While it is true that Intramuros is known as the “Little Vatican” because of the presence before of 7 churches in the Walled City and the fact that it is until now the seat of Roman Catholicism in Manila, and perhaps the country as well, this entry would not be about any of these churches. The “Roma” here would refer to the plaza, Plaza Roma, considered to be the “plaza mayor” or the main plaza of the city in the olden times.
The plaza is located in a strategic spot surrounded by prominent landmarks. Bounded by the former Aduana Street (now A. Soriano St.) in the north and the Fort Santiago complex a few steps away, to the plaza’s right is the Ayuntamiento or the old “city hall” of sorts. On its left is the Palacio del Gobernador or the old Spanish Governor-General’s Palace (until it was relocated to present-day Malacañang) and behind is the most prominent landmark in the area, none other than the Manila Cathedral.
Like its surrounding landmarks, the plaza itself holds some pretty interesting history. As the center of the capital city of Spain’s possession in the east, the Plaza Mayor (as it was then called) was the center of various events in the city, even bullfights! (yes, bullfights were actually being held in Manila before) Eventually in 1797, it was decided to have a garden/mini-park would be built in the plaza, which is what we see there today.
In 1824, a monument was added in the middle of the plaza, dedicated to the Spanish monarch Charles IV who was being honored for his role in bringing the smallpox vaccine to the country. Actually the work on the monument was begun way back in 1808, delayed by funding issues and other expenses related to the work. Originally a bronze statue erected on a pedestal, the monument got itself an additional touch when the fountain around it was added in 1886.
In the 1901, as the Americans came into power, the plaza was renamed Plaza McKinley, after the US president who was instrumental in bringing the Philippines to American rule. It was renamed again in 1961 to its present name, Plaza Roma, in honor of Rome and the College of Cardinals based in the city on the occasion of the elevation of then Manila Archbishop Rufino J. Santos as cardinal, the first Filipino to be elevated to such a position in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
The 1960’s also saw some changes in the plaza itself as the monument of Charles IV was replaced with a contemporary sculpture by Solomon Saprid dedicated to the Filipino martyred priests of 1872 collectively known as the GomBurZa. It was a curious choice considering the GomBurZa priests in the lifetime were opposed to the Roman Catholic hierarchy at the time as far as the role of the Filipino priests in the church is concerned though the church to be fair had no involvement in their execution by the Spanish colonial government. Nevertheless in 1981, the GomBurZa monument was moved to its present location right in front of the National Museum and the monument of Charles IV was restored in the plaza.
Acknowledgements to the book “Ciudad Murada: A Walk Through Historic Intramuros” by Jose Victor Torres
© The Urban Roamer