INTRAMUROS: A History

Fortifying the noble and ever loyal city of Manila
“Insigne y leal ciudad de Manila.”

Intramuros [(Latin) intra: within; muros:walls]. The popular name given to the walled city of Spanish Manila. The name “Manila” (it is claimed) derives from nilad, a type of mangrove that bore white waxy flowers (Ixora).

The City of Manila is built on a delta formed by the Pasig River, the only outlet of Laguna de Ba-e, a brackish lake surrounded by the provinces of Rizal (formerly Morong) and Laguna. Because it is a delta, the fertile land was drained by a number of estuaries (esteros); many unfortunately have been covered up, causing the seasonal inundation of the city during the season of the habagat or southwest monsoon. A street on the Pasig’s northern bank called Estero Cegado (dried up estuary) reminds us of these lost waterways. But a few esteros still remain open. Some have picturesque names like Tripa de Gallina (chicken gut), which snakes through the districts of Paco and Sta. Ana, the man-made Canal de la Reina in Binondo and Sunog Apog, which separates Isla de Balut from the rest of Tondo.

Manila’s indigenous inhabitants were the Tagalog (Taga-ilog: river people). They had been actively trading with the Chinese long before the Spaniards arrived. Evidence of this is the number of tradeware found in Santa Ana, the site of the the Tagalog settlement called Namayan and along the shores of the lake upstream. By the 16th century, however, Manila boasted of an international community brought together by trade: Chinese, Arabs, Borneans, Japanese, Indians.

In the 16th century, a thriving community of Tagalogs lived around the palisaded residence of its ruler, Rajah Sulayman. The palisade was built on the Pasig River’s southern bank, where the river empties unto a sheltered bay. A Muslim, Sulayman was related to Rajah Matanda (the older Rajah) and Rajah Lakandula, who ruled over the northern bank, called Tondo. The Rajahs were in turn related to the royalty of Brunei, a center of Islam, which was not just a religion but a way of life that shaped the development of political and social life.

Driven by hunger the Spanish colony, first established in Cebu in 1565, pushed steadily north. By 1569, a settlement was established in Pan-ay where news of a capacious bay and prospects of trade and supplies up north reached the colonists. In 1570, Legazpi dispatched his nephew Juan de Salcedo and Martin de Goiti to reconoiter north. They reached Mindoro where the inhabitants capitulated to Spanish guns, then headed for Batangas, and entered the Pansipit River all the way to Bonbon Lake (Taal). From there they moved on to Manila Bay and dropped anchor at a hook-shaped sandbar called Kawit (Cavite). This was the staging point for their attack on Sulayman’s fortification. Although 1570 marked the formal colonization of Manila, the rest of the colonists did not arrive until a year later in May. By then Sulayman’s palisade damaged by the previous years bombardment was up again. A battle ensued, Sulayman was forced to capitulate and abandon his outpost. The following month on 24 June 1571, the Feast of birth of John the Baptist, Manila was constituted as a city of the Spanish realm.

The Tagalogs who had been forced off their land settled either with their relatives in Tondo or eventually moved to an area south of the Spanish perimeter, called Bagumbayan (new town). This is the site presently ocupied by Luneta park bordering the district called Ermita.

Although Manila received its royal charter on 24 June 1571; given the honorific “ever loyal and noble City” in 1574 and much later awarded a coat of arms (1595), consisting of a castle or at chief and a demi-lion and dolphin naiant at base, the city remained for decades without the wall nor the buildings of mortar and adobe with which we associate Intramuros.

