Manila Bay is rich in history and traditionally at least, in a very diverse and interesting culture that is uniquely Filipino in nature. Going back to the days of the Dutch East India Trading Company and even long before that, Manila Bay was a key stop on the international, seafaring trade routes. Its history was ripe with influence from the Indigenous people of the Philippine Islands, the Portueguese people and even populations comprised of people from China, India, and to a lesser extent, Japan and even some of the Western nations. Manila Bay was the home to a pivotal point in the war for Philippine Independence in a showdown between the mighty Spanish Armada and the largely underestimated American fleet. Today, as it has throughout history, Manila Bay and the surrounding area provide for some of the most aesthetically pleasing and historically rich locations to visit in all of Manila.
The Philippines, and in particular, what is now known as the city of Manila, have had a human population for somewhere around sixty-five thousand years. While it can only be imagined today, at the time, the land surrounding Manila Bay was ripe with Maynil or Mangrove trees. These lush, mangrove waterways would have provided ample amounts of materials and foods for those first travelers who must have welcomed such a site. The abundance of wood and a ready supply of foods made it easy to more fully colonize and inhabit that location. The original inhabitants, the Tagalog people, would thrive and prosper to see a great many visitors and new arrivals from around the known world during their reign.
The first recorded history of Manila dates back to some three thousand years before the time of the Christ and is known today through the remaining Angono Petroglyphs and further recorded in other relics and documents which trace the history of Manila from its founding to its establishment as the Capitol of the Philippine Archipelago. Over the course of time, the original Tagalog inhabitants of the area mixed with largely Polynesian and Malay peoples and the original, indigenous population become more divided into what are now distinctly different classes of Filipino and Indigenous Filipino people. As more and more travelers began stopping in to the Coastal City of Manila, this population was even further divided leading to what would become a very tenuous relationship between the now different people of the Philippines. Ultimately, this would lead to the construction of forts in and around Manila and helped to shape Manila into a city that would become the Capitol region and more akin to the city of Manila that we know today.
The original forts in and around what would become Manila were small and numerous, primarily to provide for the shelter and defense of the people during more tribal disputes. Small forts were quite common both around Manila Bay and along the Pasig River. When the Spanish “claimed” the Philippines in 1565, it did not take them very long to determine that stronger, better forts would be needed. The Spanish established what is now known as IntraMuros, literally translated “Between the Walls” but more commonly translated as “Within the Walls”. It was this area of Intramuros that was, at the time, what was considered to be the entirety of the Capitol region of Manila and the surrounding lands. However, so rich is the history of Intramuros that it necessitates a separate article all its own. Intramuros has been influential in both stature and nature in virtually every conflict that the Philippines has been forced to endure.
During the times when the oceanic trade routes were most prevalent, these forts served to defend the inhabitants from Chinese and by some accounts, Portuguese and even Indian pirates and raiders. They also served as viable defensive locations and bases during the increasingly troubled times before the Filipino citizens of Manila and the more Tribal-oriented Filipino indigenous people. As time wore on and the population began increasing, what was then the entire city of Manila, was forced to move beyond its walls and to begin encompassing the surrounding areas until it eventually grew into what has become the Metro Manila region today.
The early twentieth century saw the introduction of “The Concrete Battleships”, Fort Frank and Fort Drum being built in Manila Bay. These posts were manned and played key roles in World War II and, much like their big brother affectionately known as “The Rock” or Corregidor, were occupied by Filipino, American and Japanese troops and, if for no other reason, deserve to be preserved and protected. Even a complete restoration of these relatively small sites would be comparatively inexpensive and, while they may not be readily accessible to everyone, would offer a very unique and interesting view on a very small, albeit very powerful part of Filipino history. Then there is Corregidor as well. Corregidor is already something of a tourist attraction but it remains in definitive need of some repair and restoration and a whole lot of preservation.
Add in the fishing, boating, diving and other attractions in Manila Bay and it definitely deserves a spot on the proverbial Bucket List. There are numerous historical and cultural sites in, around and throughout Manila and the Philippines and perhaps, over the course of time, each and every one can be explored in depth here, if not in person.