The City of Manila, or simply Manila, is the capital of the Philippines and one of the 17 cities and municipalities that make up Metro Manila. Located on the eastern shores of Manila Bay just west of the National Capital Region in western side of Luzon, it is one of the central hubs of a thriving metropolitan area home to over 14 million people.
Manila, occupying a total land area of 38.3 square kilometers, is the second most populous city in the Philippines, with more than 1.6 million inhabitants. Only nearby Quezon City, the country’s former capital, is more populous. The metropolitan area is the second most populous in Southeast Asia.
Manila lies about 950 kilometers southeast of Hong Kong and 2,400 kilometers northeast of Singapore. The river bisects the city in the middle. Almost all of the city sits on top of centuries of prehistoric alluvial deposits built by the waters of the Pasig River and on some land reclaimed from Manila Bay.
The layout of the city was haphazardly planned during Spanish Era as a set of communities surrounding the original Spanish Era walled city of Manila, called Intramuros. Intramuros is one of the oldest walled cities in the Far East. During the American Period, some semblance of city planning using the architectural designs and master plans by Daniel Burnham was done on the portions of the city south of the Pasig River.
Burnham, the noted American city planner and architect, was famed for his plans and designs of Chicago, Cleveland (the Group Plan), San Francisco, Washington, DC (the McMillan Plan), and Baguio City, details of which appear in The Chicago Plan publication of 1909. Manila is bordered by several cities in Metro Manila such as Navotas and Caloocan City to the north, Quezon City to the northeast, San Juan and Mandaluyong City to the east, Makati City to the southeast, and Pasay City to the south.
The original Manila was inside the fortified walls of Intramuros meaning (within the walls) it was constructed and designed by Spanish Jesuit missionaries to keep from invading Chinese pirates and natives uprising. Manila became the seat of the colonial government of Spain when it officially controlled the Philippine Islands for over three centuries from 1565 to 1898.
The city was also temporarily occupied by Great Britain for two years from 1762-1764 during the seven years war. During those two years under the British flag the capital was termporarily moved to Pampanga.
Manila also became famous during the Manila-Acapulco trade which lasted for three centuries and brought the goods as far as Mexico all the way to South East Asia. Beginning in 1899, the United States ceded the Philippines from Spain and colonized the whole Philippine archipelago until 1946. During World War II, much of the city was destroyed. It was the second most destroyed city in the world after Warsaw, Poland during World War II. The Metropolitan Manila region was enacted as an independent entity in 1975. Manila has been classified as a “Gamma” global city by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network.
Manila is distributed into 16 territorial districts, which are all original towns except one, the Port Area District. All of these original towns except Port Area have their own churches and several of these districts have attained identification in their own right.
- Binondo – country’s Chinatown before the arrival of Spaniards in 1571 and the city’s main center for business
- Quiapo – Hometown of the Black Nazarene and also a place which offers cheap prices on items ranging from electronics to native handicrafts
- Sampaloc – means tamarind fruit is the district wherein the University of Santo Tomas, Asia’s oldest university and the famous Dangwa Flower Market is located (near Windsor Inn at Maceda Street).
- San Miguel – known as the University Belt District and the location of residence of the Philippine Government, Malacañang Palace
- San Nicolas – shares Divisoria Flea Market with other co-district is the hub for the adventurous shoppers that may venture for cheap buys
- Santa Cruz – is on the edge of Chinatown, which is the district of usual frenzied mix of commercial and residential premises
- Santa Mesa – from the Spanish term Holy Mass, this district marks the first shot of the Filipino-American War
- Tondo – the largest, historically 1100 years old, it is one of the first provinces to be established and rebelled against Spain and is now the Southeast Asia’s Most Densely Populated District
- Ermita – one of the two Tourist Belt (another is the Malate district) is the former Red District and offers numeorus coin and antique shops aside from nightlife business
- Intramuros – taken from the Latin, intra muros, literally “with in the walls”, the History Town of the Philippines and considered as Old Manila itself during Spanish times
- Malate – the Gay Capital of the country which is known as the center of bohemian night life in the city and in the metropolis
- Paco – lies city’s historic but mysterious octagonal park cemetery
- Pandacan – district home of many of the country’s literary and musical geniuses
- Port – the country’s chief seaport consisting of North and South Port where one can witness the dramatic sunset of Manila Bay
- San Andres Bukid – was previously part of Santa Ana, this district has a touch of Muslim culture and has a mosque
- Santa Ana- known as Sapa in ancient times, this district is the old capital of Namayan Kingdom which is the precursor of modern Metro Manila
Before and during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, Manila was the provincial capital over a province whose territory at one time covered nearly all of Luzon, and included the modern territorial subdivisions of Pampanga, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Mindoro, Masbate and Marinduque. Later, these subdivisions were themselves made provinces, leaving Manila province with a territory roughly equal to the present City of Manila proper (except Intramuros, the capital site), and the northwestern two-thirds of Rizal province.
