Manila’s touristic gems

Font Size

Manila has an abundance of touristic gems that are worth seeing. And since the city is small, and if the traffic and weather permit, visiting them can take only a day (or two).

One of the most historically significant structures in the city is the Rizal Monument, situated within the Rizal Park, which was solely known before 1913 as Luneta Park. “The park’s famous centerpiece — the Rizal Monument — has become the iconic national symbol. Rizal’s remains were interred within the foundation of the monument. As a national tradition, numerous floral offering ceremonies are held here during national holidays, celebrations, and state visits,” a government Web site dedicated to the park notes.

Standing 14 meters tall, as measured from the platform, the monument was designed by a Swiss sculptor by the name of Dr. Richard Kissling. The remains of the country’s national hero were interred beneath the monument in 1912.

Considered the oldest Chinatown in the world, Binondo is a must-visit place in Manila. “The Chinatown, which is located along the northern bank of the historic Pasig River, symbolizes the long history of the Chinese presence in the Philippines long before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Chinese had been much involved in the business specially the retail trade and have been absorbed in a Philippine lifestyle,” the official Web site of the local government of Manila says.

A key attraction in the district, aside from the authentic Chinese restaurants and shops, is the Minor Basilica of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, also known as the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish, famously known as Binondo Church. It has been reconstructed a couple of times since its founding near the end of the 16th century. After the Second World War, almost nothing of it was left — except the belfry and the facade. But it is now a sight to behold, especially the altar.

Speaking of churches, Manila is host to a number of beautiful historical churches. Besides the Binondo Church, there’s the Manila Cathedral. “The seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila, is presently the 6th cathedral to rise on the site since 1581. Previous structures were destroyed by typhoons, earthquake and fire during the last war. It was rebuilt on the second half of the 50’s through the efforts of Architect Fernando Ocampo and Archbishop Rufino J. Santos. The cathedral incorporated the stone carvings and rosette windows of the old cathedral. Stained glass windows celebrating the Christianization of the Philippine light up with its clerestory. Mosaic artwork decorated three of its side chapels,” the Manila government Web site says.

There’s also the San Agustin Church. It has a respectable collection of oil paintings of saints, of antiques, and other religious art, and a so-called Capitulation room where the Spanish surrendered to the Americans in 1898, the year the Philippines declared its independence from the latter.

And it’s impossible not to mention Quiapo Church, where the Black Nazarene is housed. According to a book titled Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations, the statue of the Nazarene was brought from Mexico by a group of Augustinian Recollect friars in 1606.

“No one is sure when the statue turned black. Actually, it was made from a somewhat dark-colored wood. The local tradition, however, suggests that when originally carved by an Aztec artist the statue was white, but on the voyage to the Philippines, the boat that carried it caught fire, from which it got its black complexion,” the book said.

Though the origin of the statue’s complexion is still debatable, the devotion of millions of Filipinos to it is not. The feast of the Most Holy Black Nazarene, which is celebrated every 9th of January, in which the statue journeys through the streets of Quiapo, draws millions of devotees who hope that by touching it their diseases will be cured, their prayers answered.

Last but not least among the attractions in Manila is Intramuros, a 0.67 square kilometers walled area. Aptly referred to at times as the Walled City, it is home to Fort Santiago, a citadel near the Pasig River.

“The pre-Spanish settlement of Rajah Sulayman was a wooden fort on the ashes of which was built the Spanish fortress which was Spain’s major defense position in the island. It looked out on the sea, towards which its canons were trained forward off pirates and invaders. Also known as the ‘Shrine of Freedom’, in memory of the heroic Filipinos imprisoned and killed here during the Spanish and Japanese eras. Partly rebuilt from the ruins of World War II, it is now a park and promenade housing a resident theaters for both traditional and modern plays,” the Manila Web site says.