The area outside of Old Manila before the Spaniards came used to be farmland, flanked by water canals because of its close proximity to the Pasig River flowing into the Manila Bay. Among the many water-based plants growing in the region was a variety of cabbage called Pistia statiotes, which the natives called kiapo. As time went on, the areas were reclaimed from the marshes and along with the areas of Binondo, San Nicolas and Ermita, the district of Quiapo was born.
Through the years, Quiapo became home to many notable entities, such as the Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel (beer!), the Spanish Royal Navy Club, and the El Renacimiento of the Katipunan movement. It came to be known as the “downtown of Manila” and here, one also found grand residential houses along the many esteros or waterways that channeled clean water for their gardens as well as provide an efficient mode of transportation via cascos.
In a time when the main modes of transportation were chiefly naval, such geographical feature made Quiapo a suitable site to establish trade and commerce, an open port and an easy entrance to the heart of Luzon.
Quiapo was and is also where one finds two grand churches – Quiapo Church and the Basilica Minore of the Black Nazarene, home to the black Jesus of Nazareth statue revered by millions of Catholics.
One of the best known streets in Quiapo is Hidalgo Street, considered in the 19th century as “the most beautiful street in Manila.” This was where many of the wealthy residents lived (outside of Intramuros) and some of their homes are still there to this day, though one, the Enriquez Mansion which was called “the most beautiful house in the islands” in 1910 was transferred to Bataan and in its place is a 10-story commercial building.
Known as the Home of the Heroes of the 1896 Revolution, the Nakpil-Bautista house was home to Julio Nakpil, musical composer of the 19th century revolutionary movement, the Katipunan and Gregoria de Jesus, organizer of the women’s corps of the Katipunan.
Quiapo not only had the most beautiful street of Manila, it also housed the loveliest park in Manila, the Plaza del Carmen, and the most spacious public market, the Mercado dela Quinta.
Quiapo was also the home to Manila’s early theaters, the only surviving 19th century theater being the Teatro Zorilla, located at the corner of Calle San Pedro and Calle Iris. Also known as Dulaang Zorilla sa Maynila, it was named after Jose Zorilla, Spanish poet and playright.
“The Teatro Zorilla…was built to serve as theatre or circus without any regard to its acoustic properties; hence only one-third of the audience could hear the dialogue. There was a permanent Spanish Comedy Company…and occasionally a troupe of strolling players, a circus, a concert, or an Italian Opera Company came to Manila to entertain the public for a few weeks.”
Quiapo today is a bustling mix of old and new, home to the Black Nazarene and also a large Muslim community in Manila, and is a place to see not just the historic homes (preserved or not), but also experience the food and shopping.
Best though, to have a guide…