When the Spaniards established their colony in the Philippines, they organized the towns where the church, the town hall and houses of key officials enclosed an open court or plazas. In the olden days, plazas were centers of public entertainment. It was in the plaza where a make-shift stage was set-up during town fiestas for street dramas like the cenaculo, moro-moro and the zarzuela. During Holy Week a kubol or an improvised shade is set-up for the week-long chanting of the pasyon.
At a time when television was not available, it was in the town plaza where people gathered to witness a public execution or even bull fights after hearing the Sunday Mass for entertainment. Some plazas served as common venues for public celebrations as well as demonstrations and protests.
As a public landmark, some plazas were attractively landscaped and the usual focal point could be a statue or a sculpture in honor of a person or in remembrance of a historic event of which the plaza was named after. Like old structures, street names, and other public landmarks in Manila, plazas reflect the city’s historical and cultural heritage.
Below is a list of some of plazas found in historic Manila:
Liwasang Bonifacio was formerly Plaza Lawton, was renamed after Andres Bonifacio whose bronze statue now stands in the area fronting the Post Office by the Pasig River. The former name recognized the highest ranking American officer killed during the Filipino-American War, General Henry Lawton who was killed in the Battle of San Mateo when he underestimated the capacity of the Filipino defenders whose command was under General Licerio Geronimo.
Plaza Avanceña in Quiapo was named after Ramon Avanceña, revolutionary leader in the Visayas and became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1925 to 1941.
Plaza Avelino in Sampaloc was named after Librada Avelino founder of Centro Escolar University.
Plaza Benavides is a plaza facing the main building of the University of Santo Tomas, with the Paris-made bronze statue of Archbishop Miguel de Benavides, founder of UST.
Plaza Calderon dela Barca in Binondo. Facing the plaza is Binondo Church. The plaza is also referred as Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz, after the first Filipino saint.
Plaza Cervantes in Binondo was named after Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish novelist who participated in the Battle of Lepanto and authored Don Quijote de la Mancha in 1605.
Plaza del Carmen was named after the Nuestra Señora del Carmen which is enshrined in the Church of San Sebastian.
Plaza del Conde is located in San Nicholas. It was named after Antonio Chacon y Conde, first commander of the Veteran Battalion of the Philippines in 1825 and author of the Great Days in the Philippines published in 1826.
Plaza Dilao in Paco commemorates the community of San Francisco de Dilao, the site of the Japanese community during the 17th century.
Plaza de España in Intramuros was first known as Plaza Aduana after the structure facing the plaza. In 1897, the colonial government named it as Plaza de los Martires de la Integridad dela Patria to honor the Spanish soldiers who died during the Philippine Revolution. Its present name was given by the Americans in 1902. in 1982, the Intramuros Adminstration restored the plaza and in 2000 it was renovated with the statue of King Philip II. The statue was unveiled as part of the closing activities in Philippine Independence Centennial by the Spanish monarch, Queen Sophia.
Plaza Felipe Calderon in Sta. Ana was named after Felipe G. Calderon. He is known as the author and sponsor of the Malolos Constitution. He was also appointed as representative of Paragua (Palawan) to the Malolos Congress.
Plaza Isabelo de los Reyes was named after the man who established the Philippine Independent Church with Father Gregorio Aglipay. He founded the Union Obrero Democratico, for which he became known as the “Father of Philippine Labor Union.” The place was formerly called Plaza Guipit, Filipino for “constricted,” describing its tight space.
Plaza Lachambre in Binondo was named after Jose Lachambre Dominguez, one-time acting governor-general, believed by the Spaniards to have quelled the insurrection in Cavite in 1897.
Plaza Lacson in Sta. Cruz was formerly called Plaza Goiti in honor of Manila’s greatest mayor, Arsenio Lacson whose statue stands at the plaza. The former name was in honor of the conquistadore, Martin de Goiti.
Plaza Liga Anti-Imperialista in San Miguel is formerly Aviles Plaza. It commemorates the efforts of Boston-based anti-imperialist league.
Plaza Miranda in Quiapo is referred as the “crossroad of the nation.” The square was a preferred venue for presidential debates as well political convocation. In 1971, a bomb exploded during the meeting de avance of the Liberal Party causing the death of nine and injuring 95 people. The infamous event is known in history as the Plaza Miranda Bombing. The open square was named after Jose Sandino y Miranda, secretary of the Treasury of the Philippines from 1853-1854.
Plaza Moraga in Binondo was named after Augustinian Fernando de Moraga, who became the first parish priest of Sta. Ana in 1605. When he returned to Spain in 1619, he exhausted all means to persuade King Philip to reconsider the plan of abandoning the Philippines.
Plaza Noli in Sampaloc was named after Jose Rizal’s novel, the Noli me Tangere.
Plaza Nuestra Señora de Guia in Ermita was formerly Plaza Ferguson renamed after the image of the oldest statue of the Virgin Mary found in the area by Spanish soldiers. The former Plaza Ferguson has a marble monument surmounted by a double life-size bust in bronze, in honor of Arthur W. Ferguson, appointed by President McKinley as Secretary to the Philippine Commission in 1900. On July 16, 1901, he became Executive Secretary of the Philippine Government.
Plaza Roma in Intramuros was renamed several times. First it was called Plaza de Armas to describe the bullfights held there in the 18th century. Then the Americans named it Plaza McKinley in honor of President William McKinley. The last since 1961, when the first Filipino Cardinal was elected, Archbishop of Manila Rufino Santos, the authorities renamed it as Plaza de Roma after the Sacred College of Cardinals in Rome. The plaza is also the site of the monument of King Carlos IV of Spain, 19th century monarch in whose reign the medical operation was launced for checking and halting the rapid spread of small pox in the country.
Plaza Santa Cruz follows the name of the district where the plaza is situated. On the plaza stands the Carriedo Fountain, in honor of Don Francisco Carriedo for bringing potable water to Manila.
Plaza Santo Tomas in Intramuros was meant to be a Dominican cemetery and garden. Fronting the entrance of original site of the University of Santo Tomas, the city government bought the plaza in 1861 as the place where the statue of Queen Isabel II would be erected. However, the queen’s monument was erected in Arroceros instead. In 1879, the university rector erected the statue of Miguel de Benavides, founder of UST. In 2002, the plaza was refurbished as part of the 400th anniversary of the university. A replica of the Benavides statue was erected on the site. A marker was also placed to honor the 53 alumni who signed the Malolos Constitution.
Plaza Sulayman in front of Malate Church was named after Raja Sulayman, the ruler of Maynila. It was during his time that Martin de Goiti landed in what will be later known as Manila in 1570. He greatly resented the coming of the Spaniards and took great measures of defending his territory. However, the advance weaponry of the invaders prevailed over Sulayman and his defenders.
Plaza Sampalucan in Intramuros was also known as Plazuela de Sta. Isabel, after the school that stood there fronting the plaza. It is said that it received because of the sampaloc (tamarind) trees that grew in the empty lot. Legend says that the sampaloc tree sprouted in the area as a reminder of the Bitter-Sweet Love Story (scandal) involving the governor-general, his wife and an ex-Jesuit that took place in 1621. Today, the sampaloc trees were replaced with a landscaped garden. A focal point is a sculpture by Peter Guzman called Memorare Manila 1945 in memory of the 100,000 lives lost during the Liberation of Manila.
Plaza Vicente del Fierro in Tondo honors Vicente del Fierro, a staunch defender of press freedom. He wrote for several dailies such as the Tribune, Philippines Heralds, and many more. The plaza is in front of Tondo Church.
Information source: Daluyan