From 1571-74, the only defense of the city was a palisade, reinforced with earth around the same site as Sulayman’s fortification. But in September 1574, alarmed by news on an impending attack by the Chinese Limahong, Legazpi’s successor as governor general, Guido de Lavezares, ordered the building of makeshift defenses which consisted of “board, stakes and boxes and barrels filled with sand.” Limahong almost overrun the city, while Martin de Goiti, who was indisposed beause of fever, was killed during the attack at his residence in Bagumbayan. Only the timely return of Juan de Salcedo and his troops, who had been sent north to “pacify” the inhabitants and search for gold, saved the city. The day was the 30th of August, the Feast of the Apostle Andrew. Limahong was forced to retreat, and found his way north to Pangasinan where his troops were finally defeated. The city decided to name St. Andrew patron of the city in gratitude for what was believed to be his heavenly intervention.

Realizing the need to fortify, Lavesares began surrounding the city with a palisade which was completed under the third governor general Francisco de Sande.

In 1581, a Jesuit named Antonio Sedeño arrived in Manila. He had some knowledge of architecture and was responsible for rebuilding the episcopal palace in stone after a fire in 1583 razed the city. Gov. Gen. Santiago de Vera asked the Jesuit to design a fortification for Manila’s southern and most vulnerable flank. Sedeño designed a circular roofed fortification in the style of medieval towers. The tower was dedicated to the Nuestra Señora de Guia, whose image was kept in a hermitage just outside the city walls.

Construction of a stone wall was begun in earnest between 1591-94, under Gov. Gen. Gomez Perez Dasmariñas. He had the NS de Guia tower redesigned and integrated into a more modern wall system. Apparently, Sedeño’s circular tower was still standing in the early 17th century. The oidor Antonio de Morga (Sucesos 1609) describes the de Guia as spacious with places for soldiers quarters; however, later in the same book he contradicts himself by saying that Dasmariñas had the de Guia razed. The fortifications of Intramuros were being constantly repaired and improved under different governors general from Dasmariñas’ time until 1872 when the last recorded work on the fortifications was completed.

From 1618-24, because of the threat posed by the Dutch, Gov. Gen. Alfonso Fajardo de Tenza had a moat dug on along the city’s eastern flank. In 1603 and from 1629-30 the Chinese living near Manila rose up in revolt. The 1630 revolt spread to other neighboring provinces. As a consequence of this uprising, the Chinese were driven out of the city and forced to live in a ghetto, known as Parian, one arquebus shot distant from the walls. An open space was built between the city and the Chinese ghetto. But the inhabitants of Manila needed the goods and services of the Chinese, so they were allowed to bring their goods to a gate, which faced the Parian.

Under Gov. Gen Hurtado de Corcuera (1635-44) the moat was expanded and covered walkways constructed. We have an idea of the city’s moat because they are depicted in a 1671 map designed by Ignacio Muñoz, O.P. The moat runs around the eastern and southern flank of the citadel. A contra foso (outer moat) appears in this map, separated from the principal moat by an island formed between the two. The moats are linked at the Baluarte de San Nicolás by a narrow canal. A bridge across the inner moat links Puerta del Parian with the island, where a small outer fortification and curtain wall (a tenaile) was built to protect the gate. Puerta Real which at this time at the end of Calle Real del Palacio was also protected by an outer fortification, a demi-lune.

War, fire, earthquake and other natural and human-made disasters were crucial in the creation of architecture best adapted to the Philippines. There were a number of strong earthquakes in the 1600s, in fact, the century began with one. Another major earthquake struck in 1645, damaging both the walls and many residences and buildings, which by now were built in stone and mortar. This event marked the beginning of arquitectura mestiza, European building traditions colliding with local traditions and the exigencies of living in the Ring of Fire. Documents indicate that by 1630, Manila was filled with residences patterned after Spanish-Mexican models. These consisted of two story stone and mortar structures many vaulted in stone. A few went even higher. These structures were dangerous when the earth shook. After 1645, a mixed style appeared consisting of a lower story of mortar and stone, and an upper story of wood. Stone vaults were avoided, instead tile roofs resting on stout timbers, and supported by lintel and post construction were preferred. Even public buildings like churches adapted this method. Of the vaulted buildings in Manila only the San Agustin church remains. This was completed in 1604 long before the constructional change.

