Wednesday, August 01, 2007


I believe that Manila can be a reflection of your state of mind. Being a city of extreme contrasts it’s easy to see how it can become an intense personal experience. Manila can be chaotic and spiritual, dirty and divine, gritty and gorgeous all at once. If you don’t find beauty and poetry here, you will never find it anywhere.

Named after a white flowered mangrove plant and founded 327 years ago by the Basque conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, it’s hard to believe that the gargantuan Metro Manila of today was once a little Muslim village ruled by a man named Rajah Sulayman.

Soon enough and not without friction, Rajah Sulayman’s Malay Islamic system gave way to Spanish Conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi's Christian rule in the year 1571. Then for the next 300 odd years, Manila, now known as “Intramuros” (within the walls in Latin) would stand as the seat of Spanish power in the archipelago.

Its grand government offices and soldiers controlled the state while its priests and majestic cathedrals controlled the soul of the islands now called Filipinas (after Rey Felipe II). Its original wooden walls would be replaced by carved volcanic tuff as its bamboo huts and mosques would accede to seven baroque Catholic Churches surrounded by mansions made out of limestone, hardwood, and seashells.

The city would grow in size and perception towards the end of Spanish rule. By the 19th century, the term Manila meant the surrounding districts outside the walled city as well, the extramuros (outside of the walls) to the original Intramuros. These areas included the Chinese immigrant district of Binondo, the retail quarter of Santa Cruz, the native intelligentsia and culturati borough of Quiapo, and the elite neighborhoods of San Miguel.

The advent of the American Colonial Period in the year 1898 would see extraordinary change in the city of Manila. In the year 1898, at a cost of 20 million dollars and the stroke of a pen upon a treaty from Paris, the Philippines would be suddenly passed on to the United States.

Within the first decade of American occupation, Manila would reflect the influences of the new conqueror. Fresh from his success in designing Washington DC and Chicago, premier American city planner Daniel Burnham would revamp Manila’s central core.

Telephones, Toothpaste, Ice Cream, and Coca-Cola would be introduced to society and Intramuros’ southern districts of Ermita, Malate, and Pasay would be converted from a row of seaside huts into a civilized collection of art deco and neoclassic structures, connected by wide roads and accentuated by parks and rotundas.

Then just as quickly as the new structures and beliefs replaced the old ones, Manila would once again find itself in transition in the year 1945. But sadly, it would be a turn from which it would never recover. A victim of the battle between the United States Forces and the Japanese Imperial Army, the city of Manila would be brought to its knees through sword, and artillery. More than 120,000 would be lost, and only the San Agustin Church would remain standing in the original walled city of Intramuros.

After the madness of war, the madness of reconstruction ensued. From the 1950’s onwards, Manila grew at a radical rate. Greater Manila now includes the former provinces of Makati, Quezon City, Pasig, Paranaque and Muntinlupa. Their inclusion heralding the transition of the business and residential districts away from its original riverside core.

In the late 1960's, Manila would not only expand inland towards the Sierra Madre mountains but outwards and over the South China Sea as well. Snuggled right up to the city upon reclaimed land stands the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex, a development commissioned in 1969 by Former First Lady Imelda Marcos dedicated to the promotion of arts and international understanding. She would also commission the restoration of the walled city Intramuros in 1979.

I heard someone once say the Jeepney is the perfect metaphor for the paradox that is Manila. Is it beautiful or is it grotesque? Is it inefficient or is it entrepreneurial? Is it just a common utility or is it a progressive work of art?

Perhaps. But personally, I think that Manila is more like the Halo-Halo, that afternoon snack made out of a mind boggling myriad of sweet beans, flan, shaved ice, and ice cream.

Manila is a reflection of how different flavors can make up a greater whole, and how too much can sometimes be a very good thing.

Thank you urbanblog for the halo halo photo. Article to be printed in the Sofitel Manila Magazine


carlosceldran said...

I posted these two entries as a response to:

a) Constant requests for a condensed version of Manila's history that would be accessible and light.

b) Constant requests for and easy-to-do-it-yourself walking/touring itinerary for Manila.

If anybody out there wishes to offer any recommendations to add to the list or suggestions, I would be very appreciative.

katrina said...

These posts are great, Carlos! You truly are one of Manila's treasures. :-)

Baldagyi Hatipoglu said...

