The walled city of Intramuros was the seat of political power when the Philippines was a Spanish colony. Protected by bastions, moats, cannons, and bulwarks, the wall enclosed about 64 hectares. Within are the Spanish elite's stately homes, churches, monasteries, cobbled plazas, and schools, including the original University of Santo Tomas.
Fort Santiago was the citadel of Intramuros, situated nearest to Manila Bay. Formerly the palisade fort of Rajah Sulayman, the sultan of Manila, the fort facilitated Galleon trade with Acapulco across the Pacific Ocean for more than 200 years. Most noteworthy, Jose Rizal was imprisoned here until his execution in 1896.
From its establishment in 1571, Intramuros withstood attacks from Chinese pirates and Dutch forces, as well as the British, American, and Japanese occupations. It finally yielded on the closing days of World War II, when the Japanese Imperial Army made their last stand against Allied Forces and Filipino guerillas in the Battle of Manila. All of Intramuros' buildings were destroyed, save for the San Agustin Church.
In 1951, Intramuros and Fort Santiago were designated National Historical Landmarks, and particularly the walls as National Cultural Treasures. Faithful restoration of damaged areas followed swiftly.
Intramuros today is a rich mix of well-managed parks, colonial-style boutique hotels, and heritage landmarks. These include the Manila Cathedral (the episcopal see of the Archbishop of Manila), Baluarte de San Diego, Plaza San Luis, and Palacio del Gobernador (the COMELEC and HDMF/Pagibig offices).
The free guided map by the Visitors Center is especially helpful for a walking tour, pointing out various areas and artifacts with a story to share. Or you can take a kalesa, the traditional horse-drawn carriage, to get around. Some can take you as far out as Binondo, the world's oldest Chinatown.
Most of the existing fortifications are accessible to tourists. In such sections, walking along the top of the walls is allowed, lending sweeping views of the surrounding streets and golf course.