History of Manila

Before the Spanish Arrived

By all accounts, Manila is one of the oldest cities in East Asia, and in its pre-Spanish period, it had strong trade relations with China, Java, and Sumatra as well as Arabia. Long before Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and his Spanish Conquistadors set foot on Filipino soil, the city enjoyed an advanced way of life, complete with an established system of government and literature. Most of these records were destroyed in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest with existing civil codes replaced by those of the new colonial masters.

Spanish History

With the advent of Spanish colonial rule, many Filipinos embraced the new culture with gusto, converting to Christianity en masse and adopting European clothing and lifestyles. New churches like Malate Church sprung up and became not just places of worship but also social and community centers that occupied prime positions as pillars of Filipino society. As the only Asian territory in the mighty Spanish empire, Manila became a melting pot of Eastern and Western, Asian and Spanish influences. Certain native characteristics remained, however, such as the strong sense of community common to most Asian cultures and the elevated status of women in Filipino society. Long before their bra burning sisters in the West gained equal rights, Manilan women enjoyed high status and played a prominent role in society. Spanish rule ended in 1898 with the execution of national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, and two years later, the country proclaimed its independence.

Forty Years in Hollywood

No sooner had the Spanish imperialist yoke been thrown off than the city passed into the hands of the Americans who “purchased” the country for $20 million after their war with Spain. The running joke about Filipino history is that the country spent 300 years in a Spanish convent and 40 years in Hollywood. This period of American rule was greatly beneficial to Manilans- the English language flourished, education was given due importance, and the city’s infrastructure was upgraded. Citizens took to the new culture just as they had to the Spanish, and to date, Manila remains a city that’s in tune with American music, food, and pop culture. This golden period too came to an end with Japanese occupation during World War II. By the end of the war, Manila had been ravaged on an unimaginable scale, surpassed only by Warsaw, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Post-war Manila rapidly embarked on a process of reconstruction, but these efforts were thwarted by the imposition of martial rule by Ferdinand Marcos in1972. The curtailment of civil liberties and the well documented personal excesses of the Marcoses erupted in the People Power Revolution of 1986. This bloodless revolution that played out as the world watched, finally brought some semblance of democracy to this beautiful country.

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