The boundary of Manila province went from northeast to southwest, including Antipolo, Cainta, Taytay and Taguig, and all of the towns north and west of them, in Manila province; and Angono, Teresa, Morong, and the towns south and east of them, in Laguna province. Early in the province’s history, the provincial name was changed from Manila to Tondo Province, by which it was known for most of the Spanish era.
In about 1853, four pueblos or towns of Tondo Province were joined with the northeastern towns of Laguna province to form the politico-military Distrito de los Montes de San Mateo, or District of the San Mateo Mountains. The Tondo Province annexed to this new district the towns of Cainta, Taytay, Antipolo and Boso-boso, while Laguna contributed the towns of Angono, Binangonan, Cardona, Morong, Baras, Tanay, Pililla and Jalajala.
But the name of the new district proved unwieldy, too long, and misled many into thinking the town of San Mateo (in Tondo province) was the capital of the San Mateo Mountain District, when in reality the district capital was in Morong. So, in 1859, following common practice of the day, the district was renamed after its capital; namely, Morong District. At about the same time, Tondo Province was renamed Manila Province.
When the Spaniards turned over the Philippines to the hands of the Americans, a civil government was formed. In about the same period, the Manila Province was dissolved by the Philippine Commission, and its pueblos were incorporated with those of the District of Morong, forming the new Province of Rizal. A few weeks, a new charter for the City of Manila, defining its boundaries and annexing some of towns of the Province of Rizal to its districts.
These boundaries were slightly revised and redefined on January 29, 1902 when the suburb of Gagalangin was annexed to the city district of Tondo, and the former pueblo of Santa Ana was turned into a city district of Manila. On July 30 of the same year, the city board officially divided the city into 13 political subdivisions named as districts, and the boundaries of each were defined. On August 15 of the same year, the pueblo of Pandacan was annexed as a city district. Since then the boundaries and city districts of Manila have remained essentially the same.
During World War II, the City of Manila was declared an open city and its administrative boundaries expanded to outlying cities and municipalities. It was called the Greater Manila and included districts such as Bagumbayan means New Town (South of Manila), Bagumpanahon means “New Era” (Sampaloc, Quiapo, San Miguel and Santa Cruz), Bagumbuhay means “New Life” (Tondo), Bagong Diwa means “New Order” (Binondo & San Nicholas), the then newly established Quezon City was collapsed and divided into two districts, while the municipalities of Caloocan, Las Piñas, Malabon, Makati, Mandaluyong, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasay, and San Juan became districts of Manila.
In 1948, Quezon City was declared the national capital of the new Republic of the Philippines. But on May 29, 1976, President Ferdinant E. Marcos returned the national capital to Manila by virtue of the Presidential Decree No. 940, declaring that “the area prescribed as Metro Manila by Presidential Decree 824 was to be the seat of the national government.
Manila has the usual developing world city problems of choking smog and traffic and appalling poverty. This however should not dissuade any traveller from visiting this city for it is a warm, exciting and diverse place that is ripe for discovery by any adventurous tourist. English is widely spoken, prices are cheap and you get more than your fair share of sunshine. All in all, Manila is a fun and exciting place to be. Together with the warm and friendly people of the Philippines, tourists will find their Manila experience an enjoyable and unforgettable one.
