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Intramuros (Spanish for "inside the walls") is the walled fortress (or citadel) of Manila. It was from here that for three hundred years the Spanish ruled the Philippines.

Fort Santiago gate, Intramuros, Manila (image)

The Fort Santiago gate at one end of Intramuros as reconstructed after the destruction of World War Ii. Photo: Gerswin.

Intramuros is located just to the south of the Pasig River and to the east of Manila Bay. Just to the north-west of Intramuros is Fort Santiago and just to the south is Rizal Park (more commonly known as Luneta).


The massive defensive walls of Intramuros were gradually built by the Spanish, with contruction beginning in 1570. The aim was to defend the Spanish colony of Manila against invasions by foreign powers and by pirates and against insurrections by the Filipino people (for the example, by the Chinese-descent Filipinos living in the area known as Parian adjacent to Intramuros).

Spanish guns on the walls of Intramuros, Manila, 1898 (image)

Siege mentality: Spanish guns pointing out in all directions from the walls of Intramuros. Photo taken in 1898.

The walls are 4.5 km long. The shape of the walls is irregular, having originally been built to follow the shore line of Manila Bay on one side and of the Pasig River on another. The walls rise to a height of almost seven meters. They are surrounded by inner and outer moats.

They are reinforced in the style of medieval fortifications by bulwarks, ravelins and redoubts.

Entrance to the interior of Intramuros was permitted through a series of eight puertas (gates):

* Puerta de Banderas (Gate of Flags)
* Puerta del Postigo
* Puerta de Santa Lucia
* Puerta Real (Royal Gate)
* Puerta de Parian (Parian Gate)
* Puerta de Almacenes
* Puerta de Santo Domingo / Puerta de Aduana
* Puerta de Isabel II (Isabel II Gate)

Until 1852, the gates were shut from 11pm till 4am each day for reasons of security. In 1852, after a severe earthquake with large casualties, these curfew rules were relaxed.

At the mouth of the Pasig River, Intramuros was flanked by Fuerza de Santiago (that is, Fort Santiago) which further guarded the walled city.

Dozens of cannons protected Intramuros (many of them pointed out at areas of perceived danger, for example, at the Parian neighbourhood) and only Spanish and mestizos (_________) were permitted to live inside.


The area inside the walls of Intramuros is approximately 0.67 square km. Inside were well-planned streets, and twelve churches, plus monasteries, convents, palaces, government buildings, hospitals, schools, a university, a printing press, and barracks. There were also elegant houses for the rich.

Plaza Mayor de Manila, 1847, showing Town Hall, Manila Cathedral, and Governor's Palace (image)

A view of the Plaza Mayor de Manila (now Plaza Roma) in 1847.

Center: Manila Cathedral; left: Ayuntamentio (Town Hall); right: Palacio del Gobernador (Governor's Place).

The main square of the area inside the walls was known in the Spanish era as Playa Major (Spanish, main plaza). (This square was also known as Plaza de Armas and in the American era was called Plaza McKinley. It is currently known as Plaza Roma.)

Around the square were set a number of important buildings: the Catedral de Manila (Manila Cathedral), the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), and the Palacio del Gobernador (Governor’s Palace).

After an earthquake in 1863 all three of these buildings were destroyed. The Catedral de Manila and the Ayuntamiento were rebuilt but the Palacio del Gobernador was not (the residence of the Governor General was moved to Malacanang Palace further along the Pasig River).

The area inside the Intramuros walls also contained 6-7 other important Roman Catholic churches, each operated by a different religious order (for example, the Augustinians, the Dominicans, the Franciscans). Perhaps the best-known of these was the San Agustin Church, which was built in 1607 and operated by the Augustinians.

Intramuros also contained important educational institutions, all run by religious orders.

These included:
* Universidad de San Ignacio. This university was established by the Jesuits in 1590. It was the first university in the Philippines. It was closed in 1768 when the Jesuit order was expelled from the Philippine islands.

* Universidad de Santo Tomas. This university was established by the Dominicans in 1611.

* Colegio de San Juan de Letran. This college was established in 1620, again by the Dominicans.

* Ateneo Municipal de Manila. This educational institution was established in 1859 by the Jesuits when their order was allowed to return to the Philippines.


After the Philippines came under U.S. control in 1898, the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) building was occupied by the Philippine Commission of the United States and Fort Santiago (just outside Intramuros) was used as the headquarters of the Philippine Division of the U.S. Army.

In 1903 sections of Intramuros’s walls were removed during an upgrade to the wharf on the southern bank of the Pasig River. The Intramuros walls were also breached in several locations for better access to the rest of the city of Manila. The double moats around the walls were filled in for sanitary reasons and were turned into a golf course.

Around the outside of the walls land reclamations took place to allow for the contruction of the Port of Manila, the Manila Hotel, and extensions to Luneta (Rizal Park).

Intramuros ruins, Battle of Manila, 1945 (image)

Aerial view of the ruins of Intramuros after the Battle of Manila, 1945


During the Japanese invasion of Manila during the Second World War, Intramuros’s Santo Domingo Church was destroyed and the original campus of the University of Santo Tomas was also destroyed -- by arson associated with the Japanese Kempeitai (secret police).

In 1945 Intramuros suffered heavy damage inflicted by both the Americans and by the Japanese forces. By the end of the war almost all of the structures inside Intramuros were destroyed. The San Agustin Church and the adjacent Augustinian monastery were among the few buildings that survived.


Since World War II, a rebuilding program has been undertaken during which the Manila Cathedral has been rebuilt and five of the original eight city gates, have been restored or rebuilt:
* Puerta del Postigo
* Puerta de Sant Lucia
* Puerta Real
* Puerta de Parian
* Puerta de Isabel II.

Unfortunately much controversy has attended the rebuilding program and quite a few of the buildings built on the war ruins are in an unsympathetic modernistic style.

Intramuros - Broken Dreams

Restoring Intramuros


A visit to Intramuros will give the visitor a feeling of the antiquity of this old capital city, and of the power of the now vanished Spanish empire.

Colonial Architecture in the Philippines

Intramuros, Philippines

Video on the History of Intramuros

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Author: David Paul Wagner
(David Paul Wagner on Google+)

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