Monday, October 8, 2012

Where To Go In Manila: 5 Must-See Cultural and Historical Attractions


 Aerial view of the ruined North-West walls

Also called the "Walled City" or "The Walls", Intramuros is the oldest locality in Manila. Built from 1590 to 1872, the city served as the seat of power during Spanish colonization of the country. The walls were destroyed in World War II during the battle of Manila in 1945, and what's left of the destruction is what you'll see when you visit. Ideal for quiet walks, especially if you're looking for ancient ruins and historical sites.

It's not unusual to see horse-driven carriages (locals call them Kalesa) in the area

Inside the city are small Baluartes [bulwarks] including the famous Fort Santiago. There are two historic churches (it was home to 7 churches in the old days), ancient landmarks, schools, restaurants and other business establishments. The structural style of the buildings are pervasively Spanish-colonial, and all new buildings added in the area observe the same structure as well. 

Tourist Info: No entrance fee is required to enter. There is also no visiting hours in Intramuros, the streets are open to pedestrians and motorists 24 hours a day, but note that some of the gardens that are open to the public and the wall ledges (which can be accessed with stoned stairs) close at 5:00 P.M. Other private restaurants and establishments within have their own opening and closing hours. 



The building of Fort Santiago took three years to complete from the time the Intramuros was constructed in 1590 to 1593. It was named after Spain's Patron of Saint, Saint James and it was were Jose Rizal, the country's national hero, was kept as a prisoner until his execution on December 30, 1896. 

Today, Fort Santiago is a favorite location for Prenuptial photography of many couples. Some also chose public gardens in Intramuros as their wedding venue.
 A groom and his bride posing for the camera, Fort Santiago serving as a backdrop

Tourist Info: Fort Santiago is open from 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. everyday. Entrance fee is Php 75.00 (less than 2 USD) for adults and Php 50.00 for kids at the time of writing. You may contact the Intramuros Admin for their current rate.

If you like visiting ancient churches, like the two churches in Intramuros (San Agustin Church and Manila Cathedral), you will also like the Saint Joseph Parish Church, not only for its 19th century structure but mostly for the treasure it protects inside, the famous bamboo pipe organ. 

The church can be found in Las Pinas outside of Manila City, the capital of the Philippines, but it's still within the Metro. The church and its bamboo organ were both built by a Catholic priest, Father Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen. 
The organ was declared a National Cultural Treasure in March 2004. It has gone through several restorations and is still playable to this day.

Tourist Info: The church recommends visiting between 8:00 A.M. to 12:00 NN and 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. daily, when the organ is being played. Fee is Php 50.00 (or 1.2 USD) at the time of writing. For current rate, you may contact the Bamboo Organ Foundation, Inc. at (02) 825-7190 or (02) 820-0795.
In this digital age, fewer locals prefer the Luneta Park over big malls or amusement parks on any given day, but the park will still make it on my list of must-see places as long as we're on the topic of cultural and historical sights.

In the old days, you're considered artistically ignorant if you haven't been to the Luneta Park for even once. You'll get teased and everyone will make fun of the fact. Today, people still tend to make fun of those who haven't seen the Park but it is now seen more as a novelty than a want.

The monument of Rizal and his remains found in the edifice are guarded 24/7 by Marine ceremonial soldiers called Kabalyeros de Rizal (Knights of Rizal)
The Luneta Park or Rizal Park is home to Jose Rizal's remains and his monument. It is where Rizal was executed during the Spanish era. During that time, it is where public executions of criminals and political prisoners were made. 
 Luneta Park is still a favorite place for picnics of average Filipino families.

It is also home to the Independence Flagpole (the highest flagpole in the country), a spot where the first proclamation of Philippine Independence was made on July 4, 1946. The flagpole is also the Kilometer Zero (KM0), which is a starting point marker for all distances in the country.

Tourist Info: The Rizal Park is open daily except on special holidays and ceremonial occasions as deemed by the government. In those cases, the government announces schedules including alternative routes for roads that will be closed. The Japanese and Chinese gardens located within the park, including the botanical garden Orchidarium, the Planetarium and the Butterfly Pavilion, observe different opening and closing hours. 


 Found within the Luneta Park's perimeter, your historical and cultural immersion will not be complete without a visit to the country's National Museum. The grand fortress was built in 1918 and holds collections from art, natural sciences and many others. 
 In the Main Gallery

The National Museum is just a stone's throw away from Intramuros. You can chose to walk, if you can stand the heat of a tropical country. Otherwise, you can hail a cab for the short travel, if you don't already have a rental vehicle for your trip.

Tourist Info: It is open from Tuesdays to Sunday from 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Entrance fee is Php 100.00 for adults (or 2.4 USD). Entrance is free on Sundays. For published fees, visit their website.

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