Chapter 10: Intramuros
By Nick Joaquin
First to be formally recognized as the colony’s chief executive as well as military commander was Santiago de Vera, governor of the Philippines from 1584 to 1590. De Vera ordered all construction in Manila to be of stone and he had Fort Santiago rebuilt in Pasig limestone. That first stone did not last but it was the start of fortifications that would turn Manila into a Walled City, or Intramuros.
In1590 Gomez Perez Dasmariñas became governor and the building of the city walls proceeded in earnest.
By the following year the governor could inform the king that work on the walls was running pace although no architects or engineers were available. He said that the stone Fort Santiago built by de Vera was already being eaten up by the river and the sea and would have to be reconstructed.
Chinese labor was used on the walls. Funds were raised by taxing Chinese stores, galleon shipments, and imported playing cards. The king sent an engineer, Leonardo Iturriano, to supervise the construction.
The story goes that, on being told once gain that money was needed to complete the walls of Manila, King Philip II rose and, shading his eyes, peered out a window. “Considering how much they’re costing,” said the king, “I should be able to see the top of those walls from here.”
Actually, the walls must have been a bargain since they were finished in record time. Dasmariñas governed only three years but his prime project was almost complete when he was murdered by mutinous Chinese boatmen. He was succeeded as governor by his son, Luis Perez Dasmariñas, who inaugurated the walls in 1594. The project had thus taken only about three years to finish.
The walls of Manila were some two miles of rampart, bastion and battlement, surrounded on all sides by water: either sea, river or moat. This belated medieval artifact is ranked by an American historian as one of the chief works of the 16th century.
Of the gates in the walls, three (Santa Lucia, Postigo and Banderas) opened on the sea; two (Almacenes and Santiago) opened on the river, for the use of the cargo boats; and two (Real and Parian) opened on the teeming neighborhoods then known as Extramuros, or “outside the walls.”
The original Intramuros was described as “a curious city built by amateurs.” It was “small but beautiful.” It was “very handsome and distinguished”; its halls were like palaces. It was “an island formed by sea, river and moat.” One visitor remarked that Manila enjoyed “all the arts needed in a community,” and that the galleons built in Manila were bigger the ships on the Mediterranean.
Fort Santiago dominated the western tip of the city. The fort was manned by thirty soldiers with their officers and eight artillery men, all under a commandant who lived in the fort.
Facing the fort was the cathedral, of hewn stone, with three naves. Between fort and cathedral stretched the Plaza de Armas, around which rose the royal halls. These were stone buildings of two stories, with two interior courts, each surrounded by lower and upper galleries, or corridors.
At the Palacio del Gobernador resided the chief executive and his family. The Real Audiencia had a very large and stately hall for its offices. Another hall had a throne room for the royal seal. Also on the Plaza de Armas were the royal chapel, the treasury house, the armory, and the arsenal, where workmen and convicts ground gunpowder in thirty mortars.
Down Calle Real del Palacio was the church of the Augustinians, one of the most sumptuous in the city, with a large monastery and many interior courts and gardens. Also of stone was the priority of the Dominicans, which had a church, a cloister, and accommodations for forty friars. Forty likewise were Franciscans living in the motherhouse of La Provincia de San Gregorio Magno. The Jesuit residence had a church, a seminary, and a boarding school where the students were gowned in tawny-colored frieze with red facings.
The city had a royal hospital for the Spanish and a general hospital for the public, where skillful physicians and surgeons and apothecaries wrought many marvelous cures. Santa Potenciana was a refugee for widows and orphan girls. The Intramuros houses of the 1590s about 600 of them, were already developing the Hispano-Filipino architecture that we now call the Antillan style: a ground story of stone, an upper story of stone, an upper story of wood, sliding window frames with capiz panes, an interior courtyard, a roof of red tile.
Manileños went strolling or riding on two promenades: one from the Puerta Parian along the riverside to Paco; the other from the Puerta Real along the seaside to Malate. But you had to be back in Intramuros before 11:00 p.m., when the drawbridges were raised and the gates were closed until 4:00 a.m.
(This curfew custom fell into disuse in the 19th century. When the Revolution broke out, the Spanish had a hard time getting the rusty mechanism of the drawbridges to work again.)
The Maynila of Soliman had been for Asia but “a land fit for snakes and savages.” But the Manila of the conquistador was a power that awed Asia. (Japan would close its doors to the world for fear of Manila.) Royal disputes in the Malay sultanates were referred to Manila, which backed its championship of this or that side with troops sent to the site of the conflict.
Circumstances seemed to be decreeing that Manila was inevitably to absorb the territories of Macao, Formosa, the Moluccas and Borneo. The kings of Cambodia and Siam sent embassies to Manila to sue for alliances with the imperial city. The embassies arrived with gifts of elephants that were paraded through the streets of the Walled City to a gaping public. The City Hall of Manila sent one of the elephants as a gift to the emperor of Japan.
Thus, as one equal to another, behaved the City of Manila toward kings and emperors. And this during a period that certain historians choose to bewail as a fall or decline of Philippine culture.
But it was during these supposed “dark ages” that the Philippines entered book culture: paper and printing finally reached the islands.
It was at his time that we acquired masonry culture. This meant roads and bridges, stone walls and tile roofs, engineering and architecture.
We advanced into wheel and plow culture. The carreton and the harnessed carabao ended our age-old subsistence economy. We were presently exporting rice to Asia. Growing our own wheat, we became self-sufficient in flour—until cheap wheat from Spanish California was dumped on our shores.
Factory culture started in the Philippines with the establishment of kamaligs for the mass production of bricks, cement, liquor, gunpowder, cannon, the silk thread, cigars and export sugar.
The maps that were belong made of the Philippines as a unit trained us to think of ourselves as a unit.
The once separate the warring kingdoms of Manila, Cebu and, yes, Jolo were steadily projected as a single entity: Las Filipinas. Divide and conquer? The Spanish policy seems rather to have been: “Keep ‘em one!
Keep ‘em together” There were any number of times when Spanish could have dropped Mindanao—or, at least, Sulu—from their empire; but (at the cost of much headache) they opted to keep Mindanao and Sulu Philippine.
As the 16th century waned, Philip II sent a cedula real confirming the status of Manila as the noble and ever loyal capital of the Philippines and granting it a coat of arms. Manila’s escudo featured a sea-lion rampant, with castle and crown.