Rebuilding Intramuros

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - August 28, 2008 - 12:00am

In the aftermath of World War II, if someone had told us that Intramuros would never be restored to her pre-war beauty, we would not have believed them. Yet, here we are, over 60 years since the end of the Japanese occupation and the destruction of what was once called “The Loyal and Ever-Loyal City of Manila”, My Manila. There have been brilliant concepts and valiant attempts and some small improvements have occurred. Within the walls of Intramuros, there are pockets of rebirth, but the entirety sadly remains in a state reminiscent of 1947.

Of all the cities razed after World War II, Manila was the second most destroyed, next to Warsaw, Poland. Intramuros was the crown jewel of the Philippine islands, the seat of power for more than three hundred years. It is a priceless historical artifact that stands witness to how the city evolved and came to be what we now know as Manila.

In March this year, Mrs. Ana Marie “Bambi” L. Harper was sworn in as the new head of the Intramuros Administration. As a staunch advocate of cultural heritage and preservation, and a fierce critic of the re-development (or lack thereof) of Intramuros, Mrs. Harper is the best person to lay the groundwork for the revival of the Walled City. Intramuros Administration was founded in the 1970s through a Presidential Proclamation, the purpose of which is to rehabilitate Intramuros, the heart of Manila. Mrs. Harper envisions that the historical and architectural potential of Intramuros to be one of the premier examples of heritage conservation in the world, will be revealed. She knows that the primary key in realizing this is good management and administration.

Fortuitously, there are outstanding examples throughout the world that the current Intramuros Administration can use as a template. Deep in the heart of Texas lies the city of San Antonio, a city that has a twofold example of preservation. At one point in time, the Riverwalk was just a muddy river in serious need of cleaning. However, in the 1970s, the San Antonio city government undertook a tremendous project and redeveloped a portion of the river into a premier shopping and tourist attraction. In combination with the stringent rules governing the Alamo, an old church complex that is at the center of Texan mythos, the entirety of the downtown is a shining example of preservation and tourism. The key factor in the successful preservation and redevelopment of San Antonio is the strict adherence to a master plan for preservation and renewal created for the purpose. Aside from this, rules and regulations for the protection of the historical sites were also passed. A non-government entity enforces these rules and oversees the implementation of all new projects.

Another excellent example is in Cartagena, Colombia. This city was once notorious for being a drug den. In the last decade, an ambitious plan to renew the entire city was created. It has since become a hot spot for tourism and retirees. People walk along quaint cobblestoned streets and visit cultural shops. There is now a thriving artistic community and an exuberant nightlife.

We are very gratified to see Intramuros in the capable hands of Mrs. Bambi Harper and we look forward to seeing the unfolding of the plans she has in store for the city. A first step to renewing Intramuros would be to visit the sites where dramatic and successful historical preservation and resuscitation work were done and to study how and why they succeeded. Two things we would like to see again in Intramuros are the former piedra china sidewalks and the cobblestone streets. Intramuros has too much potential and too much historical significance to remain wasted and unattended.

Intramuros marked the start of Metro Manila; it is the heart and soul of Manila. The Walled City must assume its rightful place as the centerpiece of Philippine tourism. It should become our gift to the next generations to come.

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