Intramuros (Latin: within the walls) is the historic centre and oldest district of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.
Also known as the Ciudad Murada ("Walled City" in Spanish) because of its most famous feature: a nearly 5-km-long circuit of massive stone walls and fortifications that almost completely surrounds the entire district.
From the city's foundation in 1571 to the end of Spanish rule in 1898, Intramuros was Manila.
The Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi laid the foundations of the new capital on the former site of Maynilad, a palisaded riverside settlement ruled by a native chieftain. To protect the inhabitants from attack, in the late 1500s construction began on a series of stone walls and fortifications that would eventually enclose a pentagonal area approximately 0.67 km² in size, within which lay a tight grid-like system of streets and a main square surrounded by government structures. The defensive curtain was more or less completed by the 1700s, although improvements and other construction work continued well into the next century.
Within the protective walls rose a city of stone palaces, churches, monasteries, convents, schools, and fine courtyard houses. In the centuries that followed, Manila (meaning Intramuros) served as the capital of the Spanish East Indies - the centre of commerce, education, government, and religion in Spain's most distant imperial possession.
Except for a brief period under British rule (1762-1764), Intramuros remained a Spanish city until 1898, when the US took control of the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War.
In 1945, during the fierce Battle of Manila between American, Filipino and Japanese forces, Intramuros was almost completely destroyed. Instead of rebuilding on the same site, many of the religious orders and educational institutions that once resided in the walled district packed up and moved elsewhere. Although steps were taken to protect the city's historic character, vague laws and poor enforcement led to many unsightly modern buildings being built upon the ruins of the old. In 1979, the Intramuros Administration was established and stronger measures introduced in order to preserve what was left.
Many of the city's ancient gates and most of the walls have since been restored. On the other hand, there has been almost no progress in the reconstruction of key landmarks (such as major churches and old government buildings), due in part to a serious lack of funds and the existence of new structures.
For visitors who don't mind shelling out a little extra - and putting up with rush-hour traffic jams - Manila's relatively inexpensive taxis are probably the easiest and most direct way of reaching Intramuros from elsewhere in the city. The current flagdown rate is ₱40, and the fare goes up in increments of ₱3.50 every 300 metres.
The nearest railway station is Central Terminal (LRT-1)[dead link]. Though within sight of the eastern walls, the station is a pretty long walk from the western part of Intramuros (where many of the major sights are located), so tourists headed in that direction might consider covering the rest of the journey by taxi.
By water bus
The Pasig River Ferry used to stop at Plaza México station, not far from the ruins of the Intendencia (Aduana) building, but according to reports the service has been suspended for an indefinite period. If operations resume, the ferry will likely use this same stopping point.
It's hard to get hopelessly lost in Intramuros, thanks to the district's orderly street plan. General Luna (also known by its old name, Calle Real del Palacio) is the closest thing Intramuros has to a main street and gives visitors easy access to most of the major attractions, including San Agustín Church and Manila Cathedral. Follow this street all the way to its northwestern tip and you'll find yourself in front of Fort Santiago; go the other way and you'll eventually end up in Rizal Park, which is just over the border in the nearby Ermita district.
If you do lose your bearings, don't panic. Except for a small section near the river, the entire district is surrounded by walls - so there probably isn't much of a chance that you'll inadvertently end up in the wider city beyond. A quick look at a map (and perhaps a little help from passers-by) should easily put you back on track.
- By calesa - First used on the streets of Manila in the 18th century, these horse-drawn carriages can usually be found waiting for passengers near Fort Santiago. A nice, old-fashioned way to get around Intramuros. To avoid getting ripped off, it may be a good idea to ask about the route and confirm the price of the trip before setting out.
- On foot - Walking from one attraction to another is a popular way to get around Intramuros. Just mind the cars: there are almost no pavements to speak of so pedestrians usually share space with automobiles. It is even possible to walk on some sections of the old city walls.
Walls, gates, and fortifications
Except for a small open stretch near the River Pasig, Intramuros is completely surrounded by the massive stone walls that gave the district its name. Starting from the northwestern end of the fortifications and moving anti-clockwise (Note: This is not a comprehensive list!):
- 1 Fort Santiago, Santa Clara (on the NW end of Plaza Moriones), ☏ . 8AM-6PM daily. The former military headquarters of the Spanish colonial government. Although the fort sustained very heavy damage during the 1945 Battle of Manila, several key portions of the compound were subsequently restored - including its iconic gate with a wooden relief featuring Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor-slayer), the patron saint of Spain. It is now considered a major landmark and one of Manila's most popular tourist attractions, partly because José Rizal - the national hero of the Philippines - was imprisoned here prior to his execution on 30 Dec 1896. The Rizal Shrine (see Museums, below), a small museum dedicated to his life and work, is housed in a restored section of one of the fort's former barracks. ₱75, ₱50 students/children.