Like the buildings within the walls, the fortification itself underwent modification and repair. Gov. Sabiniano Manrique de Lara (1653-63) had the walls repaired and improved as a consequence of the damages wrought by the 1645 earthquake.

The 18th century saw dynastic change in Spain, the Hapsburg ended their rule and the Bourbons succeeded. Monarchs of the Englightenment, the Bourbons sought to streamline government and modernize it. Among the monarchs ‘ concerns was the fortification of the Philippines, because of its strategic location in the western Pacific. In 1705, the crown sent Juan Ramirez de Ciscara, a military engineer to check on the fortifications in the Philippines and to plan improvments based on modern concepts. He worked on the defenses of Manila, Cavite, and Zamboanga which he rebuilt in 1719, after it had been demolished in 1663. In 1734, under Gov. Gen Fernando Valdez Tamon (1729-39) Manila’s fortification was improved further. Responding to the directive of the king to supply information as a fire had damaged the Royal archives, Tamon sent a report on the status of colonial fortifications in the Philippines in 1738. Not content with what he considered as a hasty report, the following year he sent a fuller and more complete version. This report, elegantly presented in handsome calligraphy and illustrated with a Philippine map and plans of the fortifications arranged from north to south, is a snap shot of the defenses of the Philippines, including Intramuros (fols. 3-9). Valdez Tamon commissioned a map, designed by Antonio Fernandez Roxas in 1729. The map presumably shows Intramuros before the improvements done under the governor. Apparently, the moat seen in the Muñoz map, had deteriorated as the island near Baluarte de San Nicolás had broken up into smaller sections and the outer moat had merged with the inner moat.

While awaiting Gaspar de Torre’s (1739-45) succesor, Fray Juan Arechederra, Archbishop of Manila, took charge of government. From a military perspective, Arechederra’s rule was significant. Assesing the danger of British attack, he ordered the consolidation of walls of the city, reconstruction of the city gate by the Pasig, restoration of the foundry, and an inventory of the city’s stock of ammunition and weapons -all told, improving the defenses of Manila.

In 1762, during the Seven Years War, the British sailed to Manila and surrounded the city. They breached the southern flank of the walls, east of Baluarte de San Diego, after bombarding it for almost a week. They had set their batteries at the churches just outside the walls. For two years, they occupied Manila until 1764, when control was returned to the Spanish.

The British occupation emphasized the need to improve the defenses of Manila. In 1769 Dionisio O’Kelley, a military engineer, proposed deepening the moat fronting the sea and adding parapets to the walls. By 1772, a moat had been dug separating Fort Santiago from the rest of the city. Puerta Real was moved to its present site in 1780 and between 1781-87 Manila’s system of fortification assumed most of its present shape. For a long time, the military had assessed the six settlements that grew just outside the walls as threats to security. Long delayed in its plans to demolish these settlements because of strong opposition from the Church, the military finally executed the plan after the British occupation. Demolished were the settlements of Bagumbayan, Santiago, San Juan, San Fernando Dilao, San Miguel and the Parian. Dilao was reestablished in the district we know today as Paco and San Miguel was transferred across the Pasig to the site it presently occupies. The Chinese transferred to Binondo where there was a thriving community of Christianized Chinese mestizos. The rest of the villages disappeared completely.

In 1861, Puerta Isabel II the last gate of Intramuros was built. This meant redesigning the Ravelin de Sto. Domingo and the Magallanes gate, which opened to the river and where a monument in honor of Magellan stood.

To the end of the 19th century, Intramuros remained a civic, religious and educational center, however, trade and commerce had moved to Binondo, at the northen side of the Pasig. Here British and American trading houses were established by the second half of the 19th century, after Manila was opened to direct foreign trade in 1848. Binondo developed rapidly as a business and residential district attracting well-to-do mestizo families, who built sumputous houses, filled with things foreign, mostly British, and foreign merchants and trader, who found Binondo more congenial and cosmopolitan than medieval Intramuros. The Pasig became a busy harbor filled with schooners, steamships, cascos and other boats.

