Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is a city with a long and colorful history. It has been the center of commerce, culture, and politics in the country long before the Spanish expedition of Ferdinand Magellan discovered the country in 1521, and before Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi exercised Spanish rule in the city.
However, the capital should not be confused with Metro Manila, the metropolitan region made up of Manila and its surrounding cities. It’s hardly the glittering metropolis typically expected of capital cities, but what it lacks in other departments, it makes up for with many historic and cultural gems scattered all over.
Friends, allow me to introduce you to my hometown, and take you on a photographic journey to some of the most visited landmarks in Manila:
University of Santo Tomas
One of the learning institutions in the so-called University Belt Area, the University of Santo Tomas was founded in 1611, making it the oldest university in the Philippines and in Asia.
One of Manila’s beautiful Roman Catholic churches, the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene is situated in the District of Quiapo, hence its informal name as Quiapo Church. The first church was built shortly after the district was founded in 1586. Quiapo Church is best known as the shrine of the Black Nazarene, the dark-skinned wooden sculpture believed by the faithful to have miraculous powers.
A short walk from the church is Hidalgo Street, known to locals as Manila’s photography haven, where almost all kinds of cameras and other photographic equipment are sold for less.
Manila Central Post Office
The neoclassical building of Manila’s central post office, first built in 1926 and rebuilt in 1946 after World War II, is considered as one of the city’s architectural gems. It sits along the Pasig River for easy transport of mails and parcels via waterway.
Before the days of ultra-posh shopping centers and high-end marketplaces in the country, there was the street of Escolta, Manila’s original commercial district. One of the oldest streets in the city, Escolta was established in 1594, and it was where imported goods from China, Europe, and Latin America were sold during the Spanish Colonial Period. The late 19th century saw the street as a fashionable business district where Manila’s tallest buildings were erected, and it even had an electric tram line called tranvia. While its glory days are behind it since its decline in the 1960s, many advocates of its historical and cultural relevance have been working to turn it into haven for everything retro and artsy in Manila. Many impressive architectural gems such as the Don Roman Santos Building, Regina Building, and Burke Building also still line the streets.
Back in the Spanish colonial period, Intramuros was Manila, fortified with stone walls and protected by moats in 1590 to ward off foreign invaders. It was where the Spaniards and the Illustrado class (middle class Filipinos educated in Spanish as well as Spanish liberal and European nationalist ideals) held residence, and where Roman Catholic churches, schools (the University of Santo Tomas was originally situated inside Intramuros), ports, and political offices were located. The Walled City was heavily damaged during the World War II but was reconstructed in 1951.
Last but definitely not the least is Rizal Park (called by locals as Luneta) Manila’s best known urban park, famous for its historical relevance as the execution site and final resting place of Dr. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. It’s also where Kilometer Zero is situated, the marker which serves as the point from which all road distances from the city are measured.