R Is For Rio Pasig, the River That Fed Old Manila

R

Come to the banks of Pasig, oh darling of mine,
Come, for the light of the day is about to fade,
Come right now, only for you my banca’s waiting
By the side of the quite bank underneath the leafy bamboo shade.

Excerpt from By the Banks of the Pasig River,
poem by Jose Rizal, 19th century

Rio Pasig or the Pasig River (Ilog Pasig in Filipino) was Manila’s lifeline and center of economic activity.  During pre-Hispanic times, some of the prominent kingdoms of Namayan, Maynila and Tondo thrived along its banks.    When the Spanish established Manila as their site of operations in the Far East, they built the walled city, Intramuros, along the river’s southern bank.

Map of Intramuros with Pasig River in the upper left side
Map of Intramuros with Pasig River in the upper left side

To get to and from the different districts outside of Intramuros and along the region, ferryboats were the mode of transportation.  However, by the 1600’s, bridges were built to connect one district to another.

Among the well known bridges built over the Pasig River was the Puente de España (Bridge of Spain), which connected the districts of Binondo and Santa Cruz.  This was the first bridge to ever cross the Pasig River and was opened in 1630, replacing the ferry service before it.  Interestingly, it was built at no cost to the Spanish royal treasury, because it was built by the Chinese mestizos or sangleys to relieve  themselves of the ferryboat charges.

Puente de España
Puente de España

The bridge was damaged during the 1863 earthquake and damaged again during a flood in 1914.  It has been replaced by the Jones Bridge during the American Occupation.

Esteros or canals all emptied into the Pasig River from various districts and municipalities of Manila. Houses along the banks had the view of the water which no doubt fed their gardens and provided them with water for bathing.

Another geographical feature of the city of Manila is its system of esteros. These esteros were actually the Pasig river’s estuaries branching throughout the city. Through the esteros, farmers all the way from Laguna peddled their vegetables and other goods to the residents of the city who waited for the boats of these vendors to pass by the back of their homes. The products were usually tossed up to the buyers. The esteros served also as drainage, as a means to easily put out fires and to give off that cooling effect. Imagine having clean streams of water running behind your house!

via Manila’s Edge: Its Geography | HECHO AYER.

Phillipines2a

Mangroves called “nilad” and bamboo plants used to grow abundantly by its banks—Pasig River was never still, as bancas, cascos, and steam boats cruised by and residents took quick afternoon dips to cool off from the tropical heat.

via The once thriving urban waterfront of the Pasig River | The Manila Times Online.

Phillipines1aOne of the main modes of transport along the Pasig River were the cascos.  Cascos were wide flat-bottomed boats with arched roofs that transported people, livestock and cargo through the many districts found along the river.  Families lived on these cascos as well.

LoadingCascosAtPasigRiverManilaCirc
Loading cascos at Pasig River

 

Washing clothes, Pasig River, Manila, Philippines, late 19th or early 20th Century
Washing clothes, Pasig River, Manila, Philippines, late 19th or early 20th Century

The Pasig River of today, however, is but a memory of what it used to be.  With industries cropping up along the banks of the river, and temporary dwellers lining up every space available along the esteros and the river itself, it has become so polluted that ecologists have considered it unable to sustain life.

There are ongoing programs to clean the Pasig River one estero at a time.  It will take time to recover its grandeur, which American urban planner Daniel H. Burnham described in 1910 as the “Venice of the Far East,” but with hard work and education, it will happen.

(left photo) Prior to its rehabilitation, the Estero de Paco was overflowing with tons of garbage. The second photo (right) – taken on January 17, 2013 after the rehabilitation of the creek – shows the same spot as the first, highlighting the vast improvements done to rehabilitate the waterway using PAGCOR’s P20 million donation for the “Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig” project spearheaded by ABS-CBN Foundation. (Photos courtesy of ABS-CBN Foundation’s KBPIP)
(left photo) Prior to its rehabilitation, the Estero de Paco was overflowing with tons of garbage. The second photo (right) – taken on January 17, 2013 after the rehabilitation of the creek – shows the same spot as the first, highlighting the vast improvements done to rehabilitate the waterway using PAGCOR’s P20 million donation for the “Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig” project spearheaded by ABS-CBN Foundation. (Photos courtesy of ABS-CBN Foundation’s KBPIP)

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2 thoughts on “R Is For Rio Pasig, the River That Fed Old Manila

    1. The government has tried for years but with squatters living along its banks and doing their personal business right there, it’s also going to take a lot of education. Major companies dumping their wastes into the river has not helped as well, and so private entities and the government are tackling one canal at a time. I always remembered being driven through the bridge and one always knew the Pasig river was there because of the stench.

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