There's no shortage of tourist sites in the Philippines. You have the white beaches of Boracay, the underground river of Puerto Princesa in Palawan, and the perfectly cone-shaped Mayon Volcano in Albay province, among others. All of these remind you just how beautiful the present is.
However, the past has its own beauty too. If you look around Metro Manila, for example, you'll find a lot of buildings and structures that have managed to stand the test of time, even as they're slowly being overshadowed by tall skyscrapers, sleek condominiums and luxurious malls. In lieu of National Heroes Day on August 29, here's Part 1 of our top historical sites around the Metro.
It's hard to talk about historical sites in Manila without mentioning Intramuros. As the original seat of government when the Spaniards took control of the Philippines, Intramuros was walled off to protect it from foreign invaders (hence the name, which is literally Spanish for "within the walls").
The city was heavily damaged during World War II, but was subsequently reconstructed due to being declared a National Historical Monument. Today, you can still tour the ruins of the city by riding a calesa ("horse-drawn carriage") and listening to the cocheros (coachmen) talk about the glory days of Old Manila.
University of Sto. Tomas
You don't have to be a student to appreciate the beauty of this place. Located along España Boulevard in Sampaloc, Manila, UST — colloquially known as "USTe" or "oos-teh" — is considered the oldest university in the Philippines and Asia, being founded in 1611 by Archbishop Miguel de Benavides.
In particular, you'd want to check out the Arch of the Centuries, where UST students traditionally pass through when entering and graduating from the university. Each of its pillars has a commemorative plaque for two famous alumni: One for Dr. Jose P. Rizal on the left, and one for President Manuel L. Quezon on the right.
San Sebastian Church
If you want to see an all-steel church, you wouldn't want to miss this one. In fact, San Sebastian Church is the only one of its kind in the Philippines, and was considered as a possible World Heritage Site back in 2006. The church became a minor basilica in 1890 by order of Pope Leo XIII, and was consecrated in the following year by Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda y Villa upon its completion.
Apparently, there were rumors that Gustave Eiffel — who helped construct the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty — was also involved with the design and construction of this church. Those rumors have yet to be confirmed, but it's fun to speculate nonetheless!
Today, this park is best known as a venue for wedding receptions, due to its beautiful, idyllic scenery. Back in the early 19th century, however, Paco Park had a much more morbid function.
In 1807, a cholera epidemic broke out in Manila, prompting the construction of a cemetery in Bagumbayan (now Rizal/Luneta Park). The cemetery was inaugurated in 1822, and originally hosted the bodies of affluent residents of Intramuros, as well as heroes like Rizal and Gomburza. ("Gomburza" is the portmanteau for "Gomez-Burgos-Zamora," the surnames of the three priests executed for trumped-up charges of mutiny against the Spanish government.)
Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la Revolucion
Also known as the "Mausoleum of the Veterans of the Revolution," this is located within the Manila North Cemetery. It was commissioned by Governor-General James F. Smith in 1908, and houses the bodies of Filipinos who died during the independence revolution. Human figures grieving the dead are carved into the entrance, as well as swags and crosses.
Formerly known as the "Jardin Botanico," this public park was originally established by the Spanish authorities outside Intramuros in 1858. One of its directors was a man named Sebastian Vidal, who was known for collecting and writing about Philippine flora. Vidal kept his post until his death in 1889, when an obituary described him as "practically a pioneer" in the investigation of Philippine flora. (The key word is "practically," because a similar book was published by Francisco Manuel Blanco in 1835.)
Several years later, in 1913, the garden was renamed after John C. Mehan, an American responsible for Manila's sanitation and public parks. You can still visit it today by commuting to the LRT-Central Station, and looking for the open area bounded by the Manila City Hall and Metropolitan Theater.
Originally built as a summer house in 1750, Malacañang has since become the official residence for Spanish Governors-General, American Governors and Presidents of the Philippines. Its distinct neo-classical/Spanish façade overlooks the Pasig River, and continues to be the country's seat of power to this day.
Considering the Palace's long and violent history, it's no surprise that ghost stories have begun to crop out around it. We'll save those stories for a future post, but for now, there's only one thing we want to ask: Are you ready to see the supernatural side of Malacañang for yourself?
These are some of the more notable historical sites in Metro Manila. There's a lot more where they came from, and we bet there are still hidden sites waiting to be discovered. In the meantime, why not check these out for yourself, and perhaps find an old treasure or two of your own?