Tuesday, October 03, 2006


It’s only human nature when coping with the sudden loss of basic -- but often taken for granted -- conveniences of contemporary life, to demand immediate restoration of services from the respective public utility company. It is also tempting, for those who had lived abroad to glorify their former city’s well-endowed infrastructure and pit it against Metro Manila’s challenged resources.

Rather than succumb to such futile attempt, I had chosen instead to simply acknowledge the humbling experience of having one’s life totally disrupted by a wrathful act of nature.

Without electricity, cable TV and telephone, there isn’t much anyone can do around the house, except to eat, sleep, and catch up on neglected tasks or interests that do not require electrical power. Reading is a preferred activity, but once daylight has gone, there is only the candle, which doesn’t really cast sufficient illumination; unless, of course, one has a few of them bunched up together and lit. Unfortunately, the combined heat from such cluster could only induce further discomfort.

A viable option is a lamp fueled by coconut oil or kerosene, but we don’t have one in the house; neither do we have a torch, though lighting one inside the bedroom could prove disastrous. Thus, I was without a choice but to make do with a candle’s minimal illumination for three evenings when my neighborhood -- from Thursday afternoon until 9:00 pm on Saturday night -- was without any electrical power.

Incidentally, I was finishing Indio Bravo during the first power-less evening, which later made me wonder how on earth Jose Rizal — based on his moth and flame anecdote — managed unperturbed with a single candle. Subsequently, during my musing, Casa Manila in particular and life in 19th century Manila in general came to mind.

Casa Manila, circa 1850, is one of three grand houses in Barrio San Luis (one of the four original villages of Intramuros) located across the street from San Agustin church; bounded by Calle Real, General Luna, Cabildo and Urdaneta streets. The other two grand houses are the Los Hidalgos, circa 1650 and Cuyugan Mansion, circa 1890.

Sustaining extensive damage during the Battle of Manila, it was only in 1980 when the Intramuros Administration (IA) began reconstructing the Casa Manila complex after intensive research and following the Intramuros historic architecture. The goal was to transport visitors back in time over a hundred years (during the time of Rizal; a few years before the Philippine Revolution). Casa Manila is a grand house; suitable for the likes of Rizal’s Capitan Tiago.

However, the restoration project was not without controversy, especially when Ambeth Ocampo began pointing out that Casa Manila is not an exact replication as claimed, because it was modeled after a house in Binondo owned by a prominent merchant, Don Severino Mendoza. To retain its authenticity, Ocampo argued that it should have been modeled after a house that once stood inside Intramuros. On the other hand, its dizzying mixture of furniture and ornamentations seem to defy a collective 19th century provenance, which prompted Carlos Celdran to remark that Casa Manila typifies the Filipinos’ penchant for the jeepney motif — gaudy and ornate; devoid of rhyme and reason, which, incidentally, also defines the interior of San Agustin Church across the street.

The Intramuros Administration, however, was quick to ascribe this eclectic collection of furnishings to an era when the Suez Canal was opened; enabling rich Filipino families to travel more often to Europe and send their sons abroad for education. They came back, supposedly, with several crates of newly acquired home furnishings to enhance their grand and opulent lifestyle.

Be that as it may, despite its faults, Casa Manila offers a rare glimpse into an affluent Manila lifestyle inside the gated walls of Intramuros during the mid- to late-19th century.

The ground floor level:

Casa Manila was built with the intention to partition and lease for commercial purposes most of its ground floor space facing the street (see top photo) while the owner and his family were to occupy the floors above.

Its massive street level wooden gate opens into a zaguan (Arabic for corridor), through which the carruajes (carriages) would enter and proceed to a patio to drop off its passengers.

Besides serving as a thruway for carriages, the patio is Casa Manila’s main source of air and light — drawing in the cool air by night and providing ample sunlight by day. In addition, the patio is overhung with fragrant flora; when running water came to Manila in 1882, central and wall fountains were immediately installed. In addition, the patio’s ground floor is paved with granite (piedra china) originally used by the Chinese as ballast for their junks. These were later sold in Manila as pavement for pedestrian lanes, patios, esplanades, and streets.

Framed by brick arches, the nearby caballariza or stable is where the carriage is kept. In those days, the carriage was a status symbol much like a chauffeured limousine is today; so was the number of horses harnessed to each — the rich had two horses pulling his carriage; the Archbishop, four; and the Governor General, six.

The second floor level:

The stairwell that leads to the second floor’s entresuello was the only picture of the interior I was able to take. Shooting photographs is prohibited and strictly enforced by at least a couple of men attired in powder blue guardia civil uniform; they kept a close and menacing watch throughout the entire duration of the tour.