The Philippines is a tropical country that has basically two seasons, a wet season and a dry season. Typhoons and tropical storms are a common occurrence during the wet season particularly in the northern part of the Philippines where Manila is located. The wet season lasts from June to early November. Late November to May is then the dry season with the Philippine summer months of March to May being the hottest. December to February is still relatively pleasant particularly if you are coming from the northern hemisphere where this is the winter period and sub-zero temperatures prevail. Temperatures during this time would range from 24 to 30°C (75 to 86°F) at its peak. From March to May, temperatures heat up but as Manila is by the coast, it rarely goes beyond 36 to 37°C (97 to 99°F).
Directly south of Intramuros lies Rizal Park, the country’s most significant park. Also known as Luneta (Spanish term for “crescent-shaped”) and previously as Bagumbayan (“New Town”), the 60 hectare Rizal Park sits on the site where José Rizal, the country’s national hero, was executed by the Spaniards on charges of subversion. A monument stands in his honor. The big flagpole west of the Rizal Monument is the Kilometer Zero for road distances on the island of Luzon and the rest of the country.
Other attractions in Rizal Park include the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the Department of Tourism building, the National Museum of the Philippines, The National Library of the Philippines, the Planetarium, the Orchidarium and Butterfly Pavilion, an open-air auditorium for cultural performances, a relief map of the Philippines, a fountain area, a children’s lagoon, a chess plaza, a light and sound presentation, and the Quirino Grandstand.
Another famous open space in Manila is the Baywalk. This promenade lies in front of the Manila Bay where one can experience one of the most breathtaking sunsets of the world. Coconut trees, giant kaleidoscopic lamp posts and other scenery dot this two-kilometer stretch of ample space beside Roxas Boulevard. The Baywalk used to include al fresco cafés and restaurants, and stages with live musical acts but these were removed in late 2007 by Mayor Alfredo Lim.
Aside from Rizal Park, Manila has very few other open public spaces. Rajah Sulayman Park, Manila Boardwalk, Liwasang Bonifacio, Plaza Miranda, Mehan Garden, Paco Park, Remedios Circle, Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden, Plaza Balagtas and the Malacañang Garden are some of the other parks in the city. In 2005, Mayor Lito Atienza opened the Pandacan Linear Park, a strip of land that served as a buffer zone between the oil depot and the residential-commercial properties in Pandacan and could be found along the banks of the Pasig River. In the northern most part of the city lies the three cemeteries of Loyola, Chinese, and Manila North Green Park, the largest public cemetery in Metropolitan Manila.
English and Filipino (Tagalog) are the common languages in the northern mainland of Luzon. If you speak English, you will have no problem being understood everywhere because it is the language of instruction in schools, as well as in business. Most Filipinos speak English well, no matter their level of education. This is because Filipinos learn the English language at home, and more formally when they start school. It is not unusual for school children to speak impeccable English. Manila’s economy is diverse and multifaceted. With its excellent protected harbor, Manila serves as the nation’s chief seaport. In addition, it is the financial and publishing center for the Philippines.
Diverse manufactures include chemicals, textiles, clothing, and electronic goods. Watches, iron and steel, leather goods, and shoes are also manufactured within the city. Food and beverages and tobacco products also employ many residents. Additionally, local entrepreneurs continue to process primary commodities for export, including rope, plywood, refined sugar, copra, and coconut oil.
Tourism is also a thriving industry. Being one of the major tourist destinations in the country, the city attracts over 1 million visitors from all over the world annually. Many of Manila’s tourist sites are found in the Binondo, Intramuros and Malate.
Every district in the city with the exception of Port Area has its own public market, locally called the pamilihang bayan or palengke. Public markets are often divided into two, the dry goods section and the wet goods section. Commerce in these public markets is lively, especially in the early morning. Under the urban renewal program of the incumbent administration, some of the public markets had been refurbished and given a fresher look, like the Santa Ana Public Market and the Pritil Public Market. Cheap buys or goods being sold at rock-bottom prices are available in the flea markets of Divisoria and Quiapo, where bargaining is a major shopping experience.
