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The globe trotter who spends two days doing Manila has no idea that he treads on the bones of a vanished empire. No field richer in romance is to be found than that which lies about him and beneath his feet.
Manila has had exceptional ruin-making agencies, and the terrified natives regard the crumbling heaps as grewsome reminders of the work of the dreaded earthquake. Few of the modern strangers here have given a thought to these monuments, and many have left the islands never suspecting that they have been within a stone's throw of a spot rich in reverie and romance.
No place is really interesting to the mental vision until it affords some ruins. New countries may be fresh and up to date, but until age has helped the hand of time to carve some scars to tell of past achievements there is a dearth of highest human interest.
Manila has no millennium-old pyramids but she has some things old enough to command respectful attention. If broken arches could talk and ruined walls tell their story, some tales might be heard that would make Kipling's fiction pale in comparison. These old veterans have in their crumbling decay more power to quicken the pulse and stir the imagination than all the paint and glitter of some new palace.
What we dwellers in the islands need is some interpreter, some one of a thousand, with the soul of an artist, to put this things on canvas so that we may cease to pass them blindly, and, if need be, make pilgrimages to their fallen shrines. But the American rarely sees the beautiful about him till he is shown, and the Filipino is all unconscious that there is anything to show.
Many of the most interesting of these ruins have entirely disappeared. As late as 1901 there stood in the Walled City near the corner of Calles Palacio and Victoria a part in the facade of the old Jesuit church, in its day the most magnificent of all the churches on the islands. Before the earthquake of 1863 destroyed it, this was a master piece of colossal proportions, and was famed throughout the east for the beautiful embroidery-like carving of its stonework. Its cost was 150,000 pesos, but all that is left of the old temple is the two small mounds of tile and cement upon which are mounted two old cannon of primitive design. They are passed everyday by hundreds unnoticed-- the only links left to connect us with a mighty past.
The present Malate church has been restored until it is of little interest. The old tile, the hole in the west gable made by American shot, and the walls with shrubs and trees growing in their crevices made a building worth going to see, but now it is all paint and corrugated iron.
On Calle Solana in the Walled city, opposite the Franciscan church, stands a ruin that is interesting for its fine walls and perfect arches. The interior is used as a living place by natives who have constructed gypsy corners with scraps of tin and the ever present iron, till they resemble oriental cliff dwellers. The walls of cement and tile are apparently as strong as ever.
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