The (de)Bourgeoin(ed) Manila


Intramuros! The old Manila. The original Manila. The Noble and Ever Loyal City…

– Nick Joaquin

Oh Manila! Not everyone may know the country Philippines, let alone its location in the globe, but I bet everyone knows Manila. Either you’ve already visited Manila, grew loving and hating it, or have planned to visit it, or you just simply heard it elsewhere and might have wished you get to visit it one day. The charm of Manila is its quaint architecture sinking within the modern urban slums. It’s a common knowledge that Manila is the catch basin not only of the floods flowing within Pasig River but also of every Filipino looking for an opportunity to escape from poverty.

Contrary to what we see now in the sprawling city, Manila used to be a gem in the orient sea. True to its name ‘Pearl of the Orient Sea’, Manila has been the destination of prominent Western families during 19th to early 20th century. British, Spanish, Dutch, German progenitors settle in the ports of Manila and along the banks of Pasig River founding their livelihood and businesses, some of those still exist up to this day.

My lowkey fanaticism to history and Filipiniana brought me to an interesting map. As I was browsing some maps online looking at any data that would help me visualize the extent of urbanization during Spanish era, I stumbled upon an old, yet very helpful map of great Manila inscribed 1898 as its year, that’s exactly 117 years ago.

manila_1898As I was fascinated with this map, I immediately thought what could I get with this image? I only thought of one goal; to visualize the extent of settlement in Manila in pre-War years.

Perhaps you might have randomly seen this map in a history website or shared article in social media. This map titled ‘Plano de Manila y Sus Araballes‘ from an anonymous author in 1898 (the portrait profile of the map is intended, you’ll know why later) illustrates the extent of built up areas and other land uses before Americans came in Manila. So what could be a good story for this map? So I thought of comparing the 1898 Manila Araballes to present highly-urbanized and dense Manila. I initially thought of juxtaposing them but it would be more dramatic if I simply overlay the old and the new the emphasize the glaring differences.

Though Manila is really difficult to love and appreciate, it has its own eccentric charm; the iconic gothic, baroque, or art-deco inspired Catholic church designs, the last remaining columns of bahay-na-bato structures which housed the old and nouveau riche families. The comparison will help current generation to understand the Manila by appreciating its built heritage, that they would not only know Manila as Quiapo church, or Intramuros and a sea of bystanders and hawkers.

The Product

The old map Plano de Manila y Sus Araballes overlaid in the modern map of majority of City of Manila creates an interesting story of visualizing the settlements which reflects the settlement in 1898.
landuseManila v26

The extent of built-up area in 1898 was recreated on the map. The land uses are residential, commercial, open spaces, military, and institutions. Simply put, all the non-orange colors were basically open field before the dawn of 20th century. While the orange-colored built-up areas are the oldest settlements that we can still feel today. We are lucky enough if we get to see houses completely preserved, untouched, and maintained within these old settlements.

From roughly 900 hectares* of built up area before 1900’s to what is now highly dense and completely occupied and urbanized, there should be a lot of Manila stories to catch up on. All else are either roads leading to the nearest district settlement or simply plain fields. Present-day San Andres, Santa Mesa, and Port Area were not named as such but were just part of its larger adjacent district – the former two new districts used to be an open field until 20th century when migration to suburbs began.

Imperial Manila won’t earn its reputation without its trophies and insignias during that time. It was the home to the most elite, powerful, and influential families. Not only their clans and treasures but also their casas and companias were located in Manila due to its proximity to port area.

Before Makati Dasma, Ayala Alabang, Corinthian Gardens, and all posh subdivisions flourished in Metro Manila, small districts in Manila used to be the its home. Imagine, this was the og!

landuseManila v25

These are just some of the notable families which resided in Manila. Most, if not, all of them have already left Manila during early 20th century to post World War II. What we have left are the ruins of famous architectures, some were restored by the former First Lady Imelda Marcos, but some were destroyed during economic depression of the Philippines (1980’s).

Some notable details in the urbanization of Manila:

  1. Tutuban Rail Station opened in 1892 thereby facilitated trade and commerce of products from Manila to Dagupan
  2. Tondo was among the most populous towns even during that time
  3. Calle Sebastian (now R. Hidalgo St.) which housed the Genatos, Aranetas, current Prietos and Sunicos, and Calle Solano which were populated by the Eugsters, Roxas and Ayalas, were among the high class downtown streets
  4. Ermita and Malate followed with the bourgeoining trend when the Sy-Quias, Champourcins, and Zobel de Ayalas situated in the district
  5. Binondo was the the established Chinatown due to its necessity to establish a separate proximate to Intramuros apart from the parian where non-Catholic Chinese merchants were accommodated.

It is worth noting that there is an interesting trend in gradual outward spatial polar shift of population and migration during the 20th century. I’ll post an update upon completing a milestone in the study.

Fast forward to 2017, past Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, Martial Law, economic recession, and countless hit or missed developments, what has been the busy street of business, trade, luxury, and lifestyle became a hodgepodge of everything that kills a city. Obviously, it is barely surviving to all ills of bad governance. Now, should it lead us to ponder, are we really lucky enough to have found all these historical treasures still alive therefore giving us a chance to revive it? Or is it otherwise, that we merely lost all the national treasures and what we have left are mostly ruins from the past?

*note: computation of built-up land area is based on the total land area of the digitized version of the Plano de Manilla y Sus Araballes through GIS.

de Gamoneda, F. J. (1898). Plano de Manila y sus Araballes. Retrieved May 2017, from WorldCat.
Memorable Manila Houses. (2006, November). Retrieved May 2017, from Remembrance of Things Awry.