History and mystery are built into the two and three-quarter miles of walls that surround the old capital of the Philippines. The modern tourist, who walks about Manila telling her towers and marking her bulwarks, soon finds himself fascinated by a construction that bears evidences of many builders and widely differing plans of defence.
The whole story of the Philippine Islands from the days of naked barbarism to the zenith of the Spanish occupation, is written into the grass-covered walls. Siege and surrender, defence and conquest have all left their inscriptions, and it needs but the historian's page to give these stones speech with which to tell their tales of three centuries.
The first wall, built in 1570, was of hewn logs, which was none to strong, for in 1574 occurred the first attack on the walls under Spanish dominion. Limahon, a Chinese pirate and general big cacique, having 2,000 soldiers and a Japanese general to make them fight, found his world grown too small for him, and, sighing for others to conquer, set sail for Manila. His seventy "large" vessels stopped at Mariveles, while six hundred men were sent to Manila to take the city. These Chinese soldiers were at first victorious. They entered by the gate, burned the place, and killed many, but the Spaniards rallied and drove them out. Salcedo was up near Dagupan at the time and, hearing of the affair, hastened to Manila with reinforcements and led an attack on Limahon's entire force. The Chinese were driven back and went to Pangasinan, where they set up tyrannous dominion over the natives. Legaspi gathered an expedition by sea and tried to trap the pirate in the mouth of the river, but the wily Chinaman was too sharp for him and digging a canal by night, escapes with his boats.
In 1590 Governor Dasmariñas came out from Spain with authority to begin the fortification of the city in the earnest. The permanent construction of stone was begun at Fort Santiago and is standing at the present time alter three hundred years of as interesting history as the Orient affords. The sluggish life of the natives now began to fell the powers of Spanish civilization, at that time a star of first magnitude. The people were scattered about the low walls and fort and were a constant temptation to the Sulu pirates, and Spain kept a garrison ready for defense.
Once inaugurated, the strenuous life was much in evidence for the sixteenth century, and there began a living picture before the walls that has extended for three hundred years. The plans of the walls themselves were changed several times and, with interruptions, the work went on in the deliberate style of the old days until 1872 when the last changes were authorized but never finished.
These walls have seen Intramuros grow from a squalid swamp to strong buildings of mortar and tile. The surrounding villages have grown into one continuous city, and the shipping that has anchored before Pasig has increased from the first log raft to the modern liner. The largest steamers that plow the waters of the Pacific now anchor at the new docks recently built by the insular government, and where the white-capped waves of the bay beat upon the shores of the city in front of the walls, there now stand beautiful large concrete structures erected upon the newly made ground.
The first test of the new walls came in 1603 with first Chinese outbreak. This was the result of a mutual misunderstanding and slander, and lasted in intermittent fashion for about six months. At the end of this time it was reported that all the Chinese were killed, and there was peace. But while there was peace, there was also hunger, for the Chinese had furnished the only reliable labor, and the natives would not dig. It is estimated that about twenty-four thousand Chinese perished in this revolt.
Juan De Silva began new work on the walls in 1609, which was continued by Juan Niño de Tabora in 1620, and again by Diego de Fajardo in 1644, in which year the Diego Bastion, then known as the foundry bastion, was completed. This bastion is situated at the southern end of the west wall and was the first of the large bastions added to the encircling walls, which were "then of no great height nor finished construction,"
To the engineer the walls present a most interesting study. The work was executed at different times, and often there were many years between.
The inevitable result was that no uniform plan was followed in the execution of the work. This is seen in the variety of materials used and in the number of different system of fortifications employed, all of which makes the enciente a most interesting study. In the main, brick, earth, and soft stone were the material used; the brick was facing the parapets and the stone for the walls. This stone has become much harder with time and presents a very solid appearance.
The technical story of the building of the walls is to be found id a pamphlet printed by the adjutant general's office of the Philippines Division of the United States Army, and to those who understand the term used, it is full of interest.
The casual visitor however, is interested most in the human side of the story, and for him the attractive feature of the old fortification is their great age and the history that built into and around them.
When as a result of the " family compact" France and Spain combined to reduce the power of Great Britain, England declared war upon both her foes. The English were successful everywhere, and a fleet was despatched to the Philippines with orders to capture the city of Manila.
