Along the curve of Manila Bay lies the grand dame of Philippine cities, Manila; here beats the heart of the Philippines. Multi-faceted,multi-layered, lusty and lively, it is the seat of the government andcenter of the arts and education. It is a city of contrasts andcontradictions. Her streets pulsate with life at all hours; within itsboundaries live the richest and poorest in the land.
Bisectingthe city and crossed by seven bridges is the Pasig River. The firsttrading communities were formed on both sides of the river mouth asearly as the fifth century; they flourished with the annual arrival ofmerchants from Arabia, Siam, Borneo, Java, Sumatra, India, China andJapan. The city sprawls eastward from Manila Bay. Its streets rangefrom multi-lane boulevards to maze-like alleys.
In thismetropolis of 12 million, the contrast between spacious well-maintainedelite communities like Forbes Park and overcrowded slum areas such asTondo is immense. Occupied over the decades by the Spanish, Americans,British and Japanese, East now meets West, giving the city its uniquecharacter.
The Walled City, a medieval fortified town, wasthe heart and soul of the country for more than 300 years. This cityfortress, surrounded by moats and turreted walls 30 feet thick, wasknown as Intramuros. Only members of the Castilian upper class, friars,soldiers and government administrators were privileged to live insidethe walls; natives had to live in the outlying boroughs. A restorationproject is ongoing to preserve this oasis of calm amid the city'sbustle.
Intramuros, which comprises Fort Santiago, ManilaCathedral and San Agustin Church, should be priorities on any visitor'sitinerary.
Acting like a magnet, Manila attracts a continualstream of migrants who arrive from throughout the archipelago to studyor seek work. The cosmopolitan air you feel in this fascinating citycomes from its substantial Chinese and other foreign communities, busyport, multi-national corporations and constant flow of tourists.
Asthe only Christian country in Asia, there are about 90% of Filipinosthat embrace Christianity; 85% are Roman Catholics. The church deeplypervades the lives of ordinary Filipinos in all but the remotest tribalareas.