The one absolutely fascinating thing about the Philippines, besides its warm people and stunning geography, is its intricate history of invasions, resulting in the integration of many cultures. More recently, the phenomenon of work abroad has hundreds of thousands Filipinos employed across the globe, and continues to bring in influences from many parts of the world back into the archipelago. Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia,and the Middle East are just a few of the places to where Filipinos now migrate for work, due to the lack of sufficient and reasonably paid job opportunities in their home country. The impact of this, together with the country’s history of foreign invasions and rule (Japanese, Spanish, Americans), make the Filipino a phenomenally porous and dynamic culture. While in the Philippines last April, I noticed that the vast majority of written signs (road signs, store signs) were written in English with Spanish words creeping in on occasion and local languages more rarely. In Manila I heard for the first time the term “transnational”, used to refer to the borderless national identity of the Filipino people. During a walk around Intramuros (the wallled city), Manila’s oldest historic district, I could see a little of the origins of the Spanish colonial period (16th to 19th century) one of the strongest and most lasting influences in the culture of the Philippines.
The first Manila Cathedral was built in 1571 and destructed by fire in 1583. The current Cathedral is the eight structure to rise on this very same site. The second cathedral was destroyed by earthquakes in 1600 and the third was also wiped out by earthquakes in 1621 and 1645. The fourth cathedral was damaged by earthquakes and typhoons and later demolished in 1751. The fifth cathedral was inaugurated in 1760 and destroyed by an earthquake in 1863. The seventh, damaged by an earthquake in 1880, ended up totally destroyed in the 1945 Battle of Manila. As you can see, this very site is a phenomenal testimonial to the history of the Philippines and the tremendous influences of severe weather and natural disasters in the country.
Plaza San Luis Complex is a cultural-commercial complex capturing the essential features of the Philippine-Hispanic architecture. Wandering inside and around it, I could experience the integration of Philippine and Hispanic cultures that I find is so unique here.
How to get there: If you are in Manila, the easiest thing to do is to catch a taxi or a tricycle. From Ortigas, where I was staying, it took me about 25 minutes to get to Intramuros on a Sunday afternoon. The reference point is the Manila Cathedral at Intramuros, from where you can start a self-guided walk (this is what I did) or hire an inexpensive local guiding service. In hindsight I should have gone with one of the guiding services. I had an excellent map provided by my hotel but it was not always easy to identify the buildings. A local guide could have enriched my experience and I would have supported guiding jobs, which is something I like to do. Once you are finished with your tour and are likely hot and sweaty, go to Nathaniel’s Bakeshop and order a yummy and refreshing Buko Pandan Salad. Makes for a perfect day.