Tucked in the bustling metropolis is a 64-hectare walled district called Intramuros. Also nicknamed as the Walled City, this historical site in Manila has seen, heard and experienced both the best and the worst since the 16th century. Despite enduring battle scars from not only the World War II, but also of numerous fires and earthquakes, its walls still stand tall. It stands proud as it encloses ruins, mementos, and stories waiting to be told.
With Mr. Jeff Velasco of Mabuhay Guides, a Philippine Department of Tourism tour guiding program, fellow bloggers and I had the chance to see, appreciate, and relive some of the stories inside the walled city -- some of which are of military leaders and soldiers who had fallen after the era of foreign occupation; of heroes who had suffered and died for the country; of lovers who either found happiness or endured countless heartbreaks; and of wandering souls who've grown old with the walls.
Our first stop was Baluartillo De San Francisco Javier which had once protected the old postern gate from Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and even Portuguese invaders. It used to be a chamber for stored military supplies. But today, it houses the Intramuros Visitors Center -- a convenient first-stop providing general information about the Walled City, as well as facilities such as a photo gallery, an audiovisual room, a souvenir shop, and stores for snacks and refreshments.
We've also visited Fort Santiago, one of the oldest fortification in the city which had played different roles through different ages -- a site of the native settlement of Raja Soliman before the Spanish occupation; a citadel during the Spanish colonial period; a military headquarters during the American rule; a prison and torture chamber of the Japanese military; and today, a heritage site housing legacies of what it once was.
Beyond the 40-feet tall gateway of Fort Santiago lies a historical park housing Rizal Shrine, a site filled with well-preserved memorabilia of the Philippine National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Upon entering, a painting by the National Artist Carlos "Botong" Francisco entitled The Martyrdom of Rizal, greets unwary visitors with both grandeur and sadness.
Most of us already know Rizal's martyrdom, a consequence he had to face for standing proud as a Filipino and wanting more for the Philippines. However, his life as a hero was not only filled with patriotism and fighting spirit. He too, lived a colorful and adventurous life -- of ups and downs, of happiness and sadness, and of fun and surprises. He traveled a lot and was conversant in 22 different languages. Among his talents and skills, he honed himself and became a doctor, a writer, a painter, a sculptor, and above all, a lover.
And although many women had crossed path with our Philippine renaissance man, Rizal's love for the country was far superior. He spent the last 3 months of his life in jail and walked his way to Bagumbayan where he was shot by a squad of the Spanish Army's Filipino soldiers.
Following Rizal's last footsteps, our group walked from Fort Santiago and made our way to the most prominent Roman Catholic basilica in the country, one which withstood damages of great magnitude yet managed to survive -- the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica, also known as Manila Cathedral.
The Manila Cathedral, a basilica which managed to be merited three Papal endorsements and two Apostolic visits, is not only a house built on faith and religion, but also one which will continuously remind us of the Spaniards' strong cultural influence on our current way of living. It has been a symbol of how we Filipinos had embraced Roman Catholicism in the country.
Not far from the Manila Cathedral stands another Roman Catholic shrine -- the San Agustin Catholic Church. Although the former boasts of being granted a Basilica Minor status, the latter on the other hand is proud to be the oldest Philippine church still standing up to date.
Despite a series of fires and earthquakes, the Agustinians managed to rebuild a third San Agustin Catholic Church from hewn adobe stones with the help of talented stone artisans. Although the church holds regular schedules of worship, San Agustin has been known to be one of the most sought-after churches for lovers tying the knot.
Another feat in Intramuros is not a preserved historical artifact, but a well-known coffee shop situated in the fortified site. Far from the usual modern and cozy ambiance that Starbucks often exudes, its Intramuros branch will not only bring you back to the past through a sip of its Komodo Dragon Blend, but also through its simple yet quaint tunnel-like adobe walls and ceilings -- a perfect spot for re-energizing wanderers.
Our walk within the Walled City may have been short, insufficient to appreciate all the beauty of what lies within Intramuros. However, I consider it to be a teaser, a beginning of my yearning to visit it yet again.
Only its walls can tell if my next would be another tour-guided walk to historical sites we have missed; a solo trip to explore the Walled City like a stray cat would; or perhaps a next visit to San Agustin, but this time, with a man on my arm.
This is a Travel Write-up entry to the Intramuros Bloggers Challenge 2012 organized by IntramurosManila.Asia.
IBC 2012 is fully supported by the Intramuros Administration, Barbara's Restaurant, Celdran Tours, Mabuhay Guides, Pilgrimage Pilipinas, Castillan Tours, Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation, Inc., DigiEntrepreneur, DigitalFilipino, Third Team Media, Payless Pancit Shanghai, Ruthilicious, Ruthilicious Fanpage and GadgetGambit.com.