Manila: History

A bustling city with a laid-back, casual nature

Manila History

The history of Manila is fascinating, rich and tragic. Before Spanish colonization, Manila had been a center for trade with China and Arab lands for hundreds of years. Malay-speaking Muslim and Hindu-Buddist communities both thrived in the area around Manila. With the arrival of Spanish rule in 1571, the history of Manila and the Philippines began a period of colonization, which would last over 400 years, the majority being Spanish (350 years) but also included periods of Japanese and American rule. Evidence of Manila’s Spanish history can be seen in forts, ruins, churches and the remains of Intramuros, the old Spanish walled city. South of Intramuros lies Rizal Park, on the site where revolutionary and national hero José Rizal was executed by the Spaniards in 1896.

Many family and place names are also Spanish and the Filipino language retains a wealth of Spanish vocabulary. Perhaps the most lasting vestige of Spanish history in Manila is religion, with the vast majority of the city being Roman Catholic, though Manila is also home to significant populations of Buddhist (mostly ethnic Chinese), Protestant and Muslim adherents.

The Spanish American War of 1898 saw an end to Spanish rule and the beginning of American colonialism in Manila’s history. The United States established a Commonwealth with the aim of eventual independence for the Philippines, and Manila experienced significant growth and development, but this came to a halt when the Japanese invaded in 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese invasion, occupation and subsequent expulsion by American and Filipino forces left much of Manila in ruins and with many casualties. Memorials to the Pacific war can be visited at the Manila American Cemetery at Fort Bonifacio and The Pacific War Memorial on nearby Corregidor Island, with its impressive ruins of forts and buildings. The war, though tragic, had the ultimate effect of bringing about independence for the Philippines and a new era for the history of Manila, one that would see martial law followed by the beginning of the Fifth Republic (1986-present).

In 1976 Manila was once again named capital of the Philippines. Recent years have brought extensive development to Metro Manila including a proliferation of shopping malls and skyscrapers, especially in areas such as Makati City and Ortigas. Manila remains a place of contrasting wealth and poverty, history and modernity.