Modern shopping malls dot the city especially in the areas of Malate and Ermita. SM City Manila, part of the country’s largest chain of malls, stands behind the Manila City Hall, while the original SM Department store still operates in Carriedo in Santa Cruz. One of the popular malls that lies at the heart of Manila is Robinson’s Place Ermita. In the southern part of the city in Malate district is Harrison Plaza, one of the city’s oldest shopping malls.
Major tourist sites in Manila:
- Intramuros - At the northern end of the Bay lies the remnants of the old walled Spanish settlement of Manila, Intramuros (Spanish for ‘within the walls’). Intramuros contains some of the city’s most interesting museums, ruins, and churches including the Manila Cathedral, the most important church in the country.
- Manila Hotel – Just outside Intramuros and on the edge of Manila Bay is the beautiful and historic Manila Hotel, a legacy of the American colonial era and the place where General Douglas MacArthur made his home before World War II.
- Rizal Park – Right outside the walled city is Rizal Park more widely known as the Luneta. The Luneta is the venue for the best museums of the city, bayside restaurants, an open-air theater featuring free classical music concerts, a planetarium, early morning jogging and tai chi enthusiasts, and the Manila Hotel. It is a popular meeting spot for family picnics and was the site of the execution of Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines.
- Baywalk – South of the Luneta is the renovated Baywalk a linear park adjacent to Manila Bay. This promenade has now been all but shut down by a new mayor as at July 2007, most of the bars and restaurants are just empty shells.
- Chinatown – Manila has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, where one can find exotic Chinese goods and delicious cuisine.
- Churches – There are some various impressive Spanish-era Cathedrals that are more impressive than old Spanish Missions in California. Among the best churches of Manila are San Agustin Church, ; the all-steel San Sebastian Cathedral; and Las Pinas and its bamboo organ.
- Museums – Manila has seen a drastic improvement in its museum offerings with the recent renovation of old favorites such as the National Museum of the Filipino People and the Ayala Museum. Other must-see museums in the city are the Bahay Chinoy (Chinese House), Casa Manila, San Agustin Museum and the Museum of Filipino Political History.
Manila is the seat of the Archdiocese of Manila, the oldest archdiocese in the country, and the Primate of the Philippines. The archdiocese’s offices is located in the Manila Cathedral (Basilica Minore de la Nuestra Señora de la Immaculada Concepcion) inside the Intramuros. The city is under the Patronage of San Andres (St. Andrew).
Being the seat of the Spanish colonial government in past centuries, it has been used as the base of numerous Roman Catholic missions to the Philippines. Among the religious orders that have gone to the Philippines include the Dominicans, the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Augustinians (which includes the Augustinian Recollects), the Benedictines, the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, the Vincentian Fathers, the Congregatio of the Immaculati Cordis Mariae, and the De La Salle Christian Brothers.
Other notable churches and cathedrals in the city include San Agustin Church in Intramuros, the shrine of the canonically crowned image of Nuestra Señora de Consolación y Correa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a favorite wedding place of notable people and one of two fully air-conditioned churches in the city; Quiapo Church, also known as the Basilica Minore del Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, site of the annual January Black Nazarene procession; Binondo Church, also known as Basilica Minore de San Lorenzo Ruiz; Malate Church, the shrine of Nuestra Señora de Remedios; Ermita Church, home of the oldest Marian Image in the Philippines, Nuestra Señora de Guia; Tondo Church, home of the century-old ivory image of Sto. Niño (Child Jesus); Sta. Ana Church, shrine of the canonically crowned image of Nuestra Senora de los Desamparados; and San Sebastian Church or the Basilica Minore de San Sebastian, the only all-steel church in Gothic style in Asia.
Manila is home to some of the older and larger Protestant churches in the Philippines. While most of the older churches established by American missionaries are located within the Manila city limits, a greater number of the larger churches are in the suburbs and satellite cities.