I dunno, it is just me or what? Leaving out the little intriguing details makes the national story kulang. ay nainggit ako sa post na to, so I have to have a counter-post, hihihi.

ei carlos, i can see that you have an article lately for fudge magazine. i wonder what new controversies you've spouted there. would you post it here? thx

carlosceldran said...

I can't give it all away. Then people will have no reason to go to my tour.

This is the totally super condensed sanitized version that I can offer people who need a blurb or short description of the city.

janie wanie said...

sir, do you know of mahjong parlors in the manila area and their contact details?


carlosceldran said...

I wish I did. Sorry!

Any one out there know?

Anonymous said...

Oh my Gosh is that the sorbetes? Kasarap! How colorful!. I enjoyed reading the history 101. Quiet educational

Helen said...

I did not know about your tours when I went back to Manila last year. A pity, would have been nice to see Manila through your eyes. Now, I want to go back.

acidboy said...

RE: Mahjong parlors

I believe these parlors are illegal, diba? Besides, in my experience mahjong is best played with people you know. :)

carlosceldran said...

Yes. And it is probably wisest. I have heard of people losing entire fortunes on the mahjong table.

And Helen, perhaps next time you are in Manila then.

All the best!

Bino/Geno said...

Hey Cedric you're so good. Hehe.

Sana naman gumawa ka ng tour of Makati or any other city in Metro Manila so we can learn something new.

Keep up the good work.

amee said...

Hi Carlos.

Great post, especially the part concerning american occupation. Ih now live in the US and most Americans (even Fil-Ams) are not even aware that they occupied Manila. This condensed history will help a lot.

Krysel de Leon said...

if more filipinos appreciated manila (and the philippines) as much as you do, our country would blossom into something beyond economic development alone. i cant wait to attend one of your tours I hear many good things about it.

pusa said...

wow! this is the best manila description ever... long live manila

theurbanbruha said...

i just have to say, i've heard about your tours way back and i do share your perception on manila. It really does explain a lot about your thinking=) thank you for doing this for our Pinas=)

Anonymous said...

'If you don’t find beauty and poetry here, you will never find it anywhere." ?????

The last line in the opening phrase is just pushing it. You should have left that line out.

Anonymous said...

Just like you, I have that deep feelings about Manila. It was the Manila of my youth and the memories when it was Grand and beautiful still trickled on my mind.
A couple of weeks ago, I went back and visited Manila. There were things that never changed but there were new and beautiful things as well. I felt I was walking in memory lane. I could have walked in Quiapo area but my time was limited and I was afraid of the dangers while by myself alone.
Whatever color others painted Manila, in my mind it sparkles with rays of light of the prism no one would known unless one have lived known what it was like.

Anonymous said...

Yuck, you adore Imelda Marcos, the shoes, she had taken so much that belongs to the poor. She seems to be so innocuous except she can't fool me nor those of US who had stood against the Marcoses and their corruption

carlosceldran said...

Actually, I don't adore Imelda. I just am not in denial of her and what she did and why most Filipinos LET HER DO the things she did.

Come to the tour and really see what I think of her instead of judging it by this blog.

Anonymous said...

am neither pro nor against the marcos regime but just compare the ratio of poor to the middle class. a family of 6 with 1 min wage earner can still send the kids to school and eating decently. now??? tell me

Celian said...

I did not know that we have a museum in escolta. Where is it exacty? Can I go there myself? I live in Escolta for the past 16 years!!! I'm planning to join one of your tours when I'm free. Heard they're good.

carlosceldran said...


The museum is in the mercury drug. Ask the guard to open it up.


ami said...

i was in Manila for the entire month of May. my friend gave me link to your blog only recently. drats.

Shana Baniel said...

Hello there! Im currently working for the Philippine Embassy here at Bangkok and there would be a mini Philippine booth in an opening of a new building here. I was assigned to look for descriptions of Manila which is relevant and up to date and i was wondering if you could let me copy your description of Maynila as a part of the presentation? It will be properly cited with your name and what site it was taken. I will have my supervisor look into this as its not yet final. Thank you so much! Goodluck!

carlosceldran said...

Of course. By all means go ahead.


svaljr said...