To attract business to the southern bank, the almacenes or the royal storehouse was built just outside the walls and a new aduana or customs house was built. The almacenes replaced the 18th century Alcacería de San Fernando, a market and a dwelling for transient Chinese traders, originally housed in an octagonal building, in Binondo.

But in 1863, a severe earthquake damaged Manila, many public buildings were in ruin among them the cathedral, the Ayuntamiento and the Palacio del Gobernador. While both the cathedral and the Ayuntamiento were rebuilt, the palace was not. An earthquake in 1880, sealed the decision not to rebuild the Palacio. The governor general transferrred residence to Malacañan, a country house built by the Rochas in the San Miguel district. And since then Malacañan has remained the residence of the chief executive of the land. Towards the end of the century, Intramuros was losing her glitter. Intramuros remained essentially the home of ecclesiatics and civil servants, and the educational center of Manila.

In 1898, after two years of fighting for independence, the Katipuneros had surrounded the walled city, threatening the Spanish within. The Spaniards, however, preferred to surrender to the American armada under Commodore Dewey who had defeated the Spanish forces at Manila Bay. In December of that year, the Spaniards ceded the Philippines to the United States, meanwhile Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo had proclaimed Philippine independence on 12 June, and the Philippine Republic was established. Two more years of fighting ensued between the Americans and the Filipinos until 1901 when American civil rule was established. The American quickly moved to establish American institutions in the Philippines. They took over public buildings in Intramuros. The Ayuntamiento became the site for the 1907 Philippine Assembly, precursor of the Congress.

To improve infrastructure, the Bureau of Public Buildings was established. As part of infrastructure improvement, in 1904, the Americans razed section of the wall to allow better traffic flow through the walled city. The wall was breached at the southern end of Real del Palacio, an opening was made at the end of Calle Victoria, damaging the Revellin de los Recoletos and a stretch from the Aduana to Fort Santiago was demolished. In 1905, the Chicago-based American architect and city planner, Daniel H. Burnham, arrived in the Philippines to create a master plan for the urban development of the country. In Burnham’s master plan for Manila, he proposed conserving the walled city, filling the mosquito-infested moat with sand and converting it to a grass covered green space. In the process of filling, much of the external fortifications were covered among them the bridge connecting the Parian gate to its ravelin. Later when a parking lot was built in front of the Puerta Real ravelin the curved bridge approaching the ravelin was also covered. The moat became the Municipal Golf course of Manila (Intramuros Golf Club), one of the oldest golf courses in Manila.

In 1932, a fire hit Intramuros damaging greatly the southwestern section of the city. By then civil government had moved out of the city with the construction of the legislature and other government buildings just outside the walled city. While the residences in Intramuros continued to be lived in, the demographic of the city was changing. More and more transients-students at the schools and universities, goverment employees, and American on assignment overseas-occupied the walled city’s grand old houses. Many, abandoned by their original owners, were subdivided into smaller units but sharing a common kitchen and toilet and put to let. Two moviehouses opened in Intramuros, so did a number of bars, bakeries and eateries. Intramuros was losing its customary gentility. Intramuros became a city of boarding houses. But still Intramuros remained as Manila’s religious center as the different churches maintained their round of religious festivals. The Neoclassical San Ignacio church, the Neogothic Santo Domingo and the recently built Capuchin church (1898) were favorite sites for fashionable weddings, including those of Americans.

On 12 November 1936, Commonwealth Act no. 171 was passed to conserve Intramuros as monument to the past, this was in response to moves to demolish the walls completely and open the old city for redevelopment. The law also promulgated that new constructions, repairs and renovations keep to the Spanish colonial style.

