When it comes to the bygone times of the Philippines, there’s so much to know you’d almost need a masters in Filipino history. From Chinese settlements to Spanish colonisation, British invasion, the Philippine Revolution, American rule, Japanese occupation and finally, Philippine independence, with a number of republics these shores made up of 7,107 islands have many tales to tell.
When in Manila, make the most of the opportunity to visit a number of impressive historical sites and learn even a little about the multi-faceted history and culture that makes it the unique nation that it is today.
Start by exploring the 64-hectare stone citadel of Intramuros. Built by the Spanish in 1571, this structure has withstood a number of wars, invasions and natural disasters. It’s often referred to as a metaphor for Manila itself. The district of Intramuros is the only part of Manila where old Spanish-era influences are still concentrated, making it an important vestige to the city’s past. The area is still home to one of the oldest educational institutions the country, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran which was founded in 1620.
Within the walls of Intramuros you’ll come across a number of beautiful Roman Catholic churches including the Baroque style San Agustin Church, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Take a break from wandering the sites at Illustrado restaurant on General Luna Street and enjoy a Spanish hot chocolate with a buttery ensaymada (savoury brioche). Or, for an even sweeter treat try the silvana, a delicious frozen cookie and cream biscuit at Ristorante Delle Mitre, also on General Luna Street.
This stunning fort is part of the original stronghold of Intramuros, guarding the entrance to the Pasig River. Today it is well known for its manicured gardens and fountains. But its past is much darker; inside the fort you’ll find the Rizal Shrine museum, where Dr José Rizal – Philippines’ national hero (a Filipino nationalist who called for peaceful reform of Spain’s colonial rule) was incarcerated while awaiting his execution in 1896. The site carries much sombre weight, also being the site where hundreds of Filipino and American prisoners of war were killed in WWII.
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Also located within Intramuros, Casa Manila is a beautiful replica of an 1850s house that depicts the opulent colonial lifestyle of the gentry during the Philippines’ Spanish colonisation years. Built in the 1980s, the house might not be authentic but the superb antique furniture and artwork within its walls are.
Rizal Park bears great historical significance as the location where José Rizal was executed by the Spanish colonial authorities. The park’s monument, which is guarded by soldiers in full regalia, contains the hero’s mortal remains. After taking in the importance of the monument, spend some time wandering around some 60 hectares of lawns and gardens within the park. It’s best to visit in the late afternoon or early evening to experience the atmosphere the park exudes as the light dims. On Sundays a free ‘Concert at the Park’ event takes place at the open-air auditorium, while in the mornings you’ll find locals gathered to practise t'ai chi and the Filipino form of martial arts, arnis.
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