The Historic Walled City Within a City Intramuros

Updated May 6, 2010

A fortress city of Spain in Manila that is enclosed in thick high walls, originally built as a stately settlement for Spanish rulers. It is also the only place in Asia where at present, Spanish influences were completely retained.

Intramuros, a Latin word which means “within the walls” is what the oldest district of Manila was called. Built in 1571 by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, it covers an area of 160 acres with walls that is 6 meters high and 3 kilometers in length, it was truly an impenetrable settlement. It served as the center of political, military and religious power of the Spaniards during the time that the Philippines were a colony of Spain.

The site of Intramuros was originally an Islamic settlement ruled by Rajahs, Sultans and Datus. Spanish explorers led by Miguel Lopez de Legspi, who first made a settlement on the southern part of the Philippines heard of the rich resources found in Manila, decided to set an exploration to the northern region. When they arrived, they sought to control the land and settlements. Quarrels and misunderstandings erupted between the Muslim natives and the Spaniards, and after several months of warfare the natives were defeated. The Spaniards made a peace pact with the Muslim tribal council who handed over Manila to them.

On June 24, 1571, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi declared the area as the new capital of the Spanish colony in the Philippines. The king of Spain King Philip II was delighted at the new conquest achieved by Lopez de Legazpi and his men, so he awarded the city with a coat of arms and declared it Ciudad Insigne y Siempre Leal ("Distinguished and ever loyal city").

Coat of Arms Ciudad Insigne y Siempre Leal ("Distinguished and ever loyal city")

Intramuros was completed in 1606 and inside are several Roman Catholic churches, like the Manila Cathedral and church-run schools. The Governor's Palace, the official residence of the Spanish Viceroyalties to the Philippines was originally in there before it was officially moved to Malacañang Palace and Fort Santiago. Only Spaniards and mestizos (mixed race of Spanish and Filipino) were allowed to reside inside the walled city. The vast majority of the natives and Chinese residents lived outside the walled city.

At present, visiting the walled city is like going through time. You’ll see lamp posts that dates back from the 1800s, old spanish houses, gardens and buildings, even security personnels were dressed like the “Guardia Civil” (Civil Guards during the Spanish era) to make the experience of the past more realistic. It is by far the most visited tourist attraction in Manila. Intramuros is the only place in Asia where Spanish influences were completely retained.

Photos of Intramuros:

The Manila Cathedral

Statue of King Philip II of Spain facing the Palacio del Gobernador

Palacio del Gobernador

Fort Santiago


Old Spanish house and garden

References: Wikipedia

Philippines Travel Guide