Lost in Time in Old Manila

Metropolitan Manila, the largest city in the Philippines, is a sprawling urban jungle of high-rise buildings, commercial centres, and shopping malls. But at the heart of the metropolis, oblivious to the frenetic pace around it, Old Manila seems caught in its rich and colourful past.

Intramuros was the walled city built by the Spanish colonizers in 1571, and within its six-metre high walls lived the Spanish elite and mestizos, or half-breeds, who refused to live alongside the natives and the Chinese outside the city walls. Today, Intramuros is a popular historic site among tourists on a Manila holiday, retaining Manila’s colonial charm, the old Spanish churches, a Spanish garrison, Spanish buildings, and cobblestone streets.

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Standing at the mouth of the Pasig River, Fort Santiago was once the main Spanish military headquarters. Numerous Filipinos were imprisoned and tortured within the fort’s walls, including the national hero Jose Rizal. Fort Santiago was painstakingly restored after the Battle of Manila in 1945, and now features the Rizal Shrine, a replica of Rizal’s prison cell filled with exhibits and his works.

Nearby Chinatown was established in 1594, and today is still a centre of retail trade and business. Expect loud Chinese music, the exotic aroma of incense and spices, and incessant haggling in the Fookienese dialect between buyers and sellers. Most holiday-makers flock here for the food: century eggs, exotic fish and fruits, and a hodgepodge of Chinese delicacies are just some of the delights to be discovered here. Tucked within rowdy Chinatown is the Binondo Church, one of the oldest Catholic churches in the Philippines. It was constructed in 1596, and the original octagonal bell tower still stands. Filipino-Chinese saint Lorenzo Ruiz served here as an altar boy.

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