The entresuello, which literally means between floors, is actually a mezzanine where guests, clients, or business associates would wait before being admitted to the owner’s private office and library, or led to the family’s living quarters on the third floor.

There may also be a couple of bedrooms on the entresuello reserved for the ageing grandparents, an old maid aunt, or for the pitifully-shy-of-women uncle who, earlier in life, shunned priesthood. The occupants of these bedrooms were often the keepers of the gate, so to speak — tasked to give the alluring daughter’s gentleman caller one of those agonizing scrutiny.

The third floor level:

Another flight of stairs leads to the third floor; the family’s living quarters. Decorating Casa Manila’s stairs is a mural of nipa huts, cascos (covered boats), a winding river and mountains. The antesala (anteroom) or caida (so-called because the ladies let fall their skirts upon reaching the top of the stairs) is the reception room that greets the guests.

The doors of the antesala open into the vast sala or living room, which is wide and airy with space flowing from one room to another. Its spaciousness is accented by wide wooden floors. The entire third floor is surrounded by Capiz shell windows. Some windows are made with louvers or wooden blinds that are opened to keep the entire floor airy while blocking out the glare of direct sunlight. Underneath these large windows are sliding panels called ventanillas (small windows).

This is where the family and guests would enjoy their morning and afternoon merienda or snacks, as well as a game of mahjong. The sala or living room, more significantly, is where important guests are entertained. It is often decorated with prized possessions that reflect the homeowner’s status in society. It is also where the children would showcase their talents by playing the piano, singing, or reciting poetry. And most of all, it is the area where grand parties are held.

There is usually a large altar or oratorio on this floor where the family would gather every evening to pray the Angelus and recite the rosary — all the fifteen mysteries followed by novenas to saints, prayers for the dead, or solemn requests for just about anything short of a miracle. A family’s collection of large santos or religious idols is usually kept here. These santos are often robed in intricate costumes and paraded in processions during local feasts.

Inside the comedor (dining room), right above the dining table hangs the punkah, or the manually-operated ceiling fan made of fabric panels. It is a device imported from India during the British Occupation of Manila (1762-1763). It cooled the guests and kept the flies away from the food on the table. On festive occasions or special dinner parties, native dishes from Pampanga were the food of choice to be served for the guests’ delight.

Adjoining the dining room is the kitchen whose most unique feature is a nevera (ice box) used to store ice imported from Boston, Massachusetts. Ten pounds of ice were delivered daily to wealthy households at a price of P5 a month, which is equivalent to P2,000 today.

The kitchen is another point of contention among Casa Manila’s critics — where is the “dirty kitchen?” Supposedly, since most Filipino foods are fried, another kitchen, preferably detached from the main house is where the actual messy chores of cooking are done. Surprisingly, Casa Manila does not have a “dirty kitchen.”

Now, here is the part of this 19th century grand house that may astound, if not repulse, a modern man:

The letrina (latrine) was created for two people to sit unobstructed side by side. Thus, conversations from the dining table may be extended inside the latrine, or the latest gossip may be embellished uninterrupted while at the same time heeding nature’s call. Afterwards, large buckets of water are thrown into the tubes to flush the waste down to the ground floor. With rats, flies and other insects feasting on the accumulated human excrement that gathered on the ground, besides the revolting stench, outbreaks of fatal diseases had become a common occurrence in Intramuros during that era due to this lack of proper sewage system.

The bathroom contains huge stoneware from China. A family member would sit inside of it as the servants pour water over him or her. After bathing, the servant unplugs the cork from the tub, draining the water on the cement floor. Surprisingly, despite appointed conveniences, most people during that time rarely took a bath, which explains why most beds in all bedrooms lack mattresses that could absorb the body’s unpleasant odor. Also, bedpans used during the night are often emptied by just throwing the contents out the window. Pity the poor soul who may happen to be strolling by one morning unaware.

Things to do in 19th century Manila:

The Spaniards, being the colonizers, had always fostered a condescending attitude towards the Philippines and the Filipinos. The term Filipino was originally referred to Spaniards born in the Philippines while those born in Spain were referred to as insulares or peninsulares. The poor Filipino was simply called a “native” or indio. It was Jose Rizal who was the first to refer to the native indios as Filipinos.

According to Ambeth Ocampo, life in old Manila or Intramuros was one big bore. In the nineteenth century, big businesses had moved to the other side of Pasig River, either in Escolta or Binondo. Life in Spanish Manila very much reflected life in Spain, including the siesta. The Spaniards, with lots of idle time on their hands, provided the indios an effective role model of laziness.

Breakfast in old Manila was usually served at ten o’ clock in the morning while lunch was from two or three o’clock in the afternoon; followed by a siesta that would last until five o’clock. At sunset, old Manila residents would wear their best clothes and have their carriages harnessed for a ride along the boulevard by the sea (now Bonifacio drive) towards Luneta. Those without carriages would stroll instead. Ambeth Ocampo claimed the mere purpose of this boring activity was to see and be seen; to exchange short pleasantries with one another; extended intellectual conversations were reserved for another occasion.

The men were usually attired in coats and with their walking sticks or canes, although the indios, to distinguish them from the Spaniards, were not allowed to tuck in their shirts. The women, on the other hand, with their baro’t saya, fans, handkerchief, rosary, and chaperon were expected to be demure; never to engage publicly in any conversation with men lest they be labeled as whores. Hence, a man intent on courting a certain lady must first hone his skills in reading the language of a lady’s subtle manipulation of her handkerchief, fan, and rosary, as well as the slight eye, facial, and hand gestures. As Ocampo cited, this was the age in which the girls were raised on the belief that a simple kiss was more than enough for the man’s sperm to be infused and fertilize a virgin’s ovum.

At six o’clock in the evening, everything would come to a complete halt when all the church bells tolled to signal oracion — the time everyone would kneel and remain silent. Immediately afterwards, everyone would then head home with some dragging along guests for merienda. Later on that evening, dinner would be served to compliment the continued exchange of news from Europe and further gossiping.

The rich often had more entertainment to offer their guests such as billiards, piano or harp music, singing, and parlor games. Before eleven o’clock, all the guests had to rush home before the gates of Intramuros were closed for the night. They were to be opened again at five o’clock the next morning.

As for public entertainment, there were the twice a week live music in Luneta; the occasional stage performances as presented by visiting foreign troupes; and the annual ferocious bulls and the entourage of dashing bullfighters from Spain. And of course, there was also the Sunday morning public execution of local rebels or insurgents at Bagumbayan. Otherwise, that pretty much summed up life in old Manila during the nineteenth century.

Casa Manila Museum; lessons learned from the walking tours taken with Carlos Celdran and Ivan Mandy; Ambeth Ocampo’s essays and articles published by Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Casa Manila Museum Hours: 9:00am - 12:00noon, 1:00pm - 6:00pm (Tuesday-Sunday)
Telephone #: (63) 2-461240, 2-461166, 2-461266, 461196
Fax#: (63 2-461188

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posted by Señor Enrique at 1:13 PM


Blogger Sidney said...

I would love such lifestyle! ;-)

October 03, 2006 4:42 PM  

Blogger General Bird said...

Your description of life without basic utilities made for an illuminating (and very funny) introduction to life at Casa Manila.

Thanks, GB

October 03, 2006 8:17 PM  

Blogger Photo Cache said...

hi there senor nice to see you all well after the storm.

as part of a school requirement, I visited casa manila and was transported to a diff. time and place; and I loved it. However, I was too preoccupied with how to word my report rather than just take in all of it, just enjoy. Meant to return on my own, but never got to do it. Thanks again for this.

October 03, 2006 11:52 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, I would love to live and explore such a lifestyle. Heehee.

And I love the photos Eric, awesome!


October 03, 2006 11:55 PM  

Blogger Citizen of the World said...

This is my first time to visit your blog (have been wanting to do it if only your blog server isn\'t firewalled at work).

I\'ve learned a lot from your site and I hope to drop by as often as possible.


Guts. Grit. Gumption.

October 04, 2006 4:57 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't have to imagine anymore how people from that time lived. :-) Casa manila is one of the places in intramuros na walang sawa kong pinupuntahan.

this also reminds me of my lola's house as it's also of spanish architecture.

October 04, 2006 9:52 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intramuros is definitely on my list when I go back there. Great introduction and very interesting details about life back then. And yeah, their bathroom habits were gross.

October 04, 2006 10:11 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Firstly, I apologize for my not having been able to visit everyone's site on a more regular basis as I used to. I hope to get back to my usual routine once my telephone service has been restored.

One of the places I would love to visit one of these days, Bugsybee is Vigan mainly because of its ancestral Fil-Hispanic homes! So, much like you, I admire this type of architecture :)

Also, one of these days, I will attend the world famous Bacolod Masskara Festival!

The closest I experienced such lifestyle, Sidney, though not as affluent, was when I was a kid at the barrio. I was petrified of my aunt's outhouse because large snakes loved to call it home as well (her chicken farm did attract many reptiles).

Nonetheless, I kinda enjoy the basic conveniences we all enjoy today.

Thanks, General Bird. But really, had it not been for the power outages all over the entire Luzon last week, I never would have thought about writing an entry about some lessons learned from my having taken the Intramuros tour.

I feel exactly the same way, Photo Cache -- I want to go back on my own and do a more leisurely tour of the same place. I also want to know more about the neighboring grand houses and museums, especially the inside of Fort Santiago, which we didn't visit during the tour.

Thanks, Kyels. Wasn't it such an oppulent lifestyle. Great if your monied, but if barely subsisting ... arrgh :)

Know what? I would alsolike to know the average lifespan of people during those days. In medieval Europe, most men didn't live beyond the age of thirty because of those extremely chilly and drafty castles they lived in.

Thanks for visiting Citizen of the World! As I've previously mentioned, I'm merely sharing what I've recently learned about our local history, and I'm glad there are those like you who enjoy learning with me :)

Wow! I trust you guys continue maintaning your lola's house, Carla, because it is really wonderful to retain such well-crafted ancestral homes.

I just wish they'd allow photos to be taken inside Casa Manila :(

I'm embarassed to admit this, Irene, but I have some cousins who were brought up by my uncle (my father's first cousin's husband) to do their teeth brushing out the window. He was a a Spanish mestizo and that was probably how he learned to do it when he was a kid.

What was that English word? "Defenestrate" - to throw out the window. When I learned about this Old Manila bathroom habits, this word came to mind.

October 04, 2006 1:04 PM  

Blogger Rey said...

Casa Manila's courtyard is indeed a magnificent place. Like a different era captureed by time. the countless movies who used it as backdrop and magazine shoots made within it is a testament to its popularity and aesthetic magnificence.

October 04, 2006 2:13 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Señor Enrique,

Your blog is very interesting especially for true blue Manileños like me. I have a question and perhaps you can help me. I am looking for the exact location of the building below. My sources are telling me that it's located at Plaza Goiti and between Carriedo and Echague. Could this be the site of Isetan or Plaza Fair?

Plaza Goiti (50s colored photo)

Looking forward to your reply.

Thank you.


P.S. I am not a member of blogspot but I have included the weblink where I post my photo comparsions under the pseudonym, Wonderboy. Please feel free to visit the site and join the forum discussion.

October 05, 2006 4:48 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

out the window... john and marsha style baby! :)

October 05, 2006 11:48 AM  

Blogger Senorito<- Ako said...

I think the picture above is somewhere going to dapitan. If your coming from quiapo church side of quezon blvd and going up to dapitan.

October 05, 2006 11:54 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

The courtyard is truly beautiful and the feature that caught my nain attention, Rey,

I can understand the great interest in using it as a stage for many photo shoots.

October 05, 2006 2:54 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Jeff!

The main clues of your photos are the Dencia's Kitchenette and Fighter Cigarettes. Growing up, I don't remember seeing this or of even knowing about this brand of cigarette.

I doubt this is where the Isetann or Plaza Fair building is today, because it's too wide to be the corner of Avenida Rizal and Carriedo.

I will ask around, though.

October 05, 2006 3:02 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Yes, S.A., a true John and Marsha lifestyle!

Well, you might be right about the pic, but honestly, I don't remember this particular corner.

October 05, 2006 3:04 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Señor Enrique! Kudos to you for a wonderful blog!

October 05, 2006 8:54 PM  

Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

Your descriptions of late 18th century upperclass Manilenos (Spanish-wannabes) walking around in their evening "show clothes" while at the same time basking in their own nasty body odor makes me wonder if folks by that time weren't a bit more hygienic than you give them credit for. Then again, I have read that Europeans weren't big on baths, and sometimes I wonder if they are now, but knowing Filipinos today it's hard to believe that the native Filipinos back then followed their fetid example. I have been around poor folk and well-to-do ones on several continents over the decades and there are no cleaner smelling people than Filipinos. Most Filpino squatter shacks smell better than the inside of some of the cars I've travelled in on the average European passenger train. I'll bet it was true even back then that the Spanish overlords walked around in a cloud of their own stink, while native Filipinos did their best not to retch at the revolting miasma as they walked past. (Ooops! I wonder how many people that alienated? Hey, some of my best friends here are Europeans, and THEY never cease to give me hell because I'm an American...But I LOVE the badinage!)

October 05, 2006 9:48 PM  

Blogger DORIE PADUA said...

It was a pleasure meeting you this morning senor enrique, during the Hidalgo Revival Project.

I haven't thouroughly read your blog entries but what I noticed were the pictures of Casa Manila, particulrly the picture inside. I have been trying to attempt taking pictures of the place whenever I go and I always get told off not to do so. So what did you do to be able to take pictures? Thanks!


