Picture: Spanish colonial architecture in Intramuros   

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San Augustin church
Fort Santiago
Manila cathedral

Casa Manila
San Augustin museum
Rizal Shrine
National museum

Rizal park
China Town
Pasig River
Manila Ocean Park
Manila shopping malls


Manila (Metro Manila)

General.  The city of Manila used to be called the "Pearl of the Orient".  Well, that was before the historic center was bombed flat during the Second World war.  A part of that historic center has been rebuilt in the meantime but the city has changed a lot.  It has expanded enormously and swallowed surrounding towns and villages in the process.  Manila city is actually a part of Metro Manila that comprises of several other towns and cities such as Makati, Quezon City, Pasay, Pasig,...  The metropolis has become one of largest and most densely populated areas in the world.  Metro Manila is huge, busy and noisy.  Understandably it can feel overwhelming.  Some travelers just want to get out as fast as possible without giving it a chance.  It's a city with lots of problems but also with its opportunities.  So why not stick around for a day or two (or three)?

Problems and opportunities.  All mega cities have problems that are due to their sheer size.  Manila is no different.  It wrestles with pollution, overpopulation, poverty and crime.  Ever heard about Smokey Mountain?  That was a huge waste dump where thousands of people lived and survived by scavenging the garbage and recycling whatever may be useful.  That specific waste dump has been closed now but unfortunately it is still everyday reality for many people in Manila living in the slums.  As a result of poverty, the city also has a reputation in the sex industry.  For those who do have a job, salaries are generally low in the Philippines but no matter how good or bad their situation is, the Philippine people always stay friendly and keep smiling.  The city also has modern, fashionable areas and some of the biggest shopping malls in Asia.  It's also the center of commerce, trade, politics and the cultural capital of the country.  In the walled historic center (Intramuros) there are still a few nice examples of Spanish colonial architecture.

All roads lead to Rome.  Some 2000 years ago this expression was more or less correct when you were living in the Roman Empire.  Nowadays in the Philippines however, you sometimes get the feeling that all the roads lead to Manila.  Most domestic flights pass through Manila.  Most islands don't have interconnecting flights, so when you want to go from one island to another, in many cases you will have to go first to the capital where you must take a connecting flight.  Most of the international flights also go through Manila and the city has the largest port in the country... So, whether you like it or not, chances are that you are going to end up in the city anyway sooner or later. 

History in short.  The area of present-day Manila used to be a part of the kingdom of Tondo and was already engaged in trade with surrounding countries and also with China.  In the 16th century, the sultan of Brunei obtained parts of the Tondo kingdom where he created a satellite state ruled by a Rajah.  A settlement with a basic fortress was established on the banks of the Pasig river.  It was named Maynila.  In 1565 conquistador Lopez de Legazpi arrived in the Philippines.  In 1570, the Spanish captured Maynila and built a new walled town (Intramuros) with a fortress on the ruins of the old settlement.  Legazpi immediately made Manila the capital city of the colony.  The town benefited from the lucrative "Manila Galleon trade" between the Spanish colonies in America, China and other Asian countries dealing in precious metals, spices, gems, silk and other goods.  Between 1762 and 1764, the town was temporarily occupied by the British, after which the Spanish regained control.  The war between the United States and Spain also had its consequences in the Philippines that were taken over by the USA in 1898.  The Americans made changes to the urban planning of the city and introduced English as an official language.  Between 1942 en 1945, Manila was occupied by the Japanese.  The city was completely devastated due to bombings.  The historic center was virtually completely levelled but partially rebuilt after the war.  In 1946, the country became independent from the USA.  Between 1948 and 1976, Quezon City was the capital of the country, the only period Manila was not the capital.

Picture 1: view on the city from Fort Santiago
Picture 2: Manila slums seen from the air
Picture 3: old airplanes on Ninoy Aquino Airport
Picture 4: entry gate of Fort Santiago


How to reach Manila
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