Idyll Inside The Walls

By Randy Bolante 

Intramuros: Latin within the walls or Ciudad Insigne y Siempre Leal "Distinguished and ever loyal city", was for almost the past 500 years the most influential and political centre of the Philippine Archipelago. It was within and is, Manila. Built in 1571, and gradually from the Miguel-Lopez de Legazpi to the succeeding rulers of these islands, it was built, repaired, destroyed, and renovated. Once, one of the strongest fortified cities in Asia, once the heart of our country, once a shining jewel of Spanish rule, lay in ruins – her splendor mildly appreciated her magnificence in danger of disappearing. But it still caught me, as the heart of any traveler, foreign or native, in the case of fantasizing the ardor of what once have been. Looking in her mighty stones, walls and houses, and churches, I have long wondered how these slumbering pearls of my motherland had for seventy years, left in stagnant, sometimes repaired, but often times suffering to the sickness that it received that is yet to be cured. Intramuros is the living testament of the Filipino past and maybe the epitome of what is happening now and what would be in the future.

Walking in the walls is easy. In fact, walking all around Intramuros, wouldn’t take you for four hours. Depending on how long you stay in each place, the walking tour is often finished less the two hours. Two hours of feeding your eyes of Colonial History. A bottle of water, cap or umbrella, and camera is a necessity in taking this tour.

The preferred and traditional starting point of tourist going to round the walled city is by Fort Santiago, where one can ask for maps and tourist guides to know what to expect along the way, with Kalesa waiting to give you ride.
No offence to Kalesa drivers, but to fully absorbed the allure that Intramuros’ ruins is hiding, one should take the walk (yes even in the blistering heat of summer’s sun), and to start it, in my opinion in Colegio de San Juan de Letran.
Why there? Because it is near to both LRT Center and Carriedo terminal. It is a good starting or ending spot if you are coming or from shopping to Philippine’s center Bazaar – Divisoria. Notwithstanding the fact that you may see, me, who is studying there!

Colegio de San Juan de Letran is one of the oldest school in Asia built by the Dominicans in 1620. You can inquire about Philippine history especially in Intramuros by entering there, where we can find Letran Center for Intramuros Studies (LCIS). I started skirting in front of the College: Baluarte de San Gabriel– (Baluartes are fortified section of the Walls that used to serve as both battle tower and armory) and onwards I came to pass seven eleven, the Walled City Dormitory with student tambays eating queck-queck  or heading to play in computer cafes or billiard stores, and outside the walls I can look towards the ASEAN garden and the infamous Beer Garden where resto-bars secretly exist (it came to life the early hours of the night). When in front of Lyceum and Mapua University, I stopped to eat in the “Walls” a term of eatery that extends along the Revelin del Parian, though it is often crammed with people, the delicacies there are all Pinoy, cheap and delicious, are not be ignored when you’re stomach is hungry. I Don’t eat too much though for the walk hasn’t started yet.

Heading towards the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, I came across Puerta Real (“Puerta” is the term for gatehouse or entrances in Intramuros). Students are taking pictures there, some are playing, and some are walking like me. There is a Neo Classical building along the way…a silent monument of American past, and travelling Luna Street there is a restaurant – Illustrado – that presents Old-Filipino cuisine combines with the spirit of former home architecture and the Silahis: an exquisite retail store of indigenous handmade produce. Furniture’s made of bamboo, wood, rattan, carvings of pure Filipino designs and books.For foreigners it is a good stop to start buying souvenirs. Leaving the shop I head towards Baluearte de San Diego –a most comely garden and place without fee. Entering her walls I saw a merry group of perhaps PLM’ students practicing for their dance number, a couple holding hands gazing the Manila hotel not caring the hot touch of sunrays, and a British Accent Caucasian lively in taking shots with his camera who said compliments in the practicing group.

Going to Baluarte de San Diego, the end of Muralla Street, has a fee of 50 pesos. It is one of the oldest stone fortifications in Intramuros, began as a circular fort called Fort Nuestra Senora de Guia, renovated in 1593 to join the walls of the city. It was destroyed overtime by earthquakes or foreign invaders: British and Japanese. I came there almost alone. Almost afraid to hear silent whispers of creeping specters that the annals of the past had long buried. But I see neither ghost nor anything creepy, but in fact saw the adornment of grass and flowers and leaves inviting me as if to lie down. A few moments of clean meditative stance beside the canon lead me to rush and resume my journey, which stops next to the Sta Ana convent in Sta Lucia Streets. It was deserted, but I remember walking the vicinity before. - Paskuhan Night – with a wonderful company of six - under the amicable watch of the moon. I reminisce those moment, we’ve climb the walls of Sta Lucia in which there’s a tree in front of ECJ post-war building where we once take pictures, now inhabited by an old man sleeping, a middle age guy in serious reading, and in the far corner of the wall an unexpected sight that churn my chest in envy!  A couple exchanging the most intimate of kisses, the girl, pretty beyond words!

