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Recommended Tours in Philippines

The Old Manila

The heart of Manila from 1571 to 1898, Intramuros offers an excellent introduction to the history and culture of Manila. Begin your tour early in the morning when it is fairly cool and quiet, and make the Intramuros Visitors Center your first stop. At the centre, you can obtain as much information as you can and get copies of all the free maps, leaflets and brochures you can lay your hands on. The Visitors Center is located at the entrance to Fort Santiago, the seat of Spanish colonial power. Having paid the admission fee, you may then proceed to explore this centuries-old citadel.

From the Visitors Center, head north toward the fort's imposing triumphal gate. Named Rajah Sulayman Gate after the last pre-Hispanic king of Manila, it stands directly on the foundation of Rajah Sulayman's palisade. To get to the Gate, cross a small moat planted with water lilies.

Fort Santiago is steeped in history and contains within its inner sanctum the ruins of military barracks which have been converted into an open-air theatre – Dulaang Rajah Sulayman. Pause here for a moment and picture in your mind plays like Shakespeare's Macbeth and Brecht's Mother Courage staged in this setting. If you happen to be in town during the annual season of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), it is certainly worth coming back in the evening to watch one of the dramatic company's memorable productions.

Continuing northward from the theatre, you will come to some steps that will take you up to Baluarte de Santa Barbara, an elevated fortification with a bombproof powder magazine. From here you can discern the mouth of the Pasig River as it spills into the Manila Bay. Also visible is Jones Bridge, which leads into Binondo and Chinatown. If it is open, go down into the dungeon: it is said that prisoners were incarcerated here to drown in water that seeped through the walls.

Located right beside Baluarte de Santa Barbara, the Rizal Shrine will give you a further taste of the injustices of colonial rule. Dr. Jose Rizal was held captive in the building by the Spanish authorities prior to his execution on the morning of 30 December 1896. Here the great hero wrote his immortal Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell). Rizal's deeply moving paean to his beloved country is engraved on a bronze plaque on a wall by the shrines entrance.

Just outside Fort Santiago, you will see the dome of the Manila Cathedral. Walk toward this Romanesque church, which rises majestically over the ruins of five predecessors destroyed by earthquakes and war. As you enter the peaceful nave, take special note of the beautiful stained glass windows. The rosette stonework came from the fifth previous church, which was bombed in World War II.

In front of the Cathedral lies Plaza de Roma, the scene of raucous bullfights until it was converted into a garden in 1797. Two structures flank the square – the ruins of the Ayuntamiento and an eight-story building housing the Intramuros Administration. The grandest building in the whole of Intramuros, the Ayuntamiento was destroyed during the 1945 Battle of Manila, but there are plans to reconstruct the stately hall in its original design.

Though based on traditional architectural forms, the Intramuros Administration building was erected more than 20 years ago. It is, however, noteworthy as it stands on the site of the Palacio del Gobernador (Palace of the Governor), demolished by an earthquake in 1863. You can read about the sites history from the marker in front of the building, or visit the offices and library of the Intramuros Administration for more information.

About two blocks south, you will come to a cluster of historic sites, including Casa Manila Museum, San Agustin Church and San Agustin Museum. Casa Manila is part of the Plaza San Luis Complex, along with the Teatrillo San Luis (a small theatre used for Intramuros Evenings and other cultural shows), antique and curios attractions such as Barbara's Restaurant and Hotel Intramuros de Manila. San Agustin Church and Museum are in a courtyard of their own across the street. It will take you at least an hour to tour Casa Manila and another hour, maybe more, to cover San Agustin. These places are major destinations, particularly if you are interested in history, art and culture.

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