With the opening of Manila to world trade in the late nineteenth century, with ships bringing in not only goods but new ideas as well, a rich and influential class of Filipinos called ilustrados emerged. These educated ilustrados took an active part in industry and commerce, went into the export business, amassed fortunes, and sent their sons to schools in Europe.
This affluence produced grand houses and created a gracious, cultivated lifestyle manifested in good books, good music, good food and lavish hospitality. This ambience of old is recreated in Casa Manila, one of three structures erected in what was then known as Barrio San Luis after one of the four barrios in Intramuros.
Barrio San Luis
Intramuros was divided into four barrios, namely San Antonio, San Gabriel, San Carlos and San Luis. Dense and populous, erected side by side in the four barrios were government offices, homes of religious orders and their churches, schools, military forts and arsenals as well as private residences.
Unfortunately, no Intramuros residential building survived World War II. The facades of houses recreated in Barrio San Luis were based from photographs of period houses in Intramuros, Ermita and the San Nicholas District.
A Wealthy Burgher’s House in San Nicholas
The three-storey Casa Manila is a combined imagination of architects and antiquarians. In style, Casa Manila bears a close resemblance to a house that was built along Calle Jaboneros in San Nicholas District during the 1850s.
Its three-story height makes it unusual. Very few houses were constructed with more than two floors because of the frequent earthquakes that rocked Manila. House with shops and warehouses on the ground floor were characteristics of bahay-na-bato built in the districts of Binondo and San Nicholas.
A Turn-of-the-Century Bahay-na-Bato
Casa Manila is a turn-of-the-century bahay-na-bato. Its carpeted steps lead up an antique escalera into the different rooms, furnished in the style of a wealthy burgher and his family where each room showcases a collection of colonial furniture and accessories in an evocative setting salvaged from grand ancestral house of the Hidalgo’s and Paterno’s in Quiapo.
From living quarters, we wandered out through the azotea, the back terrace, and down to the courtyard. Surrounding the stone fountain in the courtyard are pasillos converted into antique shops and craft stores.
Casa Manila is situated on General Luna Street, formerly known as Calle Real de Palacio, a main thoroughfare in this historic district. Across the street is the oldest building in the Philippines, a national monument, a cultural landmark and a World Heritage Site –the San Agustin Church.