Manila, August 12, 2003 (STAR) By Jennifer Ong  - Spanish-style houses, period lamps, horse-drawn carriages, centuries-old churches, among others, vividly describe the old (pre-World War II) city of Intramuros whose faded history continues to enchant tourists and locals alike today.

Intramuros was said to have been built around 1571 by the Spaniards. It was walled up to serve as a fortress of Spanish colonial rule and, si, to exclusively house Spanish aristocrats and mestizos. Thus, it was tightly guarded from foreign invaders or just about anyone the Spaniards thought could bring harm to the people inside. Looking formidable and menacing on the outside, inside, the place bustled with a life of its own. The city had 12 churches, a number of chapels, convents, monasteries, palaces serving as government buildings, schools that included a university, a printing press, a hospital and some barracks.

Taking its name from the Spanish words intra and muros, meaning "within these walls," this enthralling city surely has lots of "inside" stories to tell.

I had the thrill of my life rediscovering Intramuros recently via a walk through history of sorts. No trip to the place is complete without a visit to its famous landmarks. Standing proud and venerable at the entrance is the now air-conditioned Manila Cathedral where many a wedding has been solemnized. The grand Romanesque structure is said to be made of Philippine adobe. Inside the cathedral are works of stained glass and mosaic art. A few meters away is yet another Catholic landmark. Built in 1571, the San Agustin Church and Museum is the oldest church in Intramuros. Its molave-carved main door is adorned with Agustinian symbols and figures. Inside are 14 chapels dedicated to different saints. Like the Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church is filled with intricate ceiling-to-floor details that are truly breathtaking and eye-catching. Attached to it is a monastery museum that houses numerous artifacts and religious art. It’s also home to the Luis Araneta collection of Philippine religious artifacts.

But so much for history. Today’s Intramuros is alive and well. Today, one can head out to Intramuros and have more than just a historical excursion. Between the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church is a whole walkway that beckons adventurous souls to explore. A huge, white structure, the Clamshell, gives a hint of the gustatory pleasures that lie within. Don’t forget to bring a little cash, a big appetite and comfortable shoes since you’ll do a lot of walking. Prepare your taste buds to be treated to a variety of Pinoy delights from different regions of the country depending on the regional theme of the month. Every region has brought in its well-loved delicacies to the place: Bibingka, ensaymada, suman, peanut brittle, coco jam, ube jam, chocolate-eh, pastillas, and so much more. There are no events scheduled for this month, but the best of both Regions V and VIII are showcased on Sept. 1-15 and Sept. 16-30, respectively.

Walking farther down the walkway, you’re enticed by the aroma of good food and your nose leads you to a number of food stands. Tables and chairs are set on an open field, where diners can choose from an array of food stalls, go food hopping, and fill their stomachs – happily, without limping home with an empty wallet. They serve inihaw dishes like grilled liempo, salmon belly and barbecue with rice for a truly satisfying meal. For dessert, there’s freshly cooked bibingka topped with salted egg and served with grated coconut and sugar. Yummy! Or you can enjoy a Pinoy old-time fave, taho, sold by various vendors – smartly garbed in camisa de chino – in the area. For quick tummy fillers, there are hotdog and pizza stands. Walk some more and you’ll find the open-air Kamayan. A hands-down favorite in the place, Kamayan serves Filipino classics like kare-kare, pinakbet and sinigang.

Truly, Intramuros has something to nourish both body and soul.

To enjoy even more the extra pleasures that Intramuros offers, you may want to avail yourself of the walking tour packages. The half-day tour packages range from $15 (without transport) to $25 (with transport or hotel transfer). You may choose to take either the 8 a.m. to 12 noon tour or the 2 to 7:30 p.m tour. The package includes a Light and Sound Show, a visit to the San Agustin Church and Museum, Casa Manila and the Clamshell. A full-day tour, on the other hand, costs $60, inclusive of dinner. These tours operate daily except Monday. Bookings may be done with three travel agencies, namely Annset Holidays, Inc. (tel. no. 400-6521), Marsman Tours and Travel Corp. (tel. nos. 892-9731 to 50 or 892-9761), and T.R.I.P.S Travel (tel. nos. 811-4114 to 15 or 811-4069).

No matter how you choose to explore the old walled city, one thing is for sure: You’re in for an enriching experience. It certainly beats just sitting in your history class or skimming through voluminous books. A visit to Intramuros is a walk to remember. See ya!

* * *

E-mail me at ice_wave_42

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved