After enduring wars, earthquakes, fires and poverty-driven neglect, the walled city of Intramuros that makes up the Philippine capital’s historic center may rise again as a tourist attraction.
Government planners see the UNESCO World Heritage listed — but famously dilapidated — site becoming one of Manila’s biggest draws, similar to Singapore’s Clarke Quay, but with the added color of centuries of history.
“We’re going to make this the ‘in’ place to be,” Intramuros administration chief Jose Capistrano said.
“It will be a living Intramuros with tabernas and tapas,” he said, referring to Spanish restaurants and their signature finger snacks.
Eventually, the administration hopes to have fireworks displays and light shows projected on the structure’s 6m high walls at night, Capistrano told reporters.
The ambitious project will involve rehabilitating and reconstructing buildings, as well as developing a riverside area called the Maestranza Park into a mall for upmarket restaurants and shops.
However, this endeavor will require tens of millions of dollars in investments that the government cannot afford, so it is hoping the private sector will sign up.
Administration officials have been meeting with some of the country’s real-estate giants to drum up their interest in investing in the project, and Capistrano said their reactions had been very favorable.
“They are interested in the projects. We feel confident that they will be coming in,” he said.
Capistrano said that although a definitive cost estimate for the renovation had not yet been finalized, potential investors were not intimidated by the large scope of the project.
“No one said it might cost too much. The reaction when we tell them what these projects are has been very good,” he said, adding he hoped to start a bidding process by the end of the year.
The 64 hectare Intramuros area — the name literally means “within the walls” — served as the heart of Manila’s political, religious and cultural life from its founding by Spanish colonial rulers in 1571.
Its 4.2km of walls surrounded most of the government’s offices, as well as major churches, schools and trading centers during the three centuries the country was under Spanish rule, which ended in 1898.
It was designed with walls, gates and gun emplacements to protect the Spanish residents from the Filipino masses, as well as guard the mouth of Manila’s main river, the Pasig.
Chinatown was also famously placed within cannonball distance of Intramuros so the Spanish could fire down on the Chinese traders when they became too troublesome.
However, Intramuros started falling into decline after the Spanish left, with most of the damage occurring during World War II, when US forces shelled Japanese troops hiding inside the walls.
Many historic buildings, including nine of the 10 churches within Intramuros, were destroyed in the war. Some of these derelict structures are still standing, a reminder of the area’s lost grandeur.
Over the centuries, earthquakes and fires have also taken their toll. And while Intramuros’s value is in its history, modern pressures have continued to erode its structures.
Parts of Intramuros today include a busy commercial and government district, containing several government offices, four major universities and a variety of businesses.
All of this results in congestion, noise, frequent traffic jams and a chronic lack of parking space.