- Postigo del Palacio, Santa Lucia (a short distance from the back of the Palacio del Gobernador). Built in 1662, renovated 1782-83. On 30 Dec 1896, national hero José Rizal was taken through this gate en route to the place of his execution, in what is known today as Rizal Park (see related entry on the district sub-page for Ermita).
- Puerta de Santa Lucia
- Baluartillo de San Jose and Reducto de San Pedro
- [dead link] Baluarte de San Diego, Santa Lucia cor. Muralla. Dating from the 17th century, this formidable bastion surrounds the remains of the round fort of Nuestra Señora de Guia, the first stone fort built in Manila. Severely damaged during the Second World War, the Baluarte de San Diego was restored in the 1980s and is now a major tourist attraction.
- Puerta Real and Revellin de Real del Bagumbayan
- Baluarte de San Andres
- Baluarte de San Francisco de Dilao
- Puerta del Parian and Revellin del Parian
- Baluarte de San Gabriel
- Puerta de Isabel II, Magallanes Drive (near Colegio de San Juan de Letrán). Built in 1861, this was the last gate to be opened in Intramuros' walls under Spanish rule. A fine statue of Queen Isabel II of Spain stands in front of the gate.
Plazas, monuments, and public buildings
- 2 Plaza de Roma, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Andres Soriano (Aduana) (in front of Manila Cathedral). Bounded by the Manila Cathedral to the southeast, the Palacio del Gobernador to the southwest and the Ayuntamiento to the northeast, this small plot of land is Intramuros' very own plaza mayor (main square). At the centre of the plaza stands a monument to King Carlos IV of Spain, cast in 1808 and erected in 1824 by a colonial government grateful for his having dispatched a shipment of smallpox vaccine to the Philippines.
- 3 Ayuntamiento, Andres Soriano (Aduana) cor. Cabildo (right next to Plaza de Roma). Completely rebuilt in 1884 after the disastrous earthquake of 1863, the seat of Manila's colonial-era city council once had some of the grandest interiors in Intramuros. The 1945 Battle of Manila left it a gutted shell, of which only parts of the first storey survived; it then suffered the indignity of serving as a parking lot. A major reconstruction project that started a few years ago is finally nearing completion, with the façade of the historic building now having regained much of its pre-war glory.
- 4 Palacio del Gobernador, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Andres Soriano (Aduana) (right next to Plaza de Roma). This eight-storey office building was erected in the late 1970s on the site of the Spanish Governor-General's official residence, which was destroyed in a powerful 1863 earthquake that also damaged many other structures in Intramuros. Sadly, the hulking modern building looks almost nothing like its grand 19th-century namesake.
- Plaza Moriones - Located in front of Fort Santiago, this is where the Galeria de la Revolucion Filipina is situated.
- Plaza México
- Plaza Sto. Tomas
- Plazuela de Sta. Isabel - a memorial monument of the civilian victims of World War II can be found here.
- 5 Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Manila Cathedral), Cabildo cor. Beaterio (in front of Plaza de Roma), ☏ , fax: . Destroyed and rebuilt several times over, the Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila and one of the most important churches in the Philippines. The current Neo-Romanesque iteration (consecrated in 1958) is the eighth - or sixth, depending on who's counting - to stand on the site since 1581, succeeding the 19th-century structure that was levelled to the ground during the 1945 Battle of Manila. A small exhibit detailing the Cathedral's history can be found in one of the side chapels near the entrance. The church was reopened in 2017 after a major renovation, and so Masses are once again being offered daily; refer to the official website for a full schedule of liturgical services. Tours are also available upon request. Free entrance, but donations are appreciated.
