When people want to have their historical fix in Manila, the first thing that comes to mind is the walled city of Intramuros.And rightly so, for Intramuros is Manila’s innermost sanctum – the place where the beginnings of the city was established. However, it’s not as old as what most people like to think.

Except for the San Agustin Church and parts of the walls, practically the whole of Intramuros is Post WWII Imeldific kitsch. If you want a glimpse (and smell!) of the real thing, check out San Nicolas district.

San Nicolas

For the armchair-traveller, San Nicolas is a part of the third district of the city of Manila. Long overshadowed by her bigger and brasher big brother (Binondo aka ‘Chinatown’ ) , parts of San Nicolas is simply known to many as Divisoria- the biggest flea market in town.

Now, unlike the Manila’s other districts, San Nicolas carries no national lore of epic proportions like those we equate with Intramuros (the old capital) and Binondo (the financial hub), instead it has slumbered in obscurity for ithe last 400 years of its existence.

To this walker’s delight(!)

In San Nicolas we have what is probally Manila’s single largest concentration of Period houses and mind you, not the ‘old-new’ (bagong-luma) wannabe architecture that characterizes much of Intramuros. This is as true as it can get.

Elcano Trio

On a personal note, I can honnestly say this district is special, not just for every true-blue, heritage-loving Manileño but personally for this walker who, as a child, spent his early years amidst these beautiful wooden houses, playing on the very streets while sucking in the atmosphere of commerce, dark esteros and the overpowering smell of onions.

These days, the historic properties are still there. Though diminished substantially, they still provide a backdrop of what old Manila looked, felt and smelled like in the days of our ancestors.
What revolutions, earthquakes and a world war didnt destroy, our 21st century cavalier attitude eventually will. It’s a conststant battle between the old and new, commerce and culture, development and destruction, why can’t we get these acts together?

Madrid house

It’s only a matter of time before San Nicolas looses her special quality and turns into another concrete ,streamlined , homogenised Makati. Or Alabang. Or Whatever.

But before she does, let’s give her a last look. In her last gasp.

click here.