Very little remains of old Manila as the city was pretty much destroyed towards the end of WW2 in the Battle of Manila between American and Japanese forces.
It was one of the most devastating battles of the entire war and over 100,000 civilians lost their lives in just one month, as a result of massacres by the Japanese and the heavy bombardment by the Americans.
You can still get a flavour of what the old town used to be like by visiting Intramuros, a downtown district that contains Fort Santiago, a walled enclave originally built by the Spanish in the 16th century.
The walls were renovated in the 80’s and you can walk along the ramparts for 4km.
Anda St is a nice street to walk along as it has the most old buildings, including the unusual Palacio del Sana (yellow and red building in the pictures).
Manila cathedral is here, though it’s not much to look at.
You can get the full effect by going up to the organ loft where the ceiling stretches off into the distance just above your head. There’s a huge bible here on a pedestal and you can imagine what a magical effect their hidden voices had on the congregation below.
The church has a museum attached which has some quirky old pieces, I liked the model galleons most.
There are some pretty gardens out back surrounded by cloisters.
Just over the road is Casa Manila, a replica of an old Spanish colonial house that was built at the behest of Imelda Marcos in the 80s. It’s not a true reproduction though as the ex-dictator’s wife was very tall and had the dimensions of the building increased to suit her.
Only the courtyards could be accessed when I went but apparently the rooms contain interesting collections of period furniture and home items. There is a posh looking restaurant called Rebecca’s here too but I don’t know whether the food is any good or not.
To the south of the fort is Rizal Park, named after the nationalist hero Dr Jose Rizal, a pacifist polyglot who spoke twenty languages and who was executed in 1896 by the Spanish for inciting revolution.
I do like a bit of Art Deco so couldn’t resist going to see the Metropolitan Theatre, which is quite near the fort.
After being repaired by the Americans after heavy damage in the war and further renovations in the 60s and as recently as 2010 it has now sadly fallen into disuse again and primarily seems to function as a public urinal.
I’m a sucker for this architectural style though and decided to brave the less than salubrious surroundings to go and have a peek. There are still some nice features to be seen on the outside like the tiles and sculptures by the Italian artist Francesco Monti.
According to LP, there are several good restaurants south of the park in Ermita, including the original Casa Armas at 5345 General Luna Street 1209 (but see Makati post) and Sea Food Market 1190 J Bocobo St , but I decided to head north over the Pasig River to Chinatown (see Binondo post).