I remember spending a lot of time in the streets of Quiapo when I was still in college. There are familiar streets and landmarks but my wanderings remains to what is required from school. Deovir art supplies, Hidalgo camera shops and bookstores nearby. Venturing through the bustling streets of Quiapo can be challenging and intimidating. Not to mention its seedy reputation as home of pickpockets. But thread carefully and guided properly, a trip to Quiapo can be an enriching experience. Behind the many shops, dvd stalls and buzzing transpos are heritage gems, foodie finds and culture
Quiapo Guided Tours
To ease people in exploring Quiapo, it’s comforting to know that there are several groups already doing guided tours. I recently joined an organized tour by Kapitbahayan sa Kalye Bautista partnered with iDiscover App and Tralulu. The iDiscover App is an interesting DIY tour app with an offline map. It shows the interesting spots in a specific area or tour.
The group met at San Sebastian church. Quickly, went on to our first stop, the Casa Consulado. Also known as the Iturralde House, this bandehado type bahay na bato was constructed in 1926 behind the San Sebastian church. The Iturraldes, a family of merchants are Chinese migrants, moved into the house in 1936. The son, Dr Augusto Alvaro Iturralde was appointed as the Honorary Consul of Monaco in 1956. The house was then converted as the Consul of Monaco. The balcony at the 2nd floor is where the Monaco flag was raised on special occasions.
As of this time, the house was turned into a Museum and Library since 2016 by August’s son, Paul Iturralde. We managed to explore portions of the house and its a bit rundown already but Paul said there are plans to restore the house. Locals also believe the house is haunted. The land where the house was built used to be the San Sebastian cemetery.
Follow Facebook /casaconsuladoquiapo/
A short walk at Bilibid Viejo St , we stopped by for a snack at Aling Mely’s for her local favorite turon. She had gigantic turons (caramelized wrapped banana and langka snack) which may have probably inspired the large SM turon. She has been selling there for 13 years and take pride of being able to provide for her children through this livelihood. At night the area sells various street foods like balut, penoy and as well as some bbqs.
Walking further, we turned left to Gonzalo Puyat St. Right at the corner of the smaller Ocampo St is the 80 year old cafe simply known as the Kapihan. Brewed coffee powered by a vintage but still functioning 1939 coffee machine. Their barako are supplied by the same Binondo supplier for 30 years. Ate Lenlen Sy manages this humble coffee shop. I can imagine numerous conversations in this kapihan. Lenlen says some prominent people had hang out here before.
Ocampo Pagoda Mansion
Deep inside Ocampo St, an unexpected anomaly can be found. I never knew a pogada mansion existed in this area. It’s a very interesting structure. Unfortunately, we can’t come in since it is now a private property. The Ocampo Pagoda Mansion is owned by a local lawyer and real estate tycoon Jose Mariano Ocampo. This is Ocampo’s Disneyland, fusing eastern and medieval western architecture. The mansion used to sit on a one hectare garden enclosed by walls. Ironically, construction was done at the eve of Japanese invasion. The structure survived the Japanese bombings unscathed while the locals used it as a bomb shelter. Though the 1990 major earthquake greatly damaged the towers.
While it still remains as a curious building, it has become a rundown dormitory for seamen. The garden is no longer there as the family have to splice out the property and sold to different owners. Remnants of some sculpture and walls from the garden remains at some of the backstreets.
Passing through a dizzying array of narrow streets, we found ourself at one of the most established museums in Quiapo, the Bahay Nakpil. The lovely art-deco house built by renowned Doctor Ariston Bautista in 1914. It managed to survive the ravages of war. In fact, it became the refuge for the original Black Nazarene at the height of the Battle of Manila and Quiapo. The house contains other gems aside from the displayed artifacts. One is the oldest and functioning “Singer” sewing machine and one of the oldest woodcarving shop in Manila. Come Thursday mornings for 11am acupuncture clinic for only P100 per head.
Follow their Facebook at /bahaynakpilbautista/
Quiapo Golden Mosque
At the heart of the Muslim community of Quiapo is the Golden Mosque. The largest mosque in Manila that can accommodate up to 3,000 people. It was commissioned by Imelda Marcos in 1976 for the impending visit of Libya’s president, Muhammar Gahdaffi. Libya’s president couldn’t make it but it became a place for refuge for Muslim Filipinos who flee to escape the conflict from the south.
Tanduay Fire Station
Heading back to where we started, we passed by the handsome edifice of the oldest fire station in Manila. The Tanduay Fire Station was built in 1904. Wonderfully, much of the original structure inside had been retained like the hose racks, locker rooms and weight boxes. Even the fireman’s pole is intact. A century old fire truck is kept inside the building.
San Sebastian Basilica
A spectacular piece of engineering feat, we saved San Sebastian Basilica for the last stop. When the Augustinian brothers got tired of reconstructing their 16th century church often damaged by earthquakes and calamities, they decided on a solid timeless structure. It was the height of industrial revolution at that time and engineering marvels were being constructed all over the world. The Augustinians decided on a steel church. They had it pre-fabricated in Belgium, the same workshop where the Eiffel Tower was made. Over 1,500 tons of steel and cast iron were used. Steamships brought the pre-fab steels and are assembled without welding. 125 years later, it remains standing despite 11 major earthquakes and two world wars.
Make sure to take one of the guided tours for P200. It gives visitors access to off-limit areas and closer inspection of the 56 hand-painted stained-glass windows and other ornate paintings. Make sure to inquire with the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation.
Follow their Facebook /savessbasilica/
The entire tour ran for four to five hours in the afternoon. In this is just part of the many items you could see at the iDiscover Manila app featuring Quiapo. Manila is so rich in culture, heritage and history. You just have to know where to find them.
Quiapo is named after kiapo, an abundant water cabbage found in the area. It is considered as the Old Town of Manila.
iDiscover is about the spirit of a place. We work with locals who show us their favourite places and tell us their stories. We put them in a handy map and savvy app to create honest and authentic walking routes in Asia’s most captivating neighbourhoods.
Download the iDiscover Manila app at www.i-discoverasia.com.
Kapitbahayan sa Kalye Bautista (KKB) is a volunteer organization based in Quiapo, Manila that advocates sustainable cultural heritage conservation through restoration programs and socio-cultural development of the community. Follow them at /kapitbahayansakalyebautista/
Tralulu is a social enterprise and booking platform for local guides and travel experiences across the Philippines. It aims to humanize tourism by sustainably providing an avenue for travellers to book experiences offered by the locals. Visit www.tralulu.com/
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.