26 June 2012

Forgotten Cities: Intramuros - The Walled City

Map of the Walled City (1851)
The Walled City
The oldest district in the Philippines is Intramuros. It's construction began in the late 1500s in Manila. It became a Spanish colony in 1571. The nickname for the district is the Walled City. In its heyday, Intramuros was the government center with a main square called Plaza Mayor. City Hall was located east of the Plaza and facing the Governor's Palace. A terrible earthquake in 1863 destroyed all three buildings and most of the city. The Spanish era influences are still bountiful in present day Intramuros. Recently, however, the Global Heritage fund has concluded that the district is endangered.

1. Identity Crisis
Intramuros struggles to rediscover its cultural heritage. There are very few inhabitants and tourists. Some of the area is blighted and therefore unappealing. The fact that it is dimly lit makes it seem like an unsafe place. The dark areas may pose a safety concern. Other barriers to heritage preservation are fast food establishments.

2. Intramuros Administration
The employees are advocates for the preservation, restoration and promotion of the area. The National Government Agency was created in the late 1970s. Their mission is to make Intramuros socially, economically and culturally vibrant. They have recovered a variety of treasures that are on display at the Casa Manila Museum. The administration makes sure that business offices and residences have legal clearances. The structures also must have Filipino colonial Architectural designs.

3. Intramuros of Memory
Highlights the glorious past and aims to promote Filipino heritage in a positive light. It was first published in 1983. The second publication occurred in 2011. Many fond memories can be renewed and relived. Readers are inspired to assist in the rebuilding process.

4. UNESCO Recognition
San Lucia Gate
Intramuros was home to Spaniards for over 400 years. The Walled City protected the Pasiag River. It was virtually destroyed during World War II. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has declared it a world heritage site.

5. A Good Hotel
The Bayleaf Intramuros opened in 2011. It is a boutique hotel with 5 star accommodations. It has three amazing restaurants. Other features are meeting rooms, a ballroom and a terraza that overlooks the Intramuros Wall. The hotel is a luxury for tourists. It has been part of the revitalization effort.

Intramuros was once a lively place, but now it is experiencing a lull. Some people have declared it endangered and in desperate need of repair. Other priorities have prevented the Filipino government from maintaining it. They have restored the walls and gates, but other sections are in bad shape. Several organizations have been instrumental in preserving and reviving Intramuros. Scientists and conservation experts have assessed the situation. Their approach includes site management, planning, scientific conservation and community development. Implementing rules and regulations to monitor and govern development were adopted in 1981. Fort Santiago, churches, cathedrals and the Plaza de Roma are in relatively good condition. The Puerta Real Gardens have been well-maintained and are quite lovely. Filipinos value the city and want it to come back to life. They hope that it will become a major tourist destination again.

Dominic Coleman loves to write about travel and history.