As the center of politico-ecclesiastical rule and social life during the Spanish colonial period, it is crazy to think that it was only in 1979, long after the Spanish left and World War II that left most of the Walled City in ruins, that Intramuros would begin to have a comprehensive tourism development and management in place with the establishment of the Intramuros Administration (IA).
Through the efforts of this government agency, work would finally commence on the restoration and redevelopment of key sites in the Walled City, a work that continues to this day. One of the earliest projects of IA was the construction of a museum called Casa Manila.
Casa Manila was a vision of the former First Lady Imelda Marcos who dreamt of a museum that would showcase the rich heritage of the “bahay na bato” or the Philippine ancestral house of the Spanish colonial period. The administrator of IA at the time Jaime Laya oversaw the project and J. Ramon Faustmann would serve as its architect.
Given that there are no houses from the Spanish colonial period that is standing in Intramuros anymore, that planned museum had to be built from the ground up, though it took inspiration from a 19th-century house that was located in the Binondo-San Nicolas area. The pieces in the museum though came from a variety of sources, placed accordingly to the different areas as they might be placed in a typical Spanish-era house.
Casa Manila was completed by 1981 as part of the greater San Luis Complex which was envisioned to be a center of commercial activity in Intramuros. As such, Casa Manila and the greater San Luis Complex would offer the social aspect of the Intramuros experience, alongside the political (with the reconstructed Palacio del Gobernador and, years after, the restored Ayuntamiento), the military (Fort Santiago) and the ecclesiastic (the Manila Cathedral and the San Agustin Church right across it). As a project of the Intramuros Administration, Casa Manila was an accomplishment that helped bolster its efforts in reviving the long-neglected district.
At that time, Casa Manila was also one of the first museums in the country that focused on the lifestyle and home life of people during the Spanish colonial period, so it was an experience to visit it. For those who have not been inside an ancestral house and how it looked like back in the day, a visit to Casa Manila was the next best thing.
That being said, it has given rise to some misconceptions about the bahay na bato in general. For one, unlike Casa Manila which is three storeys, the bahay na bato is only two storeys high with the living, sleeping, and dining areas all on one floor. Then again, the bahay na bato enjoys a wide land area, something Casa Manila does not have given the limited land space in the city. Another thing worth noting is that a bahay na bato’s ground level is usually the “garage” where the carriages as well as a warehouse for grains are kept, something which Casa Manila does not have given the space restrictions.
Those “inaccuracies” aside, Casa Manila remains an important Intramuros landmark that has helped give Intramuros a bit more “character.” At the very least, it has helped preserve the way of life of the period, giving us a fuller picture of our past.
Casa Manila is open from Tuesday-Sunday, 9pm – 6pm with a P75 entrance fee at this time of writing
Acknowledgements as well to the Intramuros Administration