The Intramuros District in Manila, Philippines: Spanish Renaissance Urbanism in Asia

The Intramuros District in Manila, Philippines

by Johaness Osorio

In this short essay, I plan to explore the Spanish Colonial period in the Philippines during the 1500s and the Intramuros district in the city of Manila. The Spanish colonial period in the Philippines helped shape the country it is now since many aspects of its culture and knowledge were greatly influenced by the Spaniards and those cultural elements can still be seen and felt today.

The Spanish colonization began when Ferdinand Magellan, a Spanish navigator, arrived to the present-day Philippines in 1521, claiming the islands for the Spanish Empire. This era lasted until 1898 when the Philippine Revolution freed it from Spanish rule. During the Colonial period, however, the Spaniards influenced the architectural culture of the Philippines. This legacy can be seen in churches, residences, and even at the heart of the city of Manila, where the historic district called “Intramuros,” is located. Intramuros (meaning “inside the walls”) is seen as the chief precedent of Philippine-European urban experimentation as it is the first walled city in the Philippines, with a centralized urban model, displaying a public square at its center. Within the walls of Intramuros is Fort Santiago, which was built as a defense fortress.

Another building located inside Intramuros of relevance is the church of San Agustin, which exhibits architectural ideas Filipinos adopted from Spain. To this day, these architectural landmarks are still of historical importance and Filipinos consider them central to their historical identity despite the 300 years of oppression and imperialism that they endured. Furthermore, the religion of Catholicism and Christianity was spread in the Philippines, making it the only Catholic dominant country that exists in Asia. Filipinos embrace this influenced tradition as it accurately describes their national identity and as well as the obstacles their nation had to overcome. The Philippines inherited many traditional and cultural influences from the Spaniards. Other than the architecture present in the Philippines, the Spaniards also influenced the language, food, wardrobe, and even the last names of many Filipinos are of Spanish origin.

Figure 1. The Intramuros district, an engraving from 1734. Detail from the Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas. Image in the public domain. Source: Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2013585226/

The Spaniards chose the city of Manila to be the capital city of the first Spanish colony in Asia in the year 1571. The fortification system and the urban form of Intramuros adhered, in advance, to the ordinances for urban planning contained in the Laws of the Indies, officially enacted in 1573 that originated from the legislation passed by King Philip II. These ordinances, which regulated the way settlements had to be organized in the Spanish Empire, rationalized the acts of colonization, offering procedures on how to establish a settlement in the so-called New World. As the official Spanish colonial settlement, Intramuros became the control center of the Spanish endeavors in the Philippine archipelago. This important historical part of the city of Manila has been demolished and rebuilt multiple times.

Figure 2. A view of the main square of the Intramuros district, Plaza de Roma, with the Manila Cathedral. The Intramuros district was urbanistically similar, in its gridded form, to many other Spanish settlements across their empire, particularly in the Spanish Americas. The principal buildings in the town, like the town hall or the cathedral, would align the main square, as they do at Intramuros. Photo by Judgefloro (CC 4.0)

As previously mentioned, one of the prominent structures within the walls of Intramuros is the San Agustin Church. The church was designed by architect Juan de Macias and it was built during the years of 1587-1607 and was seen as the inaugural episcopal complex in the Philippines. This beautiful church is the oldest stone masonry religious structure that exists in the Philippines. Moreover, this church is also the first-ever earthquake-proof building that was constructed on Philippine soil. The church has been standing for more than four centuries and has survived many events such as earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and bombings. The structure of this building was made up of adobe ashlars manufactured in a city called Guadalupe, which is present-day Makati City. These ashlars were also manufactured in other areas of the Philippines, including San Mateo, present-day Rizal City and Meycauayan, present-day Bulacan City, although, some of its additions, such as the belfry tower, are at least partially made of brick.

Figure 3. The San Agustín church, photo by patrickroque01 (CC 4.0)

According to Winand Klassen in his book, Architecture in the Philippines (University of San Carlos, Cebu City), the architectural style of San Agustin Church can be traced back to ancient church building western designs. This can be seen in the entrance facade which has two towers on its sides with differing heights.

Figure 4. Main entrance of Fort Santiago. Author: Vyacheslav Argenberg (CC 4.0)

San Agustin was originally a monastery of Augustinian friars from the religious order of the same name, and, similar to European monasteries, its church structure was connected to cloisters aligned by arcaded corridors. A precedent for San Agustín in Manila might have been the monasteries built by the Spanish and the Indigenous peoples of southern Mexico, as in Oaxaca, or Puebla states, areas that were, just like Manila, earthquake-prone.