The Puerta de Sta. Lucia was traditionally the main entrance to the Walled City. I head to the only building that survived the retake of Manila during World War II, and a UNESCO World Heritage site: San Agustin Church and Convent. Gazing it, Romanesque perhaps Renaissance style with Corinthian columns, it is all about massiveness in symmetry. Personally, I do not like the orange touch at first, but looking further, the orange colour tells actually a lot about it, or so I think. For me Orange is an alluring colour, enough to attract like red but with tranquility that Blue also has. Evident of Southern Mediterranean churches.fee was 50 pesos for students, and the tour is definitely worth it. Bamboo organs, the interior design of the church, façade, dozens of paintings, and clothing of that period, ecclesiastical artifacts, and the tomb of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi all bear witness to what once have been the grandeur of Agustinian order and the elapsed time of hundred years ago. Within the corner there’s Casa de Manila and two restaurants that you can eat to, Barbara and Bistro (Casa) Marinero.

After that I made a short track to glance Bahay Tsinoy – a museum of Filipino-Chinese history. I remember that the Chinese in Intramuros and in the Philippines are particularly watched in suspicious eyes, as revolts have been common and the envy of the Chinese commercial dominance , or the threat of another Limahong ( A Chinese pirate that almost scoure Luzon in the early years of Spanish Rule) has marked deep within the Spanish fold. Alas I am near to Manila Cathedral! As I passed the memorial of innocent World War II victims, I suddenly saw a taxi driver half lying in the back of the passenger seat! I’m quite shocked at first more so because there’s a woman who gasped in terror, and a group who young men near the taxi apathetic. But luckily there’s a man beside me who calls the guard, and I look as the man’s feet suddenly moved epileptically! The Guard is not troubled like “cool men I got this”, and true enough...perhaps to my happiness... or perhaps to my dismay and ridiculous curiosity of after all our concerns... The man is not dead and just doing something God in his wisdom knows what in the back passenger seat in his taxi. He smile to us, and like a Troll, start the engine of his car, and drive along. I went away.

Manila Cathedral – is the ecclesiastical seat of the Archdiocese of Manila. In Spanish colonial times, this was the seat of the Spanish Archbishop of Manila, who had jurisdiction over the entire archipelago. It was destroyed repeatedly over the centuries, the wood and nipa replaced by stones, the stones strengthens every fall. However it was currently closed after a crack as discovered in December. But even if I do not have the pleasure to enter its awesome insterior, which I nevertheless have entered upon, the Manila Cathedral is so magnificent to behold, the front façade in multiplying vaults that have Latin inscriptions Tibi cordi tuo immaculato concredimus nos ac consecramus (We consecrate to your immaculate heart and entrust to you for safekeeping.) Around the Cathedral is the Plaza de Roma featuring in its center the statue of King Carlos IV of Spain, Palacio del Gobernador now the headquarters of COMELEC, and the Ayuntamiento, which is under construction.
Beyond the Plaza de Roma is the entrance to the Fort Santiago. I bought a hat and a soda, and accompany a group of tourist complete with a tour guide who talks about how Douglas McArthur approved the shelling of the city after GI’s have a hard time defeating the suicidal Japanese defenders. Plaza de Moriones is a wide square in front of the Fort. There’s a Galleria de Revolucion de Filipina -  art gallery and shop of the Philippine Revolution and one can sit within the square’s grass or benches to relax. I go directly to Fort Santiago.
Behold in the front gate; Saint James the Great, that adorns the façade, after the moat decorated with lilies. The Walls are high and thick and all over the fort are guard stations and ruined barracks. In the middle of the Fort’s square is a statue of Jose Rizal, whose footsteps begins in the gate as well. Following the footsteps would lead you to the prison cell of our national hero, a forlorn statue alone in an enclosed room. I gaze for a moment, just as I have gazed in all his images how this man must have been in real life. He is the First Filipino and one of the geniuses of the brown race. Up to the bastion you’ll see the bright Binondo and Pasig view.
I must admit that this is a depressing point.  The Mother River is dead, and the suburbs beyond the river are dirty, falling, and cramming of people. The Bastion’s roof is full of falling tiles, which cautions the tourist not to go near it. All over the view, the Fort Santiago are only a collection of broken stonework surrounded by an aged and aging enclosure. And the scene that my eyes able to extend to see through Plaza Moriones, Plaza de Roma, Manila Cathedral and in fact almost all Intramuros are like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle in which lost items are replaced by mere unrelated pieces. The Melody of the whole place reminds me of The Broken Heart:
“Alas the poor gentleman
He look’d not like the ruins of his youth
But like the ruins of those ruins.:
 It is true that all of this are reminders of how the Flipino brave have fought within the countless wars. Filipinos- Spanish born in the country, Sangley (Filipino Chinese), Meztiso, and Indios, and all the soldiers that have fought in World War II.
It is true that every broken holes, every missing part of wall, every broken house, every squatters that litter the streets and every broken pavements,  are all evidences of the rise and fall of our people in history. It is a shame how much beauty stands almost unvalued that it is not rekindle in her previous spark. The blazing fire, the envy of other Asian race when coming here, is no more.
The splash of black waters, the thundering of the storms, the breeze of cool tropical winds, and the nightingale of the night,  would not restore the Walls in its former glory.
It is only us. The people in this country have longed pride ourselves of rich culture, but culture is slowly dying in some place or another.
It is more fun in the Philippines we said.
Then why not…Why Not can we make the most splendid treasure of these 7,107 islands come back to life? Why not? 
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  1. The last part is very poetic. Nice article.