October 05, 2006 11:26 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

that casa manila's patio looks familiar... i remember when i was in my teens when i see duet singing in a filipiniana attire on a late night television programme. actually, it made feel awake whenever i finish projects on a wee hours.

nice and very informative post, señor. pictures are nice. :)

October 06, 2006 3:13 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for another nice post. Another excellent old Philippine house is Casa Gorordo in Cebu, built for the first Filipino Archbishop of Cebu. As you say, Vigan is another city with many beautiful homes -- including the Sy-Quia mansion which has been under reconstruction for many years. These places really need to be preserved -- the Spanish influenced domestic architecture of the Philippines is truly unique, it would be terrible if it were all destroyed.

October 06, 2006 12:26 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

You know what, Phil? My relatives who were fortunate enough to have travelled to Europe when I was very young mentioned most Spanish women would dab their bodies with perfume more often than take baths :) But I'm sure many things have changed since then. However, I do have to agree with you that Filipinos are one of the most bath freaks I have ever encountered; some even take baths three times a day.

Creaful there, Phil ... your European friends might jump at you next time they see you ... hahaha!

October 06, 2006 3:55 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Dorie!

Sorry I couldn't stay the entire afternoon ... I would've love to, but had some errands to attend.

The pleasure is mine as well! BTW, click on Sidney's and Jepaperts usernames on this comment page -- Sidney has Sari-Sari Store and Jepaperts has The Dubai Chronicles whose photos come complete with technical setting information :)

I will post the Hidalgo Project event pics in a bit.

Will contact you once an interesting event comes up, and I'll ask Sidney to join us as well.

Did you submit your entry for the "On The Spot Photo Contest?" I will tomorrow.

October 06, 2006 4:00 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Jep!

I was raving about your site to my newfound photo-enthusiast-friend, Dorski, whom I met at the ribbon cutting ceremony of the Hidalgo Project! She was telling me her visit to Dubai and I was telling her how I got to know most of the beautiful sights of Dubai because of your blog.


October 06, 2006 4:03 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Thanks, Torn. Yes ... I'm glad there are many more Filipinos intent on preserving our architectural heritage.

I would love to visit Casa Gorordo in Cebu, too. I do plan on doing more Philippine inter-island travel soon. There's so much to appreciate!

October 06, 2006 4:06 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great pics of the house.. I'm wondering if the Spanish- Filipino colonial house have any similarities with the Mexican architecture , the fact that the galleon trade between Mexico and Phils was flourishing at that time.

October 07, 2006 7:38 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I've a feeling some aspects of Mexican influence is well represented in local Fil-Spanish architecture, BW.

However, from what I was told, the influence of Baroque was more sought after (since Filipinos travelled to Europe more so than to Mexico at that time); thus, lending an ornate and ostentatious quality (the interior of San Agustin Church is a prime example).

October 07, 2006 2:10 PM  

Blogger PhilippinesPhil said...

I'm chuckling at your good natured warning Mr. E... My Euro and Australian buddies never stop giving me and each other hell; it's all in good fun. It's one of the many pleasures of living in a place where folks from all over the world mix it up with the common goal of having a good time... cheers mate!

October 08, 2006 11:16 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

HEY Señor Enrique! thanx a lot for your blog! i was about to end up passing an invisible castle for my paper. but your entry gave me a better look especially you mentioned mr. ocampo's insights a lot. he's my teacher. haha. dont worry, i didnt plagiarize or copy anything in your blog. i just needed to refresh my memory and take on a different feel of Intramuros

August 04, 2008 8:56 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice blog! i love it...

October 30, 2008 5:41 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now I had a glimpse about the casa. interesting article! I would love to go there. :)

October 30, 2008 5:43 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

your blog keeps enticing a lot of readers since the time you posted it. i have been to the walled city a hundred of times but had never been to casa manila. the place is worth checking indeed. i will make it a point this time to be there.

i have been to a house similar to this one though. if my memory serves me right, it's the bahay na bato in La Salle Dasma.

January 03, 2009 9:55 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great article. My own mom either grew up or attended in Intramuros and echoes of life there, as her family elders would narrate to her, abound. It's too hard for her to recall accurately now though.

July 07, 2010 5:46 AM  

Anonymous Severino B. Mendoza, Jr. said...

What a surprise to see my name in print. My family is from Balanga, Bataan and my dad moved to Washington, D.C. years ago. Unfortunately I got into real estate restoration on Capitol Hill in Washington,D.C. Surprised to see my cousin O'Campo mentioned. Severino Batungbacal Mendoza, Jr.
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.

July 22, 2011 11:33 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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