Manila began as a small tribal settlement on the banks of the Pasig River near the mouth of Manila Bay. It took its name from a white-flowered mangrove plant – the Nilad – that grew in abundance in the area. Maynilad, or “where the nilad” grows, was a fairly prosperous Islamic community ruled by Rajah Sulayman, descendant of a royal Malay family.
On May 24, 1570, almost 50 years after Ferdinand Magellan – a Portuguese explorer under the service of the King of Spain – first set foot on these islands, a Spanish expedition under Marshal Martin de Goiti reached Sulayman’s settlement. Encountering resistance from the Muslim king, de Goiti retaliated by burning down villages and capturing the artillery. The following year, Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived at the mouth of the Pasig River and claimed the islands in the name of the King of Spain. He established the “distinguished and ever loyal city” of Manila, proclaiming it as the capital.
Thus began almost 333 years of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. The new city was encircled by double walls-Intramuros- and guarded by a fort- Fort Santiago. The Spanish kept to their enclave and sent out their missionaries and armies to conquer the countryside. In the suburbs or arabales like Tondo, Santa Cruz, Quiapo, Sampaloc and Malate, the indios-as the natives were called – lived and worked together with the mestizos (of mixed Filipino and foreign descent). The sangleys or Chinese merchants lived in the parian, a district which became part of the present Binondo.
In the 19th century, Spain’s colonies were racked by corrupt administration and internal disorder. Liberal ideologies fired the spirits of enlightened Manileños like Philippine national hero Jose Rizal who studied abroad and Filipino rebel leader Andres Bonifacio who read books on revolutionaries and philosophers. The seeds of revolution were thus sown in Philippine soil, and insurrection sprouted all over the countryside. By the late 1800s, Spain had lost control over the Philippines, and with her major defeat by the American fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay, totally relinquished her hold on the colony
But freedom would not come so easily, for the Filipinos eventually found themselves under their erstwhile ally, the Americans. Under the new conquerors, Manila spread out-wards, roads and bridges were built, and school taught the Filipinos Western culture and proficiency in a new language – English. Democratic processes were introduced; and neo-classical government edifices rose around the old city. But the outbreak of World War II soon halted all that.
For three years, the country chafed under the Japanese occupation. The end of the Pacific War left Manila in ruins but it also brought liberation and independence. In July of 1946, the Commonwealth government under Manuel L. Quezon declared independence.
The post-war years saw the reconstruction of Manila and its growth in area and population. Land was developed in areas now covered by the city municipality of San Juan. Subdivisions and residential villages flourished in Quezon City, Pasig, Pasay and Parañaque. Factories and industrial areas burgeoned in Caloocan, Malabon and Valenzuela. Adjoining municipalities of Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, Taguig, Pateros and Marikina were developed and annexed. In 1976, a conglomeration of four cities – Manila, Pasay, Caloocan and Quezon City – and 13 municipalities was officially designated as “Metro Manila”.
Today, Metro Manila is also known as the National Capital Region – a thriving, ever enlarging urban sprawl covering about 630 square kilometers and harboring a population of about ten million.