Intramuros: The History of the Walled City
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Intramuros: The History of the Walled City

Intramuros is a historic and oldest district center of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. It is also called the Walled City. This bastioned Intramuros was the seat of the government during the Spanish Colonial Period. The Latin word intramuros means ‘within the wall’ and beyond the walls of Manila were referred to as extramuros meaning “outside the wall.”


Long before the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines, communities abounded the banks of Pasig River and one of these is a surrounded fort called Maynilad. It was ruled by a native chieftain, Rajah Soliman. The citadel was the center of trade for Asian commodities.

The peaceful community was shattered upon the arrival of Spanish conqueror led by Martin de Goiti and later by conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The fort was destroyed by fire; first by the camp of Goiti and later by the natives themselves before it was completely abandoned to the Spanish colonizers.

Gate of Aduana - facing the Port of Manila (South Harbour)

Legazpi founded the city of manila on the old settlement on June 24, 1571 (until now celebrated as Manila day). For over three hundred years, the city became the capital and seat of Spanish sovereignty in the Orient.

The ruins of Aduana Customs House, designed by Tomas Cotez and built from 1823 to 1829. Damaged in the 1863 earthquake and demolished in 1872. a new building was erected in 1874 to 1876. It housed the Customs Office, the Intendencia general de hacienda (Central Administration), the Treasury, as well as the Casa de Monidad.

The building was left to the Intendencia and Treasury after Customs moved to Port Area. The building was damaged by the Japanese bombs in 1941and American artillery in 1945. It became the office of the Central Band of the Philippines, the National Treasury and the Commision of Election. It was destroyed by fire in 1979 and partly restored by the National Archives in 1998.

Terrors of invasion by Chinese and Japanese pirates prompted the construction of defenses consisting of high walls, fosses and bulwarks. The walls stretched to 4 to 5 kilometers in length, enwrapping a pentagonal area of approximately 64 hectares. The enclosed area consisted of residences, churches, palaces, and government edifice including school buildings. Entrance was made possible through gates with drawbridges which are closed before mid-night and open at dawn break.

Part ot the Walled City

It was in this mode that the city earned its name Intramuros, meaning inside the wall. The site was honored by King Phillip II with the title Insigne y Siempre Leal Ciudad (Distinguished and Ever Loyal City). It serves as the political, educational, and religious center, including the commercial center of the empire of Spain in the East. The wealth of Asia was gathered in the Ciudad Murada or Walled City (later known as Intramuros), and loaded on galleons for transport to Mexico.

But the fortress did not discourage other ambitious powers. The Dutch pirates were driven off several times from he Philippine waters but the walls suffered heavy damage and valuables were looted when the British invaded Intramuros in 1762. They ruled for two years before returning the country to Spain.

In 1898 the Spanish-American War brought the Americans to the Philippines. Intramuros was surrendered to them after a mock battle defeat. The Filipinos began a sudden change of lifestyle with the new colonial master invader. Major parts of the walls including two gates were demolished to make way for new roads in Intramuros.

The Japanese occupied the Philippines at the outbreak of World War II. Fort Santiago became an inferno region where the Japanese army brought torture and deaths to hundreds of poor civilians and guerillas.

After enduring a number of natural disasters like earthquakes, typhoon, fires including wars through the centuries, Intramuros took a powerful stroke when the Americans liberated the Philippines from the Japanese in 1945, the Battle of Manila. Artillery shells destroyed the walls and turn the building to ashes and thousands of lives were wipe out.

In 1946, after the Battle of Manila, Intramuros was a dead metropolis. The American acknowledged the Philippines independence but the city remain dead. Decades after the war, Intramuros become a huge wasteland infested by squatters and warehouses. Big trucks with container vans overrun the streets, further damaging the ruined edifices and endangering the structure of the four-century old San Agustin Church.

In 1979, the Presidential Decree 1616 created the Intramuros Administration to restore, develop and bring back to life the Walled City as a historic site and a major tourist attraction. 

The Bureau of Treasury under going renovation, formerly the first City Hall of Manila

Today, efforts to preserve and restore some ruins inside Intramuros are at work. The present generation of Filipinos has come to realize its historical importance and very enthusiastic to revive its illustrious past. As in the time of our forefathers, Intramuros is a priceless treasure to be shared with the world.

The Basilaca of Manila Cathedral - as of today, close for renovation


The Intramuros Administration

All Images by the Author

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Comments (10)
Ranked #7 in Philippines

Excellent article about oneof the most memorable spots in the Philippines.  Thanks for sharing this to the world.  Recommended, pinned and twitted.

You can imagine, dear Ron, how much I appreciate your fascinating article. It's brilliant. I am so happy I could learn about the "Walled City" of Manila. We used to have ramparts here where I live, they unfortunately were destroyed in the 1920s. They really resembled yours with the watch-towers.  The cathedral looks very beautiful too!

Two thumbs up, my dear friend! and thank you so much for sharing this.  

Congratulations for the photos! all by you, my friend. Many thanks again.

Have  agreat day.

Highly Recommended! 

Very interesting.

Interesting and such an educational article as well as presented  with great dignity by you.Thank you.

One of the favoured field trip spots that schools have to offer. It's so hard to imagine that this small walled city was the old Manila. 

I wish I could visit Intramuros

Interesting information about the Philippines and well-presented too.

The first photo reminded me of the Castillo de San Marco in St Augustine. Great history Ron.