The capital of the Philippines - its heart and soul -- is Manila. It sets the rhythm of life in this archipelago and is a pulsating hub that blends the Oriental with the Occidental, the quaint with the modern, the mundane with the extraordinary.
Manila was born out of the ashes of a once flourishing Malay settlement by the banks of the Pasig River. In 1571, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi established the Ever Loyal City of Manila which, until 1898, was the seat of Spanish colonial rule in Asia. He built the city within walls and called it Intramuros.An anchor tourist destination, Manila is the very core of the 7,000 times more islands that make up the Philippines. It is a center for the performing arts in Asia.
The Grandeur of IntramurosAt the turn of the 20th century, the great American architect and city planner Daniel Burnham noted that "the old walled city of Intramuros at the mouth of the Pasig River is one of the best preserved medieval cities anywhere in the world.
"But the Pacific War of the 1940's took its toll.Faithful reconstruction goes on today in Intramuros. A few of the gates and ramparts have been turned into parks and performing venues, including Puerta Real and Baluarte de San Diego. Chambers found along its gates are now occupied by art galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants, even a cyber café.
Fort Santiago, the site of torture chambers and dungeons where political prisoners from Spanish to Japanese times were kept and executed, is now a lush park with flowering trees and homing pigeons. Here, one may enjoy a leisurely ride aboard a horse-drawn carriage.
At the center of Intramuros is the grand Manila Cathedral with its detailed stone carvings, stained glass mosaics and rose windows.San Agustin Church, completed in 1606, has withstood all the fires and earthquakes that have hit Manila through the centuries. One of the four Philippine Baroque Churches inscribed in the World Heritage List, its monastery has been turned into a museum housing priceless religious artifacts. Adjoining it are the restored gardens of Fr. Jose Blanco who studied Philippine botanical life during the Spanish period.Barrio San Luis along Juan Luna Street is made up of five faithfully reconstructed colonial houses - Casa Manila, Casa Urdaneta, Casa Blanca, Los Hidalgos and El Hogar Filipino.
Beyond the WallsManila has since expanded beyond Intramuros to become the nucleus of the country's largest metropolis, Greater Manila, made up of 11 other cities and five towns.But before it spread out of its confines, history saw Manila figuring prominently in the Galleon Trade, the first trans-Pacific commerce between Asia, America and Europe for some 250 years.The city was also scarred by many foreign invasions, ravaged by Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and British marauders.
Shortly after the country declared itself Asia's first democracy in 1898, the Americans invaded its shores and ruled for 50 years. And after the Pacific War of the 1940's, when the Japanese Imperial Army reigned for four years, Manila was the second most destroyed city in the world.
The rubbles of the past have seasoned and strengthened Manila's character today.Just off Intramuros' walls is the world-class Club Intramuros which offers day and night golfing. Adjacent to it is the 58-hectare Rizal Park, which runs from Taft Avenue up to the seawalls of the fabled Manila Bay.In 1902, Burnham designed a U-shaped government complex within Luneta. Only three buildings were however constructed: the Executive House occupied by the National Museum, the Department of Finance Building which now houses the Museum of the Filipino People, and the Department of Tourism Building envisioned to become the future Museum for Natural Sciences.Across the Pasig River from Fort Santiago is Binondo, or Chinatown. Not much has changed in terms of lifestyle in this quaint district although, now, high-rise buildings have started to appear in its skyline.
A stone's throw away from Rizal Park is the Ermita district which, together with the Malate district, forms what is known as Manila's Tourist Belt. Ermita is antique and art galleries, curio and souvenir shops while Malate is cozy cafes, music lounges and performance theaters.At the heart of Manila is Quiapo. What has caught the fancy of many bargain-hunters is Ilalim ng Tulay - literally, "Under the Bridge" - where stalls sell an array of handicrafts at prices that are practically a steal.Near Quiapo is the genteel San Miguel district, with its ancestral homes and Malacanang Palace, seat of the Philippine government. A museum of presidential memorabilia is open to the public.
A Sampling of the Country's BestManila mirrors the best of this country's 7,000 times more islands.A few minutes away from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the Fiesta Duty Free Shop in Paranaque City is Nayong Pilipino, or Philippine Village, which features the country's famous landmarks in miniature.Weekends are good days to visit, when the park assumes a barrio fiesta (village festival) atmosphere, complete with traditional games, indigenous music, songs and dances, and craft demonstrations.
The Sunset StripRoxas Boulevard, which extends from Paranaque City to Manila, is the Bay Area from where one can have a view of the famed Manila sunset.Many landmarks are found in this area, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Senate buildings. Within the stretch is the International Trade Center complex, the Philippine Trade Training Center and the World Trade Center.
Further back is the Government Service Insurance System building which houses an art gallery by the bay.The boulevard is also home to the country's premier performing venue, the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Within its complex are the Philippine International Convention Center, the Product Design and Development Center, the Folk Arts Theater, the Coconut Palace and the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel.Adjoining the complex is the Manila Yacht Club and the Philippine Navy Headquarters. A little farther is the US Embassy.Across the Yacht Club is the Bangko Sentral (Central Bank) complex which houses the Money Museum. The bank has Asia's biggest and finest gold collection at the Metropolitan Museum, a home for the modern masters.
Roxas Boulevard is lined with posh hotels, casinos and lively nightspots.