Ditch the beach: Summer-stroll around Intramuros

Summer equals beach, right?

Until you enter the resort and can’t see the sand anymore because of the crowd.

But there are other places and activities that can replace your usual summer beach parties. You’d be surprised they might even be better.

This article starts a series of unusual, if not counterintuitive, destinations to fill your summer with grand memories. Let’s start with...

Taking a long walk around Intramuros.

Intendencia Ruins | Photo by Allan Jay Quesada on Wikipedia

It’s the oldest and most historic district in Metro Manila. Latin for “within walls”, Intramuros is the walled original city of Manila. It was here where the datus and rajahs of Manila used to live -- and were defeated by Spanish forces led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1571. The two camps created a peace pact, and Manila became the capital of Spain’s colony in Asia.

Intramuros and environs

Intramuros then continued to hold a primary role in shaping Philippine history. It was the home-district of Spanish governor-generals and various religious institutions. It housed some of the best colleges in colonial times, including the University of Santo Tomas and the Ateneo de Manila -- schools where national hero Jose Rizal used to study. And in 1945, Intramuros became ‘ground zero’ of the second-worst devastation of a city during World War II; the Battle of Manila, as it was called (between the Japanese and the American and Filipino troops), killed over 100,000 civilians within and around Intramuros. Although Intramuros lost most of its buildings during the war, many of them have been reconstructed and restored for posterity’s sake.

World War II totals Intramuros | Photo on public domain

Your visit to Intramuros could look like this:

As you walk along the walled city’s old streets, your imagination fires up: the horse-drawn carriage just might carry pretty girls in baro’t saya or handsome young mestizos with canes -- whichever you want.

You visit San Agustin Church. It’s not exactly impressive on the outside, but it has breathtaking interiors. The church’s ceiling is rendered in golden beige, chocolate, and cappuccino with intricate, 3D-effect patterns. It is one of the two churches that still stand among Intramuros’ seven pre-war churches (the other is the Manila Cathedral-Basilica).

Inside San Agustin Church | Photo by Shubert Ciencia on Flickr

Tired, you cross the street from San Agustin Church and enter Ristorante delle Mitre, a quaint restaurant with a Filipino-Spanish-Italian mix of a menu. The ambience is perfect during the mid-afternoon blaze; this one’s a real oasis. You might also want to make mano to the bishops who sometimes visit the resto to have lunch with guests. Or, if you have more time, maybe even go online and visit iCPA. ;)

Ristorante delle Mitre | Screengrab of photo by JM Morato on Flickr

Just two blocks away from the restaurant is the Manila Cathedral-Basilica. Did you know it suffered total destruction (by earthquake, fire, and war) several times? But now you can’t find a trace of that wreck. The basilica is simply majestic. And three popes have already held Masses in it: Paul VI, John Paul II, and Francis (just a few months ago).

Manila Cathedral-Basilica | Photo by Eric James Sarmiento on Flickr

Finally, you can end your walk with a romantic sunset stroll in Fort Santiago. It’s the site of Rizal’s imprisonment just before his execution in 1896. The route which Rizal took from his prison cell to the execution area (in Luneta) is even marked by black metallic ‘footprints’. The fort also has a beautiful view of Pasig River and Manila Bay as you watch the sun plunge into the sea.

Ironically, you still end your visit on the beach -- sort of.

Fort Santiago | Photo by Fechi Fajardo on Flickr

- Daryl Zamora

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