Manila Bay is the front door to the world for the Philippines, the international gateway to the country. It is a place of romantic sunsets, modern commerce and plenty of nostalgia. Why, even before modern technology and airplanes, foreign merchants made their trade with Manila through the shores of this bay.
The first Filipinos were Indo-Malaya migrants who established their first settlements along the bay and a nearby river (now the Pasig River). They named the place “Maynila” or “may nila” which means “there is nila here,” pertaining to the nila, a water plant that thrived in the area. The first Filipino Muslim chieftain established his seat of power along Manila Bay, and early Chinese businessmen traded with the settlers of Maynila along its banks.
Then, in 1521, the Spanish came and ruled the country for 300 long years. In 1571, Spanish authorities chose Maynila or Manila as their seat of political, military and religious power. They built Fort Santiago, a bulwark overlooking the bay to protect the city from possible foreign invasions that might be likely to come in from that strategic entry point. True enough, after three centuries, it was at the bay where the Americans landed to liberate the Philippines. The historic Battle of Manila Bay happened in 1898.
It was a one-sided battle as the US Navy sank the entire Spanish squadron. It was the beginning of the end of Spanish rule over the Philippines.
Today, the Philippines is a free country. Manila is still its capital city, and Filipinos are free to enjoy the tranquil waves that hit Manila Bay.
It is considered one of the best natural harbors in Southeast Asia. With a total coastline of 190 km, the bay extends from the province of Bataan to the north and the province of Cavite to the south. Scattered along the shores of Bataan and Cavite are a number of beaches, resorts, foliages and volcanoes.
The most popular segment of the bay is that part in Manila where Fort Santiago, the old Spanish fort, still stands. Along the bay is a row of important and historic tourist destinations and commercial areas, which include the walled-city of Intramuros, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Star City, Coconut Palace, the United States Embassy, Manila Yacht Club, the Philippine Senate, and Manila Ocean Park.
Recently, a promenade was constructed along the bay beside Roxas Boulevard. Every day, hundreds of tourists and metro Manila residents come here to jog, stroll around, bike, skate, listen to music from live acoustic bands, sample the foods from a row of restaurants and snack areas, or simply watch the breathtaking Manila Bay sunset.
Along this 2-km walk are coconut trees, foliage, and park benches. Just a decade ago, this part of the bay was unlighted, unpaved, and was a popular hangout spot for thieves, substance-users and pimps. Today, it is well-lighted with a row of huge kaleidoscopic lamp posts. At nights, it is never without sightseers and lovers taking a romantic stroll. Another relatively new attraction along the bay is the SM Mall of Asia (MOA). Further south of Roxas Boulevard and near the coastal road to Cavite stands the third-largest mall in the world. On its Open Concert Grounds along the bay, MOA had hosts a number of international events, which include international fireworks competitions and concerts by Alicia Keys, David Archuleta and Justin Bieber.