For those who have long known the Urban Roamer, either in person or through this site, it is no secret that for a long while, it has been a source of pining and frustration to get the opportunity to visit this one particular landmark in the metropolis ever since the completion of its restoration about 3 years ago. Unfortunately, circumstances were in the way of at least a couple of occasions that would have been the opportunity for me to get inside the storied structure. Those and the fact that there seemed to be no clear guidelines in place regarding possible tours inside the structure.
Fortunately, it seems the guidelines have now been set in place and finally, after 3 years, the Urban Roamer has finally managed to go inside and see what is inside this storied structure known as the Ayuntamiento de Manila building.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The Ayuntamiento building was, in many respects, Manila’s first city hall. It was originally built to serve as office of Manila’s city council or, in Spanish, ayuntamiento, hence its name. The council is also referred to in the language as “cabildo”, which explains the name of one street where the Ayuntamiento de Manila is located (Calle Cabildo) while the structure the council is housed in was known as “casas consistoriales”, thus the Ayuntamiento de Manila building is also known as Casas Consistoriales.
It was mentioned earlier that the Ayuntamiento we see today is a reconstruction. But what many people do not know is that the present Ayuntamiento is actually Ayuntamiento 4.0. Like the nearby Manila Cathedral, the Ayuntamiento de Manila went through a number of reconstructions due to natural and man-made calamities. The first Ayuntamiento was built between 1599 and 1607, when it was completed. It was already a two-storey structure, with the first floor housing the courts and jail the administrative offices, a chapel, and archives and the second floor. However, it was severely damaged, possibly by the earthquakes of 1645 and/or 1658. The city council for the meantime had to temporarily occupy a house from the Jesuits’ Colegio de Manila while the building was reconstructed.
Ayuntamiento 2.0 was constructed from 1735 to 1738. From many accounts, the second structure was a bit closer in design to the Ayuntamiento today with its two symmetrical wings, wrought iron balconies on the second floor, a covered arcade at the first floor, and a central clock tower above its facade (which is reminiscent of the modern Manila City Hall in a way). However in 1863, it fell victim to yet another earthquake. Yes, it was the same earthquake that heavily damaged Manila Cathedral 6.0 and the Palacio del Governador General.
Plans were soon underway to construct what would be Ayuntamiento 3.0; the task of designing it fell on Spanish architect Eduardo Lopez Navarro. Construction began on 1879 and was completed sometime after 1885. While some elements of Ayuntamiento 2.0 were retained like the clock on the facade, Navarro opted to make the structure more Neoclassical. An atrium was designed at the center of the structure and its interiors sported a more elegant staircase decorated with a wrought iron balustrade and a vestibule with fine black and white marble floor (AKA the Marble Hall) which would become Manila’s premier venue for political and social events.
Because to its significance as a longstanding civic structure in Manila and in the Philippines, the Ayuntamiento de Manila served not only as a city council office but also a venue for a number of historic events and home to a government offices. It was in the Ayuntamiento where the Spanish signed the terms of surrender to the Americans, effectively handing over the control of the Philippines to American rule in August 1898 (which was to be finalized in December that year with the Treaty of Paris) and shut off the Filipinos in the process. leading to the Philippine-American War a year later. It would then serve as the office of the American governor in the Philippines until 1903 when the office was moved to Malacañang Palace. By then, the city council of the reestablished and expanded City of Manila moved outside the Intramuros walls.
In 1907, the Ayuntamiento served to become the first home of the Philippine legislature, with the First Philippine Assembly holding their sessions there. When the legislature became bicameral in 1916 with the enactment of the Jones Law, both houses held their sessions at the building until 1924, when they moved to the newly-constructed Legislative Building outside the walls. Eventually, the building served to be the office of the Bureau (now Department) of Justice and the Supreme Court.
Sadly, Ayuntamiento 3.0 was destroyed, this time by war. Save for the shelled out ground level facade, much of the building, as well as most of Intramuros, laid in ruins thanks to the shelling during the Battle of Manila in 1945. And while some destroyed landmarks were rebuilt and/or restored such as the walls and the Manila Cathedral, the old Ayuntamiento de Manila was left in ruins for more than 60 years as its hallowed interiors were used from time to time as a parking space or even a basketball court. It was a dire situation to see it in such state during those years. But as they say, hope springs eternal.
A LANDMARK REBORN
Hope came when the Bureau of the Treasury was looking at having an office of its own and decided that its new home would be the site of the old Ayuntamiento. In 2009, work began in what would become a significant reconstruction effort that would become Ayuntamiento 4.0. Owing to its rich history, it was decided that it would be designed to be as close as possible to the design of the old Ayuntamiento (the 3.0 version, that is). As such, elements such as the clock tower, the grand staircase, the old council session hall (AKA the Sala de Sessiones) and the famed Marble Hall were recreated, albeit with constraints such as they could not use the old materials used in Ayuntamiento 3.0 and had to settle with modern alternatives. The project attracted some controversy, not just for the length of time the project took, but also the amount of the project which was almost Php 1.2B. But as pointed out by the Urban Roamer in a lengthy piece more than a year ago, there should be no issue with the cost considering how meticulous and difficult a project like this entails.
Finally, in 2013, the new Ayuntamiento de Manila, Ayuntamiento 4.0, was reborn as the office of the Bureau of Treasury. The work is by no means perfect, but it cannot be denied that it is a laudable effort that deserves recognition and emulation, considering the state of awareness regarding our heritage. It now stands as one of the few notable examples of heritage reconstruction in the country, which hopefully will be an inspiration for more to do such types of projects here as a way for present and future generations to appreciate our past anew.
While it serves as a government office, visitors can get to appreciate the Ayuntamiento de Manila during tour times on certain days and hours. At this time of writing, the Ayuntamiento is open for tours on Tuesdays and Fridays (except holidays) from 11 AM-12 PM and 4 PM-5 PM. Visitors can drop by for a Php 40 entrance fee (Php 10 for students). For more details, contact the Bureau of the Treasury on Facebook.
Acknowledgements as well to the Intramuros blog