The utter destruction of Intramuros occurred in a short time during the month of February 1945. While Japanese bombers had attacked the American bases on 8 December 1941, and subsequently on 26 and 27 December dropped bombs on Intramuros, damage was limited to the northeast sector. Damaged were Santo Domingo and its adjoining convento, Santa Catalina, San Juan de Letran, Santo Tomás University and the Intendencia. Manila had been declared an open city on 26 December and on 2 January 1942, Japanese troops occupied the city. Despite the arrests and occassional harrassments, some semblance of city life returned until 21 December 1944 when the Japanese ordered the government under Pres. José P. Laurel moved to Baguio.

Japanese troops were left to hold Intramuros with orders to die fighting. By 3 February 1945, American troops were closing in; they had rescued prisoners concentrated in the Sampaloc campus of Santo Tomás University, north of the walled city. On 5 February, the Japanese forced residents to abandon their houses and held them in the cathedral, San Agustin, and the ruined Beaterio de Santa Rosa. Adult males were separated on the 7th and brought to Fort Santiago. The next two days, the troops torched the city and planted bobby traps. By the 23rd American troops had entered the fortification and rescued civilians held at San Agustin.

But the troops entered a devastated city where they saw some 10,000 civilians executed by the Japanese. The fortifications and the buildings of the city did not survive the fire ignited by the Japanese and the bombardment by Americans. Only San Agustin church and the adjoining monastery were spared. All else was reduced to ruins. Ruined shells that survived the bombardment were subsequently torn down by military engineers using bulldozers and cables. The ruins were breeding grounds for disease because of the many dead, and clearing the rubble was a way to prevent an epidemic. Lost in the takeover of Manila was Puerta Santa Lucia; Fort Santiago’s elaborate gate was blasted to allow a tank to enter as was a section of the wall at the end of Calle Real.

From the 1950s-60s, Intramuros remained abandoned as the religious orders moved their principal churches or houses elsewhere: the Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Capuchins to Quezon City, the Recollects to San Sebastian in Quiapo, the brothers of San Juan de Dios to Pasay City. Sto. Tomas University moved to the Sampaloc district. The Ateneo de Manila which had moved out of the city because of the 1932 fire, moved even further way from Ermita to Loyola Heights in Quezon City. The Colegio de Sta. Isabel moved to Taft Ave. and the Real Monasterio de Sta. Clara to Quezon City on a bluff overlooking Marikina Valley. Of the damaged churches, only the Manila Cathedral was rebuilt. Although it retained the Romanesque lines of its historic design, the interior and the decorative details were all new, the result of creative interaction between Filipino and Italian artists. The rebuilt cathedral was consecrated in 1958.

As for the rest of Intramuros, high rise buildings, apartments, commercial strips were built in utter disregard of the law requiring that construction should conform to the colonial style. The green area around the walls became a garbage dump and a bus terminal. The stones of the wall were quarried for new constructions, and Intramuros became the haven for the urban poor and parking lot for cargo trucks and container vans because of its close proximity to the port. Streets and plazas were reconfigured into parking lots or fenced in.

The National Historical Institute started working on restoring the walls with the help of civic groups and ad hoc committees, the most active were the Intramuros Restoration Committee of 1966 which repaired the gates and the Armed Forces Ladies’ Committee which restored Fort Santiago’s moat and other structures like the Fortín de San Francisco, and the Bastión de Santa Lucia.

In 1979, the Intramuros Administration was created by Presidential Decree 1616 and placed under the Ministry of Human Settlements. The IA worked out a comprehensive plan regarding development and zoning of Intramuros. It built Casa Manila and a row of replica houses beside it, restored several plazas, particularly Plaza Roma and Plaza Sampalucan, Puerta Sta. Lucia, and the revellin of Puerta del Parian. IA continues to supervise Intramuros restoration. Presently being restored is the Intendencia which will house the historical section of the Philippine Archives. Work began in 1996 as part of the centennial celebration of the Philippine Revolution.

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