San Agustin Church is known as the oldest Catholic cathedral in the Philippines. One of the few churches that survived fires, earthquakes and the World War 2 in Manila, the San Agustin is a landmark in Intramuros, the city’s old Spanish district.
This 17th century Spanish Baroque church has survived a British invasion in 1762, an American attack in 1898 and the Japanese and American liberation war in 1945. The very first San Agustin Church was the first religious structure constructed by the Spaniards on the island of Luzon. Made of bamboo and nipa, the church was completed in 1571, but destroyed by fire in December. Succeeding incidents of fire and earthquakes prompted the Augustinians decided to rebuild the church using stone, andconstruction began in 1586.
The facade is unassuming but it has notable baroque touches, particularly the ornate carvings on its wooden doors. The church courtyard is decorated by several granite sculptures of lions, which had been gifted by Chinese converts to Catholicism. The Cathedral is popular for weddings and the lovely churchyard is often used for wedding receptions.
Much of the church has been restored and a wing now serves as a museum of church artefacts, relics, and religious paintings from all over the Philippines. In 1993, San Agustin Church was one of four Philippine churches constructed during the Spanish colonial period which were designated by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Mabuhay ang San Agustin Church!
Fort Santiago, located in Manila’s Intramuros district, was the symbolic seat of Spain’s military complex during the colonial era. Built for Spanish conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi, Fort Santiago was the site of the palace and kingdom of Rajah Suleiman, a Muslim chieftain of pre-Hispanic Manila.
Built as a wooden fort in 1571 by the Spaniards after they won the battles with the Islamic tribes who originally settled in Manila, the fort was constructed with hard stone in 1589 . The famous Manila Galleon trade to Acapulco, Mexico, which thrived for nearly 350 years, also begun from the fort or what the Spanish called “Fuerza de Santiago.”
In World War 2, the fort served as one of the main defense and prison headquarters of the Japanese Army. Hundreds of American and Philippine soldiers and civilains were imprisoned in the original Spanish-built complex of dungeons and died either of diseases, starvation or by drowning when the banks of the adjoining Pasig River overflow.
Philippine national hero Jose Rizal was also imprisoned in one of the buildings in the fort which still stands up to this day. The two-storey building has been converted into a museum and memorial shrine, showing the last days of Rizal through a detailed audio-visual display of his books, photographs, letters, paintings, dioramas, period furniture and some personal belongings.
With its wonderful gardens, quiet walkways, Spanish era defense walls and a nice view of the Pasig River, Fort Santiago is well-loved by park enthusiasts and visitors for its serene ambiance and historical significance.
Mabuhay ang Fort Santiago!
The Casa Manila patio and gardens in Intramuros
Intramuros (Spanish for ‘within the walls) is the heart of old Manila. Founded by the Spaniards in the mid-16th century right after the Philippines Spanish rulers colonised the islands, Intramuros was the center of the Spanish government and the Catholic Church in the Philippines.
Brick-walled and turreted, the walls were designed not only to protect the Spanish elite who lived in Intramuros but also to segregate the Spanish population from the native Filipinos and other ethnic minorities such as the Chinese, Japanese and Indian immigrants, among others. Thus, with its churches, administrative buildings, a military fort, schools and hospitals, Intramuros was a ghetto for the upper or ruling Spanish elite.
Known as the ‘city within a city,’ Intramuros sustained heavy and irrevocable damage during World War 11 when US military forces bombarded the district to purge and drive out the Japanese army which used Intramuros as headquarters in 1940s.
Many of Intramuros fine Catholic cathedrals were destroyed and only two survived the bombardment, the Manila Cathedral and the San Agustin Church. Today, the Casa Manila complex, located opposite the San Agustin Church, is a faithful reproduction of Spanish villas complete with authentic period furniture, costumes and gardens.
A lazy afternoon walk in Intramuros is recommended to Manila visitors as it provides a glimpse into the Philippines Spanish past. Ruins of military depots, courtyards converted into gardens and period buildings recreates the old city. Horse-drawn carriages also service Intramuros visitors for short runs to Chinatown, Rizal Park and Fort Santiago.
Mabuhay ang Pinoy!