- 6 San Agustín Church, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Real, ☏ (museum number), (museum number). A true Spanish Baroque treasure, with magnificent trompe-l'œil ceilings and a splendid high altar. Consecrated in 1607, this ancient building managed to survive the Second World War (although it, too, sustained heavy damage) and is said to be the oldest stone church still standing in the Philippines. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993 as part of the group "Baroque Churches of the Philippines". Miguel López de Legazpi (1502-1572), the first Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, is buried in a tomb near the high altar; other funerary monuments can be found along the walls or set into the floor. Much of San Agustín's neighbouring monastery was damaged during the war and was subsequently refashioned into exhibition space for the San Agustín Museum (see Museums, below). The church is a very popular venue for weddings; don't be surprised if you encounter a ceremony in progress during your visit. Church itself is free when it is for services. However to enter at other hours, you will have pay for and enter through the adjacent museum.
- 7 Bahay Tsinoy, 32 Anda cor. Cabildo, ☏ , , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-Su 1PM-5PM. A museum dedicated to the history and contributions of the Chinese-Filipino community. ₱100, ₱60 students/children.
- 8 Casa Manila, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Real (across the street from San Agustín Church), ☏ . Tu-Su 9AM-6PM. A recreation of a typical upper-class colonial Intramuros home. The interiors are filled with antique furniture, artwork, and other artifacts from the Spanish era, all carefully arranged to illustrate what life was like for wealthy families of that period. ₱75, ₱50 students/children.
- Light and Sound Museum, Santa Lucia cor. Victoria, ☏ . Using images, sounds, and animatronics, the museum takes visitors on a journey through Philippine history under Spanish rule. The facility is housed in a building whose facade reproduces the appearance of the old mother house of the Beaterio de la Compañía de Jesús, which stood on the site until its destruction during the Second World War. ₱100 per person for groups of 10 or more; smaller groups are reportedly charged a higher per-person rate (contact the museum to confirm arrangements).
- 9 Rizal Shrine, Fort Santiago. Tu-Su 8AM-5PM. Located within the walls of Fort Santiago (see above), this small museum contains exhibits related to the life and work of José Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines.
- 10 San Agustín Museum, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Real (right next to San Agustín Church), ☏ . 8AM-noon, 1PM-6PM daily. Adjacent to the San Agustín Church (see Churches, above), this museum's very impressive - if rather poorly labelled - collection includes Spanish colonial-era ecclesiastical vestments, sacred vessels, religious art, manuscripts, and other important cultural artifacts. The building itself is steeped in history, fashioned out of the surviving portions of a monastery that was heavily damaged during World War II. ₱200/adult, ₱100/college students, ₱90/high-school students, ₱40/elementary school students.
- 11 Intendencia (Aduana), Andres Soriano (Aduana) cor. Muralla (not far from the riverbank). Built in the 1820s and reconstructed after the 1863 earthquake, this building once housed the Spanish colonial government's customs offices and other administrative units. It was damaged during the war but survived to re-enter government service - at one point housing the Central Bank of the Philippines - only to fall victim to a 1979 fire that caused massive destruction. There are plans to restore the building (whose exterior walls have survived more or less intact) for the use of the National Archives.
- [dead link] San Ignacio Church, Arzobispo cor. Anda. Built by the Jesuits and consecrated in 1889, the church's magnificent interiors were completely destroyed in 1945. There are plans to restore the ruined building for use as an ecclesiastical museum.
- [dead link] ECJ Building, Santa Lucia cor. Real (near Puerta de Santa Lucia). The external appearance of this post-war building closely mimics that of the Augustinian Provincial House, an extension of the nearby San Agustín convent that was built on the site in the 19th century and destroyed by fire in 1932.
- Club Intramuros Golf Course, Bonifacio Drive cor. Aduana Street, Port Area (30-45 min from the airport via Roxas Blvd). A few years after the Americans took over from the Spanish in 1898, the fetid, swamp-like moat around Intramuros was drained and filled in. The newly reclaimed land was later covered with grass, spiced with a few sand pits and sprinkled with water traps. Result: a 4,326 yd, 18 hole, par 66 greensward that wraps around the city's ancient walls and makes for an interesting (if rather short) golfing experience.
For visitors looking to take something home, stores and galleries selling everything from native art to tourist kitsch aren't difficult to find in this district, especially near major landmarks like Fort Santiago. That said, Intramuros isn't really known for its shopping - to find more options one might consider heading out to the malls of the nearby Ermita area and further afield.
- Mananzan Handicrafts, G/F Upl Building, Sta. Clara (near Fort Santiago), ☏ . Local handcrafted goods and souvenirs.
- The Silahis Center, 744 General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio), ☏ , email@example.com. Handmade Filipino goods and folk art. Other departments within the same showroom feature fine art, antiques, and books.
Fast food chains, convenience stores and street stalls are available if you are travelling on a budget. Food prices on local restaurants around the district are rather high for locals, but fairly reasonable to foreigners.
- Bistro Marinero, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Santa Potenciana (near San Agustín), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. The menu features a mix of Western and local dishes. Special "payday" buffets, combo meals, etc.
- Coco Bango Cafe and Restaurant, Plaza San Luis Complex, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Urdaneta (attached to the White Knight Hotel), ☏ . Offers Asian and Western fare.
- Ristorante delle Mitre, CBCP Building, 470 General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) (near San Agustín), ☏ . Features simple, hearty Filipino meals inspired by the favourite dishes of the country's bishops and clergy. The culinary team is supervised by a nun who formerly served as a cook to a prominent local cardinal, and the walls are decorated with portraits and mementos of senior clerics, perfectly in keeping with the sacred atmosphere of the San Agustín area.
- 1 9 Spoons, 9th Floor, The Bayleaf Intramuros, Muralla cor. Victoria (inside the Bayleaf Hotel building), ☏ . 6AM-10:30PM. Contemporary interiors, access to a roof deck and splendid views. The restaurant serves both international dishes and local specialities. Buffet breakfast daily, buffet lunch on weekdays.
- 2 Barbara's, Plaza San Luis, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) (right across the street from San Agustín), ☏ , . Housed in a Spanish colonial-style building a stone's throw from San Agustín Church, this centrally located restaurant serves traditional Filipino and Hispanic fare in an old-style setting.
- 3 Ilustrado, 744 General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) (within the El Amanecer compound, a few blocks down the street from San Agustín), ☏ , email@example.com. Mainly Filipino-Spanish cuisine: rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), paella, and other traditional dishes. Fine dining in the heart of the walled city.
If you're feeling peckish - or need something more substantial to go with your beverage - the cafés listed here also generally offer light meals and snacks, making them a good alternative to the restaurants listed in the previous section.
- Cioccolata – Churros Café, Ground Floor, The Bayleaf Intramuros, Muralla cor. Victoria (look for the Bayleaf hotel building). M-F 6AM-10PM, Sa Su 8AM-8PM. Nothing like some good old-fashioned churros con chocolate to relive colonial days. Also offers a selection of more contemporary beverages, sandwiches and desserts.
- Starbucks, 15-A Puerta Isabel II, Muralla cor. Magallanes (near Puerta de Isabel II), ☏ . No matter where you go, you can't escape Starbucks. Sits not far from the historic Puerta de Isabel II, the last gate built in Intramuros.
Hotels of any kind - from the luxurious to the spartan - are easy to find in Manila, but there aren't many choices within Intramuros itself. There are a few hotels inside the district boundaries. Additional hotels can be found in the neighbouring Ermita district.
Tourists willing to put up with (and pay for) long taxi rides might also consider bedding down in the high-end hotels of the posh Makati business district, miles to the southeast.
- 1 The Bayleaf Intramuros, Muralla cor. Victoria, ☏ . A swank hotel just inside the walls, with great views of the surrounding area (especially from the roof deck). The neighborhood isn't the best of places in Intramuros but the major sites should be within an easy walk from here. Complimentary WiFi upon check-in. Has a cafe on the ground floor and a restaurant on the 9th.
- 2 White Knight Hotel, Plaza San Luis Complex, General Luna cor. Urdaneta (opposite San Agustin church), ☏ . A new 29-room hotel in the heart of Intramuros. With the San Agustín Church right across the street and other major attractions within walking distance, the location is hard to beat. Free WiFi Internet access. Has a cafe-restaurant that offers a mix of Asian and Western fare.
- 3 Manila Hotel, One Rizal Park, Roxas Blvd, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Opened in 1912 on a prime site just outside the walls of Intramuros, the venerable Manila Hotel is a well-known landmark and a historic location in itself. General Douglas MacArthur lived there from 1935 to 1941. Special online rates (which are much lower than published rates) and other offers can be viewed on the hotel's official website.
The international telephone country code for the Philippines is 63. The area code for Metro Manila (including Intramuros) is 02.
For further information about this district, contact:
- Intramuros Visitors Center, Santa Clara (near Fort Santiago), ☏ . Stop by this handily located information point (just inside the entrance gate leading to Fort Santiago) for maps and advice.
Manila's sprawling Rizal Park, the National Museum and many other attractions are just over the border in the Ermita district, within sight of Intramuros' southern walls.