means "within the walls." This describes the characteristic of the district, which is surrounded by thick, high walls and moats.

Pre-colonial period

The original site where Intramuros is located was originally a part of a large Malayan Muslim settlement named Maynilad headed by Rajah Sulayman. The name Maynilad is derived from may nilad, nilad being a water plant whose star-shaped flowers clustered in abundance along the low-lying riverbanks.

The strategic location of Maynilad, which is on the Pasig River and the Manila Bay, made it an ideal location for the locals to trade crafts and produce with other peoples of the then pre-Hispanic Philippines and other Asian countries, especially with ethnic Chinese merchants.

Spanish colonial period

An entrance to Intramuros in Victoria Street. The entrance is near the Lyceum of the Philippines University and Mapúa University. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/justcallmelloyd)

In 1570, Spanish conquistadors led by Martín de Goiti, Juan de Salcedo and Miguel López de Legazpi arrived in Manila. Goiti and Legazpi's men waged war on the Muslims and indigenous Tagalog peoples before they were able to take control and establish a permanent settlement in the area. In 1571 after the Spaniards were victorious in battle, Legazpi made a peace pact with the native Muslim rulers, who, in return, handed over Manila to the Spaniards. Citing the rich resources, strategic economic, political and military importance of Manila, Legazpi declared Manila as the new capital of the Spanish colony in the Philippines on June 24, 1571. King Philip II, delighted at the new conquest achieved by Legazpi and his men, awarded Manila a coat of arms and declared it Ciudad Insigne y Siempre Leal ("Distinguished and ever loyal city"). The planning of the city of Manila was commenced by Legazpi, who established forts, roads, churches and schools. The plans for Intramuros were based on the King's Royal Ordinance issued on July 3, 1573 in San Lorenzo, Spain. Its design was based upon a medieval castle structure and covered 64 hectares of land, surrounded by 8 meter thick stones and high walls that rise 22 meters.

The walled city was eventually completed in 1606. Inside it, there are several Roman Catholic churches, like the Manila Cathedral and the San Agustin Church, convents and church-run schools, such as the Universidad de Santo Tomás, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and the Ateneo Municipal de Manila. The Governor's Palace, the official residence of Spanish Viceroyalties to the Philippines was originally in Intramuros before it was officially moved to Malacañang Palace and Fort Santiago. Only Spaniards and mestizos were allowed to take residence inside the walled city, Christian natives and ethnic Chinese were also allowed inside, but Spanish officials prevented them living there. The vast majority of the natives and ethnic Chinese residents lived outside the walled city.

Buildings inside Intramuros

(*Still on the same site today)

Churches, convents and chapels


Other buildings

World War II

During World War II, much of Intramuros was damaged by bombings from both Japanese who occupied it and used it as their headquarters and prison, and by American forces who besieged the Japanese.

During February to March, 1945, the Japanese closed the gates of Intramuros and begun killing the civilians and burning the buildings. Almost 100,000 civilians died during the Liberation of Manila. The only structure that survived was San Agustin Church.

Present day

In the 1980s, under the direction of former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, the Intramuros Administration (IA) embarked on a restoration campaign. At present, the walled city is the only district in Manila where many old Spanish-era influences were retained. Much of the development of present-day Manila occurred outside the gates of Intramuros, leaving its old walls, streets, and churches minimally touched by modernization, although outlets of Jollibee, McDonald's and Starbucks now stand alongside distinguished educational institutions inside of it. The old moats that surrounded Intramuros have been filled up and transformed into a golf course where locals and foreign nationals play the sport. Fort Santiago is now a tourist spot where visitors can enjoy the nostalgic romance of a bygone Spanish era within its gardens.

The IA are also restoring the baluartes and puertas that are in Intramuros. A baluarte is a Spanish word for "bastion". These places are strongholds of Spaniards during the Spanish era. They are the Baluarte de San Diego, Baluarte de San Gabriel, Baluarte de Sta Barbara and Baluarte de San Andres. A puerta is a main entrance to the walled city.

Intramuros now houses some of the higher education institutions in the Philippines. These are the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Mapúa Institute of Technology, Lyceum of the Philippines University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, and high schools such as the Manila High School, and Colegio de Santa Rosa.


External links



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