Sunday, July 30, 2006

Manila: The walled city of Intramuros before the war

We have been trying influence many of the local government leaders and the clergy to adopt heritage conservation practices to preserve the character of our own cities and towns. But add to the fact that so much was already lost during the Second World War which is why we have to be more aggressive in protecting what's left.

To illustrate my point, I will hark back at the good old pistaym days when Manila was in its heyday. In Intramuros today, there are only two churches left, namely the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church. In fact, the Manila Cathedral that is standing today is a reconstruction of the original one and only San Agustin was unscathed during the war.

Before the war, there were at least nine of these grandiose and gargantuan churches within meters away from each other. These included the Manila Cathedral, Santo Domingo Church with the original main building of the University of Santo Tomas beside it, the Jesuit Church of San Ignacio beside the Ateneo de Manila (it was said that "there was so much wood in the church that it took all of four days for the conflagration to consume the buffet of tropical hardwoods – narra, tindalo, magcono, molave – cut from the mountain fastness of Surigao and transported to Manila seven decades previous), San Agustin Church, the Franciscan Churches of San Francisco and the Venerable Orden Tercera which were right beside each other sharing the same plaza, the Capuchin Church of Lourdes, the Augustinian Recollect Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino and the San Jose Church.

And those were just churches. I did not even touch on smaller chapels, colleges and universities, religious institutions and government buildings. Oh yes! We had ostentatious and elegant palace-like government buildings in Manila! And that was just Intramuros. The districts outside the walls such as Binondo, Santa Cruz, Ermita, Malate and San Miguel where equally charming as well.

Indeed, Manila was as beautiful as any European city. But we lost everything, centuries of work, in just a matter of days during the liberation of Manila. Sadly, unlike Europe which was also devastated mind you, we did not rebuild many of these monuments to Filipino craftsmanship and excellence. And all we could do now is sigh and say "Sayang!"
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