After the Second World War, a great influx of foreign Protestant missionaries came to the islands among which are the Baptists, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Christian and Missionary Alliance established churches and schools throughout the islands making Manila their headquarters of operations. The Baptist Bible Church in Santa Mesa, Manila is the first church founded under the auspices of the Baptist Bible Fellowship in 1947. Since its founding, the Springfield, Missouri-based Baptist Bible Missions have established 2000 churches in the Philippines.
There are many Buddhist and Taoist temples built by the Chinese community in Manila. The Quiapo district is home to a sizable Muslim population in Manila, and The Golden Mosque is located there. In Ermita, there is a large Hindu temple for the Indian population, while on U.N. Avenue, there is a Sikh Temple.
There is also a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Malate, along Quirino Avenue, there once was a synagogue for the small Jewish community in the Philippines; a new synagogue has since been erected in neighboring Makati, along Tordesillas Street. The Philippine-based Iglesia ni Cristo and the Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan) also has numerous chapels and churches spread throughout the city.
Apart from the bustling Philippines capital as is a remarkable melting pot of Asian and Latin cultures, which was thick with history and flavor upon most of travelors interests. The best way to get a feel for Manila shopping is to go to a ‘tiangge’, a market of stalls, where everything can be bargained. Market! Market!, St. Francis Square, Greenhills Shopping Center and Tiendesitas are examples of such.
Manila is home to majority of the colleges and universities in Metro Manila. The University Belt or U-Belt, informally located in the districts of Malate, Ermita, Intramuros, San Miquel, Quiapo, and Sampaloc is the colloquial term for the high concentration of institutions of higher education that are located in these districts.
Among them are the state university University of the Philippines, Manila, which houses the Philippine General Hospital, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila located in Sta. Mesa, private school Adamson University in Ermita, private school De La Salle University-Manila, the private schools Far Eastern University, Centro Escolar University and University of Santo Tomas in Sampaloc, and the city-owned Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila at Intramuros.
The city also plays host to Manila Science High School, the National Museum of the Philippines, where the Spoliarium of Juan Luna is housed, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museong Pambata (Children’s Museum), as well as the National Library, located within Rizal Park.
Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), eight kilometers south of the city center, serves Manila, Metro Manila and nearby provinces. A second terminal, Terminal 2 (or the Centennial Terminal) opened in October 1999. The International flag-carrier Philippine Airlines uses this terminal exclusively for both its domestic and international service while all other international flights use the original NAIA terminal. The construction of a third terminal (NAIA-3) has been completed and was just recently opened August 1, 2008. It currently houses the domestic flights of Cebu Pacific, Air Asia and PAL Express and is set to operate international flights within the year. The main carrier serving NAIA is Philippine Airlines.
Another alternative point of embarkation and disembarkation is Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in the Clark Special Economic Zone. Some airlines use this small airport because of its cheaper landing and parking fees.
The main roads of Metro Manila are organized around a set of radial and circumferential roads that radiate and circle in and around Manila proper. Roxas Boulevard, easily the most well-known of Manila’s streets, line the southern shores of Manila with Manila Bay. The boulevard is part of the Radial Road 1 that leads south to the province of Cavite. Another well-known radial road is España Boulevard (part of Radial Road 7) that starts in Quiapo and ends at the Welcome Rotunda along the border with Quezon City. Pres. Sergio Osmeña Sr. Highway, part of the South Luzon Expressway or Radial Road 3 is the most important highway linking Manila with the provinces of southern Luzon.
The most common types of public transportation are buses and the jeepney. Tricycles and Pedicabs are used for short distances. In some areas, especially in Divisoria, two stroke motors are fitted in the pedicabs and are used for goods transport.
There are eight major bridge spans in Manila, more than half of the number of bridges that connects the north and south banks of the Pasig River in Metro Manila. There are two rail bridges that crosses the river, the Light Rail Transit 1 and the Philippine National Railways track.
Manila is the hub of a railway system on Luzon. The main terminal of the Philippine National Railways is in the Tondo district. Railways extend from this terminal north to the city of San Fernando in Pampanga and south to Legazpi City in Albay, though only the southern railway is currently in operation.
