My Intramuros Wishlist

[This is the first in probably three blog entries I will make regarding Intramuros.  I’ve just finished uploading most of the photos that I took during my 1-day tour of the walled city, and I’ve spent the past 5 days mostly organizing in my head the stuff I want to write about.]

A person who gets a chance to explore Intramuros for a whole day will surely encounter both the beautiful and the ugly, the charming and the ghastly, in the walled city.  The following is my own wish list on what needs to be done in Intramuros in order to enhance, or even just preserve it’s character as Manila’s premier historical district.  I understand that most of these will entail a lot of funding, and are thus close to impossible.  But hey, we can all dream, can’t we?

1.  Squatters need to be relocated outside of the walls.While it may be true that squatters have existed in the walled city for most of the postwar years, there’s no mistake that they have no regard for the historical importance of Intramuros – being more concerned with their very survival than the nuances of Spanish-era fusion architecture.  Their “residences” are eyesores whose unsightly appearance are compounded by the garbage that are strewn in their own surroundings (This despite the fact that Intramuros has a very efficient garbage collection system.)I of course have no intention of depriving them of shelter and livelihood (if drinking all day and boisterous singing in videokes is what they call “livelihood”.)  I just wish that they seek shelter and practice their livelihood somewhere less-historically significant.

2.  Cobblestone roads everywhere.The most charming part of Intramuros for me is General Luna Street, partly because it seems to be the only street that has a stretch that is covered with cobblestones.  This should be made uniform in the entirety of Intramuros, or at least the areas most frequented by tourists.

3.  The rebuilding of the Ayuntamiento should NOT be botched.The Ayuntamiento was perhaps the finest and most historically-significant building in the walled city before it was destroyed during the Second World War.  It served as the City Hall during the Spanish era, and later on as the House of Representatives under the Americans.  I learned that a private entity has taken upon itself to purchase the Ayuntamiento ruins and restore it to it’s former grandeur.  I agree with this in principle, with the condition that the city’s historians should be given the widest oversight powers in the project.  This is to ensure that plans for the rebuilding of the Ayuntamiento will be faithful, as much as possible ,to its former appearance.

4.  New and old maps should be given together to tourists.The whole point in exploring the walled city is to have an idea on what life was like in bygone years, and imagining how the city appeared before the onset of modernity.  This is the reason why historical markers are found everywhere in Intramuros.  To enhance this experience, it might be a good idea to give away copies of old maps together with present-day maps.  An old map from the last 100 or 200 years is a powerful tool in showing how much of the old city grid is preserved, and even how most street names have remained the same.

5.  The old Ateneo site should be converted into a park.A ghastly clamshell tent for “WOW Philippines” stands today where the old Ateneo Municipal de Manila used to be.  My wish is for this space (or even just a part of it) to be converted to a park in tribute to Atenean heroes, in the same way that the Dominicans were allowed to develop Plaza Sto. Tomas near the old site of UST.  It should not be forgotten that the Ateneo had its roots in the walled city.  (As it is, there is no longer any trace of the former Padre Faura campus – the site being gobbled up by a mall.)

6.  Old tunnels and chambers in the bulwarks should be excavated and preserved.Probably in an effort to discourage squatting and crime in the various bulwarks surrounding Intramuros, some tunnels and stairways that could have led to inner chambers have been filled in with rubble.  This is unfortunate in light of the fact that armed guards are visible everywhere in Intramuros – especially the bulwarks – and serve as sufficient deterrent for crime and squatting.  The tunnels and chambers enhance the appearance of the bulwarks and provides a deeper experience of the walled city should one be permitted to explore them.

7.  The second tower of the San Agustin Church should be rebuilt.The second bell tower of the Church has been missing since it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 19th century.  The Church now appears somewhat impotent with the missing bell tower, thereby diminishing its appearance.  The second bell tower should be rebuilt and it must be faithful to the original plans.  This should not be too hard as there’s always the remaining bell tower for reference.

8.  The next president of the Philippines should not interfere with rebuilding and restoration in Intramuros.Ok, this might be a bit difficult since the Intramuros Administration is under the Department of Tourism, which is itself directly under the President.  Assuming that GMA loses interest in being president for life, I’m wishing that the next president will not envision a new agenda for Intramuros that will derail all current efforts to restore and rebuild important structures.  The rebuilding of the curtain wall along Pasig River, the Puerta de Almacenes, the Baluarte de Herrerias and of course the Ayuntamiento, are prime projects that Intramuros and the rest of Manila desperately needs in order to recover it’s lost heritage.
9.  Electric power lines should be re-routed underground.  Now, this definitely will be difficult to undertake because it will entail a lot of disruptions caused by excavations in the walled city’s very small sidewalks.  But the possible rewards are great.  Elevated power lines have always been the bane of aesthetics in any historically significant site which predates the 20th century.  If the Intramuros Administration finds a way to do this in even just the areas frequented by tourists, Intramuros’ appearance will be enhanced and improved.

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Actually, I could go on and on with more detailed wishes for Intramuros, but I guess the preceding nine wishes are general enough in scope to give you an idea on what’s on my mind as regards the walled city.  It’s not hard to fall in love with the place once you get a chance to explore it, and I’m sure you will have your own wish lists should you do so.

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