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20 Philippine Landmarks Then & Now That Show How Much The Country Has Changed

Philippine landmarks then & now

Independent since 1898, the Philippines has seen through more than a hundred years as a country. And this history is evident in some key Philippine landmarks that have endured the challenges of the 20th century to remain standing in the present times.

Let’s take a look at how much these landmarks have changed through these old and new photos of landmarks in the Philippines.

1. Malacañang Palace

Philippine landmarks - Malacañang PalaceImage adapted from: Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia 

The official residence of the President of the Philippines, the Malacañang Palace hadn’t always been what it is today. It was first built as a country house by a Spanish nobleman, Don Luis Rocha, in 1750. The Malacañang Palace only became a property of the state in 1825, 75 years after it was built, when the Spanish government acquired it to serve as the summer residence of Governor Generals. 

From being a wooden structure, the palace is now a sturdy, historical piece of architecture made of poured concrete, steel girders, and trusses. Major improvements including the construction of the famous Pasig River facade happened during Manuel L. Quezon’s presidency. 

Philippine landmarks - Malacañang Palace Reception Hall
Image credit: Malacañang 

The Reception Hall is one of the historic rooms of Malacañang, built during the American Period in the Philippines. 

Philippine landmarks - Malacañang Palace Reception Hall
Image credit: Malacañang

It’s still remarkable for its grand chandeliers, but today it also features the official portraits of Philippine presidents. 

Address: J.P. Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila

2. Ninoy Aquino International Airport (formerly Manila International Airport)

Philippine landmarks - NAIAImage adapted from: Discovering the Old Philippines: People, Places, Heroes, Historical Events, Google Maps

The current structure of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the main international gateway of the Philippines, can be traced back to 1961, when it opened as the Manila International Airport. Designed by Architect Federico Ilustre, it was then renamed NAIA in 1987 in remembrance of the assassination of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on its tarmac. 

Philippine landmarks - NAIA
Image credit: Public Domain Pictures 

MIA enjoyed success in the middle of the 20th century as it was often named as one of the best and most profitable airports in Asia. This success was marred by a fire incident in 1972 that destroyed the four-story building and killed six people. 

Philippine landmarks - MIA
Image credit: Retro Filipino 

It saw its renaissance in 1981 when the Terminal 1 we’re familiar with was built to accommodate the country’s growing numbers of international passengers. The terminal serves all international flights coming into Manila, and is now interconnected to three other terminals. 

Address: Pasay, Metro Manila

3. Fuente Osmeña Circle

Philippine landmarks - Fuente Osmeña CircleImage adapted from: Sinulog Foundation Inc., Cebu Tourism Office

Inaugurated in 1912, the Fuente Osmeña Circle is a famous rotunda in Cebu. It was named after former Cebuano President Sergio Osmeña.

Philippine landmarks - Fuente Osmeña Circle
Image credit: Pexels 

Before, the circle, remarkable for its fountain, wasn’t surrounded by many buildings. Today, it’s surrounded by big establishments in the heart of Cebu such as hotels, malls, restaurants, banks, and fast-food chains.

Address: Cebu City, Cebu

4. Escolta 

Philippine landmarks - EscoltaThe Regina Building is shown on the left, and the First United Building on the right of this view of Escolta
Image adapted from: Retroscope, Wikimedia Commons

Escolta is a historic street in Manila standing today as a reminder of the city’s glamorous cosmopolitan history. It was considered the Fifth Avenue or the Champs-Elysees of the East during its heyday, once the home of the Philippines’ largest banks and luxury stores. 

While its glory days are over, some of its most famous buildings still remain, such as the Regina Building and the First United Building that serve as its two symbolic gateways.

Philippine landmarks - HUB: Make LabImage credit: HUB: Make Lab

The HUB: Make Lab is also situated on the ground floor of the First United Building. Established by Filipino creatives in 2016, it keeps the soul of the historic street alive in its various souvenir stores and artsy coffee shops. 

Philippine landmarks - Capitol theater
Image credit: Paulo Alcazaren 

But the Capitol Theater, built in 1935 and a fine example of Art Deco architecture, has been demolished in June 2020. As the Philippines has a heritage law (R.A. 10066) meant to protect architectural icons over 50 years old, we hope historical landmarks can be spared this fate and preserved in future.

