World Facts Index > Philippines > Manila

Whenever Manila is mentioned, the speaker actually refers--sometimes unknowingly--to a vast conglomeration of 12 cities and five municipalities. Each is an autonomous political entity, but together functioning as one city called Metro Manila. Exploring this sprawling metropolis can be quite a daunting prospect even for its residents, but as a visitor you may rest assured that your stay will be most likely confined to certain areas, as outlined in this guide.

The Historic City

Intramuros, seat of government in Spanish colonial times, offers glimpses of Manila's historic past. A stroll through the 16th-century walled city takes you to such landmarks as Fort Santiago, San Agustin Church, Manila Cathedral and Casa Manila Museum. Each of these sites deserves to be visited individually, particularly if you are interested in culture. Attached to San Agustin Church, the Philippines' oldest church, the San Agustin Museum displays an astonishing array of artistic treasures.

Just outside Intramuros' walls lies Rizal Park where many important historical events have taken place, including the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal, a national hero. Rizal's death ushered in the Philippine Republic, Asia's first democracy. A light-and-sound presentation at the Site of Rizal's Execution renders a moving depiction of his courageous stand for freedom; the Rizal Monument enshrines his mortal remains as a symbol of Filipino nationhood. Nearby are other points of interest, such as the National Museum, National Library and Quirino Grandstand. The DOT Information Center fronts the National Museum, in a building marked Department of Tourism. At the other end of the Park stands The Manila Hotel, a landmark in its own right.

The Tourist Belt

Cutting through the western tip of Rizal Park is a broad boulevard stretching several kilometers past the US Embassy, Ramon Magsaysay Center, Manila Yacht Club, Central Bank of the Philippines, Cultural Center of the Philippines and Philippine Senate. This oceanfront esplanade, named Roxas Boulevard, runs through sections of Metro Manila (City of Manila, Pasay City and Parañaque City), and then turns inland toward Las Pinas City, home of the world's only Bamboo Organ. As you travel southward, a superb vista of Manila Bay, scene of famous naval battles and renowned for its magnificent sunsets, opens up on your right.

Around the boulevard are two districts traditionally known as Manila's tourist belt--Ermita and Malate. Presently undergoing extensive redevelopment, both areas are packed with brand-new or renovated hotels, restaurants, cafés, antique shops, souvenir stores, travel agencies and the like. Robinsons Place is a huge shopping mall with just about everything you could ask for in terms of shopping, eating and entertainment. The fashionable set congregates after dark around Nakpil Street and Remedios Circle, a couple of blocks south of the mall. Further away lies Pasay City, which is known for its casinos and girlie bars.

The Inner City

Facing the northeastern fringe of Rizal Park, you will notice a building with a clock tower--the Manila City Hall. This is where the Mayor of the City of Manila holds office and runs the affairs of such districts as Quiapo, Santa Cruz, Binondo and San Nicolas, all of which are situated further north across the Pasig River. The first three areas feature churches of great historical and cultural significance. Quiapo Church is the home of the Black Nazarene, a life-size image of Christ that has been the object of fervent veneration over centuries. Divisoria Market in San Nicolas sells everything under the sun, while gold and Chinese delicacies are the staple goods at the stores and stalls of Chinatown in Binondo. All four districts are part of the inner city and worth visiting for their fascinating local color and flavor, though the visitor should venture into them only in the company of a Filipino friend or a trustworthy guide.

Accessible from Rizal Park by Ayala Bridge lies another old district called San Miguel. Here Malacanang Palace, official residence of the President of the Philippines, and the Museo ng Malacanang are open to visitors on certain days. The palace grounds extend across the river into Malacanang Park and Mabini Shrine, the latter dedicated to the intellectual force behind the Philippine Revolution.

The Modern City

Going from the inner city to Makati is almost like a journey into another time. Ayala Avenue is lined with gleaming glass-and-steel skyscrapers that accommodate banks and offices. Two buildings particularly stand out--Ayala Avenue, Philippine Stock Exchange Plaza and Enterprise Center. Ayala Avenue culminates at Ayala Center, where everything revolves around Manila's premier mall, Glorietta. A showcase of the latest fashions, Ayala Center allows the traveler to choose from a wide range of accommodations including deluxe hotels. Eateries and nightspots operate throughout the center as well as in the vicinity of Makati Avenue, Jupiter Street and Rockwell Center. Along tree-lined McKinley Road are Santuario de San Antonio, Manila Golf Club, Manila Polo Club--all within the wealthy neighborhood of Forbes Park--and the futuristic Global City.

Proceeding north from Makati on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), you will soon reach Ortigas Center, another dense concentration of high-rises including the Philippine Stock Exchange Center. Shops, restaurants and entertainment outlets abound at Shangri-La Plaza Mall, SM Megamall, Robinsons Galleria and El Pueblo & St. Francis Square. Ortigas Center sits where Pasig City, Mandaluyong City and Quezon City border each other. Though visible from here, Greenhills Shopping Center, Manila's equivalent of a flea market, belongs to the municipality of San Juan.

The Commuter Belt

A large percentage of commuters reside in the districts south of Makati. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the Centennial Terminal for Philippine Airlines flights are located in the area, along with duty-free shops and Nayong Pilipino Cultural Park, a theme park showing the country's main tourist spots. An hour's drive from here takes you to Taal Volcano and Lake, the world's smallest volcano, and Tagaytay, a resort town celebrated for its cool breezes. A separate drive on the South Super Highway terminates in Laguna, a lush province dotted with hot springs at Pansol and Los Banos, and such day-tour destinations as The Enchanted Kingdom, Pagsanjan and Villa Escudero Plantation and Resort. On the way, you might want to drop in at Alabang in Muntinlupa City, where more malls (Alabang Town Center, Festival Supermall, Metropolis Mall and SM Southmall) and a manicured business center called Filinvest Corporate City await the visitor.

The Official City

A northbound drive on EDSA or a quick ride on the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) from Makati will take you to Cubao, the heart of Quezon City's commercial life. Araneta Coliseum, built in 1960 and once the world's biggest dome coliseum, dominates the skyline at Araneta Center. Further north, a monument towers over the Quezon Memorial Circle, around which several government agencies maintain offices, a reminder of the days when Quezon City was the official capital of the Philippines. Six long avenues radiate from the elliptical road encircling the memorial: one leads to the University of the Philippines, another to Batasang Pambasa, or House of Representatives. Large tracts of eye-soothing greenery, such as Ninoy Aquino Park & Wildlife, are scattered throughout the area.

Quezon Avenue stretches westward from the circle, joining with West Avenue and Timog Avenue to form yet another center of dining and nightlife. This long and almost straight road takes you all the way back to Quiapo in the inner city, though en route you may want to check out more landmarks such as Santo Domingo Church and the University of Santo Tomas, Asia's oldest institute of higher learning.

On the other hand, you may opt to go north to Marikina City, the Philippines' shoe-making capital, or Antipolo City, renowned as a place of religious pilgrimage and a hill resort interspersed with public swimming pools and sweeping views of Manila. Bars and eateries on Sumulong Highway, such as Cloud 9, stay open until the small hours of the morning, allowing you to enjoy the marvelous panorama both day and night.

History of Manila

It may not be apparent to the visitor, but Manila is actually one of East Asia's oldest cities. Predating even Tokyo, Manila traces its written history to 1571 when Spanish conquistadors, led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, wrested control of the city from its last pre-Hispanic ruler, Rajah Sulayman. In the ensuing centuries Manila grew into a thriving city, enriched by wealth generated by the world's first global economy--the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. The artistic treasures at San Agustin Museum offer an intimation of this fabulous wealth.

Though the Philippine islands were first inhabited tens of millennia before the Christian era, archeologists estimate the foundation of Filipino culture at around A.D. 500. As can be gleaned from displays at the National Museum and Ayala Museum, Manilans enjoyed their own system of government and writing long before the advent of the Spaniards, but everything was lost in the destruction wrought by the invaders. Literature and other manuscripts inscribed on bamboo were burned or left to decay, while the native civil code was replaced with Spanish colonial rule.

The Kingdom of Namayan can be considered as the precursor of modern Metro Manila. With its capital in Sapa, known today as Santa Ana, Namayan encompassed present-day City of Manila, Mandaluyong City, San Juan, Makati City, Pasay City, Pateros, Taguig and Parañaque City, now all parts of Metro Manila. It is said that in the 13th century a Namayan princess was given away in marriage to the heir of the Javanese Madjapahit Empire (1292-1478) and subsequently reigned as Empress Sasaban.

Archeological diggings around Santa Ana Church have helped reveal the social fabric of pre-Hispanic Manila. Communal agriculture formed the basis of the agrarian society that had evolved from earlier hunting and food-gathering communities. With the passage of time, periodic barter between barangays (the basic units of government) developed into regular trade with China and other parts of mainland Asia. The Chinese legacy in Philippine life can be observed today in Chinatown in Binondo and Bahay Tsinoy in Intramuros.