Thanks for your great blog. I was born and raised in Cebu City and was always fascinated about the capital city Manila's history,the CCP,Imelda and her impact on Philippine history,arts,etc, and just the whole Philippine arts scene. I remember first attending a performance at CCP for a French-Canadian modern ballet in June 1989 and loved it. I also saw Ballet Philippines do Thomas Pazik's MADAME BUTTERFLY with I believe if I remember this right, Lisa Macuja who I have met in person and she's a cool gal. She danced in Cebu while I was still a senior high school student in a Nutcracker pas de deux and I was INSTANTLY hooked and SHE introduced me to classical ballet. My main artistic interests also include opera and classical music as well as the 70's and 80's pop music like BeeGees(my friends laugh),ABBA (making a comeback through the musical and movie),Carpenters,Phil Collins, as well as Filipino singers like Regine Velasquez,Jose Mari Chan and others whose names have escaped my memory now.

I am living in another country for about 17 years now and your blog gives me WONDERFUL updates. I am a Leandro Locsin fan and love his architectural vision for the entire CCP Complex. I am very interested in their current plans to ADD more facilities at the center including museums,performance spaces,restaurants,bars,etc.
I heard of Locsin's death only about 2-3 years ago while browsing the net since I really haven't kept touch with Philippine news and the last time I was in Pinas was in May 2003.
I borrowed from one of the libraries here a copy of Nicholas Polites's out-of-print book, THE ARCHITECTURE OF LEANDRO LOCSIN and adore it. I am tempted to steal it, but no, just kidding. Anyway, making things short, keep us updated with the current Manila goings on and more power to your tour company. So, sorry for the LONG rambling, I do apologize.

Maraming salamat po.

p.s.- Maybe next year, I will come for a visit and definitely book up for a tour. I did do the whole Intramuros,San Agustin Church,Casa Manila,CCP,etc. thing but I was ALONE and that was almost 20 years ago. I definitely need to join your group tour for lots of FUN,more discoveries on Manila and WONDERFUL anecdotes. I notice you keep a scrapbook with LOTS of pics, that's cool. Thanks.

Christina said...

I had the pleasure of doing Carlos' Walking Tour of Intramuros (deluxe version) last Sunday, April 5, 2009. He made history come alive and very much interesting so much so that I would do it again. I've been telling friends and relatives about it.

Kudos, Carlos! Well done and more power to you. Please keep on walking.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I had the wonderful opportunity of going to one of your tours when I was in 2nd year college, dont worry it wasnt THAT long ago. :) it was a requirement for my Asia Pacific Studies class under Ms.Yael Buencamino, which is one of the interesting highlights of my university education; going on that tour made me appreciate manila a whole lot more.

and now that im working, id like to treat my family to the same tour for my dad's birthday. his birthday is on the 29th. is it really impossible to schedule a tour on the 31st of may? :) kindly reply to my email:

Thank you, Mr.Celdran!


Levi A. said...

Thank you Mr. Celdran for your noble efforts to bring back Manila's magnificent luster. I always run into you in the National Museum and CCP- always wanted to approach you and strike up a short conversation since I really admire your endeavors, but I never had the time to since I'm usually out doing a lot of things related to what you are doing.

Hopefully, the support for your (you and the other walk tour guides) "movement" will be sustainable and will defy the fate of Nick Joaquin's "Manila my Manila"...
(out of print.sob)

Perhaps next time we could finally meet sir.


-Roselier Levi Azarcon
(Pangalay Artists Circle)

kensync said...

Hi. I appreciate what you're doing for the country. However, I would like to ask if we Filipinos are content with how Manila is...I have seen the pictures of pre-WW2 Manila and I was shocked to see how beautiful it was. I don't feel like most Filipinos know about that so those pictures should be shown in school.

I wonder why we have allowed Quiapo, Avenida, etc. to look like how it is now. I feel that we Filipinos should at least discuss the restoration of these buildings and create a tourist district. I understand that we don't have the money now, but at least we should be talking about it. If Warsaw did it, so can we. said...

After stories from our fathers as to how Dewey Blvd. and Baclaran was before (it had beaches before!!!), it just feels like, somewhere along the way, we got lost in the path as to where we feel Manila should be.

It's true. Manila is a mix of everything, and my constant trips to Binondo to get umbrella giveaways and fried siopao fix tells me that there's so much more other than what I normally see in the surface that this town has to offer. You just have to get through some of the dysfunctional systems placed by those who have-given our benefit of the doubt-tried to make it a better place :P

I'd still never leave it, though. This is still home :)

- Ray