Manila is also serviced by the Manila Light Rail Transit System (separate from Manila Metro Rail Transit System), a national priority project designed to address the overwhelming traffic that congests the national capital. Development of the system began with its inception in the 1970s under the Marcos administration, making it the first light rail transport in Southeast Asia. Recently, the system saw a massive multi-billion dollar expansion in correlation with the rising population of the city; its purpose: to create an alternative form of transportation to solve the demand of an increasingly mobile workforce.
Two lines service the city residents, the Yellow Line that runs along the length of Taft Avenue (R-2) and Rizal Avenue (R-9), and the Purple Line that runs along Ramon Magsaysay Blvd (R-6) from Santa Cruz, through Quezon City, up to Santolan in Pasig City.
Manila has most of the usual American fastfood chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, Dairy Queen, Shakey’s Pizza, Taco Bell, Dunkin Donuts, TGIF, Italianni’s, Outback, and KFC. Jollibee, the Filipino version of McDonald’s is very common in Manila.
There are also other pure Filipino restaurants across the city such as Kamayan (Filipino food), Mannang (Filipino food), Mann Hann (Chinese food), Dencio’s (Filipino food), Gerry’s Grill (Filipino food), Goldilocks (bakeshop), Red Ribbon (bakeshop), Greenwich (pizza and pasta), Go Nuts Donuts, Tokyo Tokyo (Japanese Food) and Chow King (Chinese Food). Coffeeshops such as Starbucks and Seattle’s Best have also recently become quite common in malls and commercial centers.
The popular districts of Malate and Ermita showcase a wide variety of hotels, restaurants, clubs, bars, cafes, art and antique shops. The nightlife offers everything from cultural shows to discotheques, casinos, entertainment lounges, and fashionable cafes. Right at the heart of the city lies the Intramuros, and it is the site of forts and dungeons, old churches, colonial houses, and horse-drawn carriages. other historical buildings and landmarks, parks and open spaces, museums, shopping centers, and sports facililities can be found all over the city.
General landmarks in Manila:
- Apolinario Mabini Shrine
- Chinatown (Binondo district)
- Embassy of the United States of America
- Ermita and Malate Districts, a place for Bohemian night life
- Fort Santiago
- Intramuros, the walled city built by the Spaniards, originally considered to be the City of Manila
- Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the President of the Philippines
- Manila Baywalk
- Malate Church
- Manila Boardwalk
- Manila Cathedral
- Manila City Hall
- Manila Ocean Park
- Manila Yacht Club
- Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden (Manila Zoo)
- Metropolitan Theater
- Museo Pambata
- National Library of the Philippines
- National Museum
- Paco Park, the location of the TV show Paco Park Presents
- Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz
- Plaza Miranda
- Quiapo Church
- Quirino Grandstand
- Plaza Rajah Sulayman
- Remedios Circle
- Rizal Park, also known as Luneta
- San Agustin Church
- San Sebastian Church
- The Manila Hotel
- The Supreme Court of the Philippines
- Victims of Martial Law Memorial Wall – Bonifacio Shrine (near City Hall)
- University of Santo Tomas
- Manila Chinese Cemetery
- La Loma Cemetery
- Manila North Cemetery
- Manila South Cemetery
- Paco Park
- Bahay Tsinoy
- Intramuros Light and Sound Museum
- Main National Museum, Padre Burgos Street
- Museo ng Maynila (Museum of Manila), formerly the Pre-War Army-Navy Club Bldg., Rizal Park
- Museo Pambata (Children’s Museum), formerly the Pre-War Elk’s Club Bldg., Rizal Park
- National Museum of the Filipino People, Rizal Park
- Parish of the Our Lady of the Abandoned – Sta. Ana (pre-Spanish artifacts)
- Plaza San Luis, Intramuros
- San Agustin Church Museum, Intramuros
- The Museum – De La Salle University-Manila, Taft Avenue, Malate
- UST Museum of Arts and Sciences
- Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, Vito Cruz Street, Malate
Manila has a lot of hotels, inns and apartelles. Most of these accommodations can be found within Roxas Boulevard overlooking Manila Bay, or in the districts of Ermita and Malate. Manila’s hotel accommodations are 20 to 30 minutes away from the international and domestic airport.