Filipinos jokingly refer to themselves as products of '300 years in a Spanish convent and 40 years in Hollywood.' Though made in jest, it is an astute observation. Following the founding of Intramuros in 1571, the country took on the trappings of Hispanic society, with the population converting en masse to Christianity, adopting the new rulers, language and mode of writing, altering their style of dress to European fashions and so forth. Churches such as Malate Church and Guadalupe Church sprouted all over the country, serving not just as places of worship but as centers of social and cultural life as well. This began molding the unique character of Manila as a meeting point of East and West, and of Filipinos as an Asian nation with a Latin temperament.

Beneath the surface, however, Filipinos retain to this very day certain social values from their ancient past, such as the concept of bayanihan and the pivotal position of women in society. Bayanihan signifies the spirit of community whereby individuals and families within a neighborhood or a village are expected to contribute toward the common good. Unique among Asian cultures, Filipino women have played a traditionally strong role in Philippine society, even before their 'liberated' counterparts in the West gained equal rights.

Spanish rule came to an end in 1898, following a revolution fostered by the lofty ideals of Dr. Jose Rizal and fueled by the fiery tactics of Andres Bonifacio. Rizal was sentenced to death by a Spanish military tribunal on the grounds that his demands for reform were fomenting discord and discontent. Rizal faced the firing squad in Rizal Park, where the Rizal Monument and the Site of Rizal's Execution are dedicated to his memory. The Rizal Shrine in Fort Santiago displays memorabilia of the great man in the building where he spent his last hours. Bonifacio is honored with the Monumento in Kalookan City.

Instead of quelling the rising mood of rebellion, Rizal's execution only further incited Bonifacio and the revolutionary katipunan movement to open combat with the Spanish authorities. Bahay Nakpil-Bautista reverberates with echoes of those courageous times. Two years later, on 12 June 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines from the window of his home in Kawit, Cavite (now the Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine), giving birth to Asia's first republic. The nation's first democratic constitution was drafted at Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan.

But no sooner had Manila lifted the Spanish yoke than America took over the budding nation. Following its declaration of war on Spain over events in Cuba, the U.S. made friendly overtures toward Aguinaldo. But after the final victory of the Filipino revolutionaries, the U.S. signed a treaty with Spain whereby it acquired the Philippines for US$2 million. Betrayed, the Filipino forces took up hostilities against the new colonizers, bravely carrying on the war until mid-1902.

What followed was Manila's '40 years in Hollywood.' In retrospect, it was a happy period in the city's history. It saw the introduction of the English language, the institution of mass education, the construction of new infrastructure and so on. Turning their back on 19th century mores represented in Casa Manila Museum, Manilans embraced the move toward greater westernization with gusto--the populace donned silk stockings and sharkskin suits, flocked to cabarets and movie-houses, danced the conga and boogie-woogie, and moved into Art Deco homes. Landmarks like the Old Congress Building, Metropolitan Theater, Manila City Hall and Central Post Office rose in the heart of the city.

That bright interlude, however, was interrupted by the city's darkest period--World War II. Under the Japanese Occupation, Manila underwent the horrors of modern warfare and by the time it was over the entire city lay in ruins, suffering the worst devastation after Warsaw, Poland. All of Intramuros was reduced to a heap of rubble; the only building left intact was San Agustin Church.

Manila rapidly recovered in the postwar years, with the country gaining independence on 4 July 1946. The presidents of the republic were sworn into office at the Quirino Grandstand and took up residence at Malacanang Palace to preside over the 'showcase of democracy in Asia.' The economy flourished, making the Philippines the second richest nation in Asia. In the 1960s, while its regional neighbors were still mired in underdevelopment, Manila launched into another building boom with the erection of new landmarks such as Araneta Coliseum and Ayala Avenue. The University of Philippines and other institutions of learning were attended to full capacity, creating one of the world's highest literacy rates.

But then came another long dark period in the city's history. In 1972 Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law and for more than 20 years Manila languished under an authoritarian rule marked by curtailed civil liberties and a widening gap between rich and poor. Once again, Manilans rose to liberate themselves. In near-perfect symmetry with the Philippine Revolution of 1896, the People Power Revolution exploded on the streets of Manila in 1986. While the whole world watched, Manilans defied the might of the Marcos dictatorship and staged an unprecedented event in history--a revolution without bloodshed. That momentous point in the life of the nation is commemorated by the EDSA Shrine.

Today, with the institutions of freedom securely in place, the economy growing apace and yet another building boom that is dramatically changing the face of the city, Manila is poised to once again resume its position as one of the preeminent cities of East Asia.


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