Old Manila and the Spanish Empire

Manila Cathedral and the Headquarters of the Knights of Columbus.

Manila Cathedral and the Headquarters of the Knights of Columbus.

Old Manila was a mediaeval walled city, built by Spanish colonialists in the late 1500s. Up until the early 1900s, it was a beautiful place of baroque cathedrals and ornate villas, reminiscent of towns in New Spain (today’s Mexico), from which it was ruled.  It was known by sailors who stopped on her shores, as the “Pearl of the Orient.”

Unfortunately, much of Old Manila – called Intramuros (or “inside the walls”) today – was ruined in the aftermath of World War II.  Specifically, the old city was a casualty of the Battle of Manila – a key battle on the Pacific front between the United States of America and Imperial Japan.

Today, much of Intramuros still lies in ruins, and around these ruins sit luxury residences alongside shanty-towns.  But look hard (and look up) and you will find windows into the past – when you can just about imagine how it was like 400 years ago when the Spanish brought EMPIRE, RELIGION and TRADE to these shores.

[The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia is available now at all major bookstores in Singapore – Kinokuniya, Times and MPH – as well as at museum shops and the airport. As of mid-May, it will also be available at major bookstores across Southeast Asia and Hong Kong, at Waterstones and Blackwells in London, and on http://www.amazon.co.uk.]

Vintage view of a calesa (horse carriage) exiting the Parian Gate, Walled City of Manila.

Vintage view of a calesa (horse carriage) exiting the Puerte del Parian (Parian Gate), Walled City of Manila.

Fort Santiago is the entrance to the Walled City of Manila.

Fort Santiago is the entrance to the Walled City of Manila.

Rangoon in the 1900s

Bird's Eye View of Rangoon, early 1900s. Collection of the Author.

In the course of writing the Rangoon chapter, I managed, very fortunately, to acquire quite a few early 1900s vintage postcards that presented views of the city of Rangoon in British Burma – today’s Yangon, in Myanmar.

The first postcard above is a spectacular bird eye’s view in colour, of Strand Road and the Rangoon River. As you can see, Rangoon was a bustling port – in fact, it was perhaps the most important port in Southeast Asia proper, after Singapore.

The second view, below, is that of the historic High Court Building (at centre), which still stands today. The building was built in 1914 in a distinctly Edwardian style, and wouldn’t feel out of place in London itself.

The wonderful thing about today’s Yangon downtown, is that it looks almost exactly the same as the Rangoon presented in these vintage postcards.  All the amazing monumental architectural heritage still stands, and there is a race against time to preserve and restore many of these.

The first chapter of The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia takes the reader on a stroll through the old town of Rangoon/Yangon in the 1900s and today, presenting views and vistas from the turn of the 19th century and the turn of the 20th century.

The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia will be available from mid-April in all major bookstores, museum shops and featured hotels in Singapore, the Southeast Asian region and Hong Kong. 

Rangoon City View with the High Court at centre. Collection of the Author.

Rangoon City View with the High Court at centre. Collection of the Author.

The High Court Building today.

The High Court Building today.

Steamships, Grand Hotels and Port Cities in Southeast Asia

The Romance of the Grand Tour

Dear Readers,

After two and a half years of working on this, my new book, The Romance of Grand Tour – 100 Years of Travel in Southeast Asia is finally to be launched on 15th April, 2015 in my home city of Singapore.

It is a new coffee table book celebrating the Grand Tour of Southeast Asia in the 1920s. Retracing the journey of those grand tourists of the ‘20s, the book takes today’s traveller through 12 fabled port cities in what was then known as the East Indies.

Setting sail from Rangoon (Yangon), we visit Penang, Malacca, Singapore, Batavia (Jakarta), Surabaya, Bangkok, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Phnom Penh, Hanoi and Manila before disembarking at Hong Kong harbour.

Each chapter presents a historical and photographic overview of the city’s old town, colonial precincts and living cultural heritage, drawing on archival images, maps and accounts, as well as contemporary photos.

In each city, we also stop at the city’s grand colonial hotel – the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang and the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, to name a few. 

As part of the on-going marketing and publicity campaign for the book, I am starting this new blog, where in the course of the year, I shall be posting images, photographs, maps and quotes from my book; interesting stories related to the “making of” the book; book events in the region, AND – as a plus – images, quotes, bits of history that are related to the history of travel, or to the 12 port cities in my book, but which did not make it into the “final cut.”

Welcome on board ship… and to a year of history, nostalgic and excitement!

Sincerely,

Kennie Ting