Quiapo is in the heart of Manila, if not the city’s heart. It was one of the original 13 villages that grew together to become Manila, getting its name from the water lily Kapo that used to be abundant in the surrounding rivers and marshes. In the 16th century, as the Spaniards started to colonize all over the archipelago, it started to flourish as a trade and craft-making center. Devotees flocked to Quiapo as well, drawn to the supposed miraculous powers of the Black Nazarene, brought to Manila from Mexico by the Augustinian Recollect Friars in the early 1600s.
As Manila grew, so did Quiapo. In the following centuries, cafes, movie houses, open markets, boutiques, and theaters were built here, together with the mansions of the elite, the Illustrados (aristocrats) and rich merchants. But the 20th century was not very kind to this historical district. The original Quiapo Church, of Mexican Baroque design, burned down in 1928, but was quickly replaced by a cream-colored edifice. From World War II came much destruction; from the construction of the elevated train, the LRT, traffic congestion and a gloominess to the streets; and from the rise of other commercial centers in Metro Manila, the exodus of many merchants.
What used to be a center of trade and elegance, art and fashion, higher learning and culture was transformed into a flea-market infested warren of streets. Many say Quaipo was ruined, its vibrancy lost with its high culture. But as many also claim that Quiapo is as vibrant as ever; that despite the decay, the wear and tear, the filth even, Quiapo is still vibrating with the pulse of a changing population. The Ilustrados may have abandoned their grand mansions, now rotting husks to market storefronts, but people from different walks of life have quickly filled the vaccum and made Quiapo their own.
Here are the highlights of a Quiapo adventure:
1. Quiapo Church and Plaza Miranda – bounded by Quezon Avenue; in front of the church is Plaza Miranda where a multitude of sinners and heathens pray for redemption and a legions more sin with practical sincerity, selling the paraphernalia of religious and folk magic—candles, anting-anting (amulets & talismans), herbal medicine, pampa-regla (abortifacients), spells and counterspells, incense, tawas, snake oils, colorful icons of the Sto. Niño and the Virgin Mary, and rosaries.
On Plaza Miranda is magic realism at its finest. Prayers and novenas spill out of the church to blend into an intoxicating hymn with the orasyon (incantation), expostulations, and entreaties of thousands of vendors and fortune tellers on the streets. Old men and women have carved a niche, as sacred as the niches of saints, outside the church’s wall, where for a fee, they will read your mind, your heart’s desire, or your future on a deck of cards, the lines of your palms, or the colors of your aura.
2. Hidalgo Street – Up to the 1970s, this street was lined with ancestral houses and cafes. It was said to be the loveliest and most gentrified street in Manila. But the wheel has turned—beneath the vibrant hustle and bustle of commerce is the sadness of a decaying heritage. Efforts are underway to transform it into a photographer’s haven, where photography-related items can be bought for a steal.
3. Basilica Minore de San Sebastian / San Sebastian Church – has an impressive Gothic architecture; the only all-steel basilica in Asia
4. Ilalim ng Tulay (Under the Bridge) – This bargain center specializing in handicrafts, textile, and souvenirs is literally under a bridge! This is probably the best spot in Quiapo for the cheapest quality wares.
5. Sta. Cruz Church – on Plaza Lacson, near Quiapo Church; The original church was built by the Jesuits in 1608 for the Chinese converted to Christianity.
6. Carriedo St – The blare of music from pirated DVDs define this pedestrian shopping street. Stalls selling clothing, textile, accessories, Chinese beauty products, and knick-knacks are lined up on the center of street, on the side are shabby buildings, each a shopping universe in its own right, while roving vendors and push-carts hawk sidewalk cuisine. We recommend that you try the Filipino delicacy Balot, steamed whole duck embryo in egg, with a little salt… delectable!
7. Muslim Area – a loose term for the area across Quezon Blvd from Quiapo Church, where a sizable Muslim population lives and works; also known for a thriving piracy industry—the lower floors of many apartment buildings have been converted into pirated movie & music DVD and software shops (open until 9pm)… Here you can buy DVDs for 3 for PhP100 (roughly over US$2). Occasional token raids by city authorities make shopping here quite an adventure. But don’t worry if you chance upon one—just walk away; the police don’t bother customers. And despite the notorious reputation of the Muslim Area, you will find that the people here are actually quite civilized.
8. Golden Mosque – on Globo de Oro St, Muslim Area; Manila’s largest Mosque
9. Raon St – where Filipinos buy the cheapest electronics and, sometimes, the stolen cellphone...
10. San Miguel District - also called the University Belt, where Malacanang Palace and many ancestral homes and big universities are located; within walking distance from Quiapo… If you’re interested in books—there are loads of them along Recto from corner Rizal Avenue to Mendiola. There are also numerous bargain print shops along Recto.
Wear comfortable shoes and clothing when shopping or sightseeing in Quiapo. Please refer to the section on shopping in Manila for tips.