Long before the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines, villages abounded along the banks of Pasig River. One of these was a palisaded fort called Maynila. Ruled by Rajah Soliman, a native chieftain, the citadel was a trade center for Asian goods.
Peace in the thriving community was shattered upon the arrival of the Spaniards led by master of camp Martin de Goiti and later by conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The fort was burned twice, first by the Spaniards under Goiti and later by the natives themselves before it was completely left to the Spanish colonizers.
On June 24, 1571, Legazpi founded the city of Manila on the site of the old settlement. The city became the capital and seat of Spanish sovereignty in the Orient for over three hundred years.
Threats of invasion by Chinese and Japanese pirates prompted the construction of defenses consisting of high stone walls, bulwarks, and moats. The walls stretched to 4.5 kilometers in length enclosing a pentagonal area of approximately 64 hectares. The area consisted of residences, churches, palaces, schools, and government buildings. Entry was made possible through gates with drawbridges which were closed before midnight and opened at the break of dawn.
It was in this manner that the city earned the name Intramuros, meaning “within the walls”. Honored by King Philip II with the title Insigne y Siempre Leal Ciudad (Distinguished and Ever Loyal City), it served as the political, cultural, educational, religious, and commercial center of Spain’s empire in the East. The riches of Asia were gathered in the Cuidad Murada or Walled City (as Intramuros was later known), and loaded on galleons for transport to Acapulco, Mexico.
But the walls did not discourage other ambitious European powers. Dutch pirates were driven off several times from Philippine waters. The walls suffered heavy damage and valuable properties were looted when the British invaded Intramuros in 1762. They ruled for almost two years before returning the country to Spain. The Spanish-American War in 1898 brought the Americans to the Philippines. Intramuros was surrendered to them after a mock battle. The Filipinos began a different lifestyle with their new colonial master. Major portions of the walls including two gates were destroyed to make way for the roads to Intramuros.
The Japanese occupied the Philippines at the outbreak of World War II. For three years, fear and death stalked the city. Fort Santiago became a hell house where the Japanese army tortured and killed hundreds of hapless civilians and guerillas.
After surviving a number of earthquakes, typhoons, fires, and wars through the centuries, Intramuros took the death blow when the Americans liberated the Philippines from the Japanese in 1945. Artillery shells reduced the walls and buildings to ashes. Thousands died during the eight-day siege.
When it was over, Intramuros was a dead city. In 1946, the United States recognized Philippine independence but the city did not spring back to life. Decades after the war, it became a vast wasteland overrun by informal settlers and warehouses. Trucks and container vans rumbled through the streets, further damaging the ruined buildings and endangering the foundations of the four-century old San Agustin Church.
On April 10, 1979, Presidential Decree 1616 created the Intramuros Administration to restore and develop the Walled City as a historic site and major tourist attraction.
Today, efforts to preserve the Walled City and revive the illustrious past are stronger than ever. The present generation of Filipinos has come to realize its value as a national heritage. As in the days of our forefathers, Intramuros is a priceless treasure to be shared with the world.