In September, 1762, thirteen ships commanded by Admiral Cornish entered the bay and disembarked the British troops at San Antonio Abad, two and one-half miles south of Manila. Surrender of the city was demanded and refused, and the British advanced through Malate and Ermita, driving the Spaniards before them into the Walled City.
The invaders seized and fortified the two strong churches that stood at that time about two hundred and fifty yards south of the wall. One of them stood about where the headquarters of the Post of Manila formerly was, and the other near the north band-stand on the Luneta, the latter being used for the breaching guns.
The British forces comprised a total of some twenty-five hundred men, while the defence had about one thousand trained men and an unlimited supply of undisciplined natives. The 24-pounders began to pour shot into the walls and soon a breach began to widen. Spain had built a wall, but masonry was no match for men, and on the morning of 24th of October, the British troops marched through the broken wall and up what is now Calle Palacio. The Archbishop signed the articles of capitulation, and a scene began which brings a blush to any humane soldier of today. For a week the town was turned over to the ravishing of the British soldiers, and we can only say that war made barbarians of the victors. The treaty of Paris (1762) took no account of the Philippine situation, and Spain again was left in control of the islands
The siege had developed certain weaknesses in the walls and defects in their plan, and improvements were soon begun under Engineer Gomez and some important changes made. The old Real. or royal gateway. originally was placed where the trolley car now enters the south end of Calle Palacio, but the bombardment had injured it, and for greater safety it was transferred to the middle of the curtain, just west of the former point, where it afforded the only southern entrance until ten years ago when the wall was cut at the resent location of the street.
In 1797 a new grant revived the work on the walls and some very radical changes were made along the Pasig where the defence was greatly straightened. The churches south of the wall were destroyed by the English during their, administration, and so obvious was their menace to the safety of the city that their rebuilding was never permitted. The rampart of these walls varies greatly in height and thickness. The curtain walls of Santiago are only eight feet thick. At the west end of Calle Aduana the top is twenty feet above the moat, and there is a thickness of forty-five feet of earth with a thin retaining walls of soft stone. The parapet nowhere exceeds sixteen feet of soft turf with its core of earth.
The moats presented their own problems of construction, as the land was little better than a marsh, and the weight of the walls made necessary the paving of the bottom of the moat with firm material. The bottom was made with a long slope at the foot of the scarp low enough to be under water.
While the old walls would be of no use in a modern siege, and were too weak to withstand the attack of the British in 1762 without being manned by a superior force, they have served the Spaniards well. Up to sixty years ago, Sulu pirates from Mindanao roamed Philippine waters and were a constant menace to the safety of any unprotected coast city. The Portuguese and Dutch fleets more than once threatened Manila, and there was the ever present danger of uprisings among the natives themselves.
During three centuries of savagery and strife the walls have made secure the citadel of Spain, and Spanish government has been much better than no government at all. If the Philippines are to-day better than Borneo the physical basis of the fact may be found in the walls.
The walls are not without much esthetic value. The strip from the Intendencia down to the Parian gate is among the most picturesque sights of the city. Covered with moss and shrubbery it is a fitting monument to the old order, and should never be destroyed. This section includes the Isabela gate, one of the best and least used examples of the old portals of the city.
Of seven gates, five still stands, and some of the old windlasses used for closing them may still be seen lying about, though unused now for years. Until 1852 the gates were closed from eleven o'clock at night until four in the morning; and Spanish watchmen guarded the sleeping city. The inscriptions on the gates now standing have been restored and are quite legible. Most of these are less than sixty years old, and mark the completion of the gates in their present form.
It takes some imagination to transform the throng now passing daily through the city gates into the stately processions and gorgeous pageants that accompanied the old governors and archbishops to the Ayuntamiento and the cathedral. Spain was the mistress of the half the world, and she made her speech the official language of a large fraction of mankind. The writing on the walls of time has numbered her days of power and swept away her greatness of empire, but while Spanish is spoken and the walls of Manila stand, she will not be forgotten.
The walls are the most conspicuous landmarks of Manila, and when made over into public parks will serve humanity in the gayer hours of rest and pleasure as well as they have protected life and property in the old and strenuous days of the Spanish empire.