As well as day trips out from Manila, we had a half day city tour. Luckily for us it fell on a Sunday, the only day that traffic is not at a standstill.
The first stop was Rizal Park named in honour of their national hero, Jose Rizal, who we heard and learned much more about during our stay in the Philippines. This grassy pleasant area, full of Filipino families enjoying this sunny Sunday, was known as the killing fields as this is where the Spanish executed many people including Rizal. At the actual site of Rizal’s execution, there was a wall relief of his life and then a stunning depiction of his execution with larger than life bronze figures of the ranks of the Filipino mercenary soldiers who shot him, a similar line of Spanish behind in case the Filipinos didn’t carry out their orders. He was meant to be shot in the back as a traitor but at the last minute pirouetted round, so that he fell face up and facing the sky and not into the mud. On the black marble wall was etched a poem he wrote on the night before his execution.
We drove on and into the walled city of Intramuras, dating back to 1571, and saw the San Agustin church, the sole surviving building from WW2 and now a UNESCO site. Alongside Dresden and Warsaw, Manila was one of the most destroyed cities in the war. In the museum was the original wooden altar, church relics, gold objects, a model galleon and various maps showing the different spice trade routes of both the Spanish and Portuguese. There was also a replica of the Santa Nino: a figure of the child Jesus given as a gift by the Spanish explorer Magellen in 1521 – we would later see the original in Cebu.
Manila Cathedral, has been rebuilt numerous times, but unfortunately mass was taking place and was out of bounds. Across the road in Fort Santiago we watched a 10-minute video of the history of Intramuras and how the walls were constructed from volcanic rock stuck together with sugar cane and egg white. The museum contained the cell where Rizal was imprisoned before execution with his final footsteps recreated in bronze stretching from the cell to the place he was shot.
We drove through China Town and began to see the statues of the Black Nazarene on their way to the meeting point for the procession on 9 January when 20 million would participate in the 15-hour procession (there was an FCO warning about potential disruption).
The Chinese Cemetery had huge mausoleums which often had more than one floor, air conditioning, toilets and kitchen: the Chinese believe in the afterlife and children want their parents to have their creature comforts.
This was an interesting day out in itself, but more importantly it gave us a good insight into the history of the Philippines which stood us in good stead for the rest of our trip.