On a sunny Sunday this March 29, 2015 over 100 bike enthusiasts flocked to Intramuros for the first Open House Bike Tour of the Walled City. Viva Manila helped coordinate the tour along with local businesses BamBike and The Manila Collectibles Co. and with the generous assistance of the Intramuros Administration.
Participants met at the BamBike shop in Plaza San Luis. Those without bikes were able to rent one of the bamboo bicycles from this awarded company which aims to utilize sustainable materials and processes, generate livelihood, and promote historic Manila. The coordinators expected 40 participants and were overwhelmed with the final audience numbers. The kalesa drivers were more than willing to fill in the gap, accommodating extra people on the traditional horse drawn carriages, while others opted to simply walk or hop on the back of each other’s bikes. The diverse group included families, students, and residents from around Metro Manila both local and foreign.
The tour covered Intramuros as it is today. Rather than focus on Intramuros of the past, the tour showed participants how it has evolved since its destruction during World War II, with a particular focus on the changes before and after the institutionalization of the Intramuros Administration in 1979.
Many participants did not realize Intramuros has grown into its own city. They had only visited on a tour or as a student, but few had wandered its streets beyond the designated tourist sites. They were surprised to find the Walled City has numerous green pockets, a grid network of streets, and numerous eateries and businesses. They learned about Intramuros as an university town as well as the home to long-term, transient, and informal residents. Participants asked a lot of questions about the architectural regulations and the potential for redevelopment of abandoned or vacant properties. Charisse Tugade-Aquino of TMCC shared insight on the adaptive reuse of one of the chambers in Fort Santiago with assistance from Escuela Taller, inspiring visitors to think about how local business, culture, and heritage can work together for a uniquely Intramuros commercial venture.
Thanks to the Intramuros Administration we were granted special permission to enter the St. Ignacious Church, currently under reconstruction. Few participants had prior knowledge of the former church and were delighted to learn that the Intramuros Administration is bringing back one of the city’s lost churches as a museum for religious relics. Participants were also treated to free entrance of the lesser visited Baluarte de San Diego. Foreigners who had been living in Manila already for several years said they often brought visitors to Fort Santiago but had never visited the Baluarte before.
Everyone remarked how easy it is to bike around Intramuros, how clean the air is inside the Walled City, and how overall it felt like an escape and respite from the outside chaos.
As we all sat together on the walls overlooking the golf course and the City of Manila beyond, the general feeling was one of reflection. Many came to the tour expecting to get a lesson in history, but were pleasantly surprised to be presented with a set of questions rather than answers.
Understanding the challenges which face Intramuros today are similar to those found around Metro Manila, showed people that Intramuros is far from forgotten; it has experienced much renovation, restoration, and redevelopment since 1979 and continues to slowly grow into its own.
Ultimately, participants were left inspired by Intramuros’s potential as a vibrant, historical urban landscape, an effort many would like to now be part of after exploring the Walled City.