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A Look at Historical Manila


Manila is the capital of the Philippines and a vibrant historic city with so much to experience. I am visiting Manila on the Norwegian Cruise Line Jewel. I opted for a historical tour and saw several significant sites.

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Our first stop is Manila Cathedral, the main Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines. Located in the Plaza de Roma, Intramuros, its official name is Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica, and it is the seat of the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Manila.

Fort Santiago

From here, we traveled to Fort Santiago, one of the oldest fortifications in Manila, built by the Spaniards in 1571.

The fort, destroyed in 1574 during the Chinese attack led by Limahong, was rebuilt between 1589 and 1592 and repaired and extended after being damaged by the 1645 earthquake.

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Spanish, British, American, and Japanese occupation forces used the fort as their headquarters and a prison for men, women, children, and soldiers. After its destruction during the Battle of Manila in 1945, the U.S. Transportation Corps used the fort as a depot until it was turned over to the Philippine government in 1946 by the U.S.

Fort Santiago was declared a Shrine of Freedom in 1950, and restoration began the following year. Today, it stands as a memorial to the victims of World War II and the sacrifices of the Filipino people in pursuit of freedom.

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Across the plaza are the remains of the Royal Warehouses, first built in the 16th century. It was a storehouse for goods unloaded by ships at the river gate and a warehouse for supplies of the fort and other government offices.

At the far end of the plaza is the gate leading to the inner sanctum of Fort Santiago. The main entrance is decorated by a wood relief carving of Santiago Matamoros, the patron saint of Spain, together with the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Castile and Leon. What remains of the original gate are the embossed Spanish soldiers, now defaced.

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We next could enter the dungeons in what were initially used as powder magazines until the dampness proved detrimental to storing gunpowder. The dungeons were recently rehabilitated and are now open to the public.

During World War II, Fort Santiago was severely damaged when American forces blasted their way inside to flush out the Japanese who sought refuge here.

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After the war, Fort Santiago was restored as a public park. In 1951, the Philippines recognized the historical significance of Fort Santiago to our nationhood. They declared it a National Monument and a National Shrine known as the "Shrine of Freedom" in honor of Dr. Rizal and the countless number of people imprisoned, tortured, and martyred here for the cause of freedom. In 2014, the National Museum of the Philippines declared it a National Cultural Treasure.

After the Battle of Manila in 1945, 600 decomposing bodies were found around Intramuros. Their remains lie in a mass grave under a white marble cross beside the Dungeons.

Church of Saint Augustine

The Church of Saint Augustine is a Roman Catholic church under the auspices of the Order of Saint Augustine. Completed in 1607, it is the oldest stone church in the country.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historical Landmark.

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Spaniards built churches nationwide when they came to the Philippines to spread Catholicism. This church was created in 1571 under the Augustinian Order out of nipa and bamboo.

Three years later, the Chinese Pirate Limahong conquered Manila, leading to the burning of houses and the San Agustin Church. In 1575, the church was reconstructed using wood. Unfortunately, the church burnt down in 1583.

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The Augustinian friars, fearing another disaster, chose to use adobe stones to build the third church. In 1586, they consulted Juan Macias about the design and construction of the church. It was then officially completed in 1607.

After we toured the sanctuary, there was a museum with impressive relics illustrating the church's rich history.

We spent over an hour admiring the church and its many historic items.

Manila Hotel

Our last stop before returning to the ship was the Manila Hotel.

A smartly dressed doorman invited us into the glamorous lobby, and we were able to take in the beauty of this legendary site.

William Howard Taft created an urban plan for the city of Manila. He hired Architect Daniel Hudson Burnham, who drafted a comprehensive and long tree-lined boulevard that would begin at the park where a magnificent hotel would dominate the end of the bay.

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On July 4, 1912, The Manila Hotel opened its doors to the public. A sprawling property in the heart of Manila, the country's first-ever five-star hotel became the address of prominence visited by the most illustrious guests.

The hotel has served as a witness to how the city suffered so much damage during the outbreak of World War II under the Japanese invasion. It also served as the official residence of General Douglas MacArthur and his family. It also welcomes royalties, public figures, and rock stars.

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Ernest Hemingway said of the hotel, "The Manila Hotel is one of the most important landmarks in Manila. It presents a great story for the Philippines. It is the perfect representation of the city, if not the country's resilience, vitality, versatility, and hospitality."

Decorated for Christmas when we visited, the splendor of the lobby was beautiful and memorable in its gold tones,

The hotel visit would end our tour, and the motor coach took us back to the waiting ship.

I love understanding a destination's history and thoroughly enjoyed this adventure. For more information about sailing with NCL to Asia or anywhere in the world, click here.


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