The present church building is actually the third iteration of this building, as the first church building was a simple bamboo edifice, the second iteration was built in timber, and the third one was from adobe ashlars and brick. As it stands today, the church facade design is organized around three vertical bodies and three horizontal ones. Vertically, the central portal is flanked by two pairs of Corinthian-like attached columns at both sides on the first and second bodies of the facade, while the third, crowning element is constituted by a triangular pediment. Horizontally, the facade is constituted by the two bodies of paired attached columns and the central portal in a Roman arch. In the middle of the paired columns of the first body, niches with sculptures, probably representing St. Peter and St. Paul, flank the entry, while on the second, upper body, windows in Roman arches sit in the middle of the paired columns. The crowning pediment contains, at its center, a round window. Overall, the facade comes across as an agreeably simple Mannerist facade, with touches of vernacular ornamentation in its Classical vocabulary.

Another structure that is important to the city of Intramuros is Fuerte de Santiago, also known as Fort Santiago. This historical landmark was built in 1590 during the rule of Governor Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas. It is also seen as the central defense port in Manila as it was mainly built to create a protective layer for the city against other military groups from other countries. The famous Manila galleon, which established a regular trade route with Acapulco, Mexico, started out at Fort Santiago.

The fort is connected and is also a part of the walls that surrounds the whole Intramuros district. The first fort was built with palm logs and soil, which did not last long after the Chinese pirates in 1574 invaded the city, which was led by their leader Limahong. With the leadership of Juan de Salcedo, the Spanish troops were able to remove the invaders from their city. The initial architect designer of Intramuros was Antonio Sedeno, who was a Spanish Jesuit that had great importance in the development of structures led by the Spaniards. As mentioned, in 1590 Governor Dasmariñas took over and the construction of Fort Santiago was completed under his tenure. For this to be constructed, thousands of Chinese and Filipino workers were forced into labor to build the walls and as well as the materials that compose it such as bricks, stones, tiles, and wood.

The present iteration of Fort Santiago is built in stone masonry, which is stronger and more durable than the initial materials used. Spaniards favored stone masonry in their architecture for durability and protection from other military enemies. The early plans of the proposed walls were influenced by the existing positions of the Pasig River and Manila Bay, which runs through the sides of the walls. They also made sure to incorporate a main plaza, and they placed important buildings, such as the governor’s palace, and the main church at the square. As with other Spanish settlements during the 16th century, the urban form of Intramuros is gridded, which was a form favored by Spaniards, as it was a form they had been employing in the Americas up to that point, and would continue to be used throughout the entirety of the Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and elsewhere.

In conclusion, the influence of Spanish culture in the Philippines are undeniable. The architectural styles, importance granted to the Catholic faith, and other cultural traits were spread amongst Filipinos of the Colonial period and passed down to the generations that came after. The Philippines was under Spanish rule for three hundred years guaranteeing that these influences remained even after independence was achieved. These cultural influences will remain forever in the Philippines, as they learned to embrace and love their culture despite hundreds of years of oppression.

In conclusion, the influence of Spanish culture in the Philippines are undeniable. The architectural styles, importance granted to the Catholic faith, and other cultural traits were spread amongst Filipinos of the Colonial period and passed down to the generations that came after. The Philippines was under Spanish rule for three hundred years guaranteeing that these influences remained even after independence was achieved. These cultural influences will remain forever in the Philippines, as they learned to embrace and love their culture despite hundreds of years of oppression.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

1.- Verdejo, J. R. J., Cabeza-Lainez, J. M., Pulido-Arcas, J. A., & Rubio-Bellido, C. (2014, September 17). Spanish fortifications in Asia: A case study of intramuros district in Manila – current situation and future prospects. WIT Transactions on The Built Environment. Retrieved December 17, 2021

2.- Murray, Sabina. “Intramuros.” Ploughshares 26, no. 2/3 (2000): 109–20. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40352817.

3.- Estan. “The Architecture of San Agustin.” Simbahan, October 28, 2013. https://simbahan.net/2007/12/26/the-architecture-of-san-agustin/.

4.- “La Fuerza De Santiago (Fort Santiago).” Manila Nostalgia, June 5, 2016. http://www.lougopal.com/manila/?p=635.

5.- “On Relationship between the Estimated Strong Motion … – SDR.” Accessed December 17, 2021. https://www.sdr.co.jp/eng_page/papers/13wcee_micro_in_manila.pdf.

6.- Ramos, Luis Arturo. Intramuros. México: Universidad Veracruzana, 1983.

7.- Timothy A. B. Richards. “Cosmopolitanism in the Provinces: Time, Space and Character in Intramuros.” Hispania 71, no. 3 (1988): 531–35. https://doi.org/10.2307/342888.

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