Philippine landmarks - Capitol Theater
Image credit: Calixto San Geronimo Ochenta 

Address: Escolta Street, Manila

5. Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño

Philippine landmarks - Basilica Minore del Sto. NiñoImage adapted from: Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu, Guide to the Philippines

Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu was built in 1565 and has gone through three restorations. The current baroque structure we can visit dates all the way back to 1737.

Philippine landmarks - Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons 

Aside from its history, the basilica houses the Santo Niño, the country’s oldest Catholic icon that Ferdinand Magellan brought to the shores of Cebu in the 1500s. The famous Sinulog festival of the region is held on every 3rd Sunday of January in honor of this figure. 

Address: Osmena Boulevard, Cebu City

6. Davao City Hall

Philippine landmarks - Davao City HallImage adapted from: Davao City by Battad, Davao City

One of the oldest buildings in Davao, the Davao City Hall has seen the southern city throughout most of the 20th century, first constructed as a Municipal Hall in 1926 by the US government. The present structure was built in 1947 after the original building was destroyed during the war.

Philippine landmarks - Davao City Hall
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons 

In present times, it’s now considered a heritage building, as it’s even older than Davao’s status as a city by 10 years. 

Address: San Pedro St., Davao City

7. Manila City Hall

Philippine landmarks - Manila City HallImage adapted from: Pilipinas Restrotalgia, Wikimedia Commons

Standing proud at the heart of Manila, the Manila City Hall has been the city’s key symbol, designed by architect Antonio Toledo in 1939. 

Philippine landmarks - Manila City HallImage adapted from: Wikimedia Commons

Aside from housing the local government, the hall is famous for its clock tower and overall design that resembles a coffin when seen from overhead. Legend has it that it was made to look like a coffin to pay tribute to those who died in the Battle of Manila in 1945. 

Philippine landmarks - Manila City HallImage credit: Wikimedia Commons 

Address: Padre Burgos Ave., Ermita, Manila

8. Boracay

Philippine landmarks - BoracayImage adapted from: Boracay Island, Wikimedia Commons 

Boracay is one of the most famous beach resort islands in the Philippines, often lauded for its white sand beaches. The earliest recorded history of the island dates back centuries ago to 1521, when it was only inhabited by indigenous residents of the Ati tribe.

Philippine landmarks - BoracayForeign tourists in Boracay in 1985
Image credit: Wikipedia

Boracay remained a secret even in contemporary times, as it was only in 1978 when it was introduced to the world. German writer Jens Peter called Boracay “paradise on earth,” attracting curious travelers from around the world.

Philippine landmarks - BoracayImage credit: Wikimedia Commons 

As it gradually gained popularity, the once quiet remote island began attracting millions of tourists annually and is dotted by various businesses such as hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants.

Philippine landmarks - BoracayImage credit: Addie Pobre

Address: Aklan, Western Visayas

9. Sheikh Makhdum Mosque

Philippine landmarks - Sheikh Makhdum MosqueImage adapted from: Wikimapia, edmon canoy

Sheik Makhdum Mosque is the oldest mosque in the Philippines, existing ever since 1380. It was built under the supervision of Arab missionary Sheikh Makhdum who introduced Islam to our shores, and whose remains are buried in the mosque compound. 

Philippine landmarks - Sheikh Makhdum Mosque
Two of the mosque’s four original wooden pillars, pictured on either side of a worshipper.
Image adapted from: @magnus.exurcismus

The original four wooden pillars of the mosque are still preserved even after six hundred years and are displayed inside. 

Address: Simunul, Tawi-Tawi

10. Manila Cathedral

Philippine landmarks - Manila CathedralImage adapted from: Cornell University, Wikimedia Commons 

Near the Manila City Hall, the Manila Cathedral is one of the historic city’s enduring legacies. Its construction goes as far back as 1571 when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi allocated a piece of land for a church named La Purísima Immaculada Concepción that is now where the Manila Cathedral stands. The original church was only built with nipa, wood, and bamboo. 

The oldest surviving photos of the cathedral show that it resembled the present structure we have now, but was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1880. It would continue to endure a cycle of rebuilding and destruction until 1945, when it was turned to dust during the war.

Philippine landmarks - Manila CathedralImage credit: Manila Cathedral

After post-war reconstruction, the Manila Cathedral we see today is a Neo-Romanesque structure blended with Renaissance and modern influences and was designed under the supervision of architect Fernando Ocampo.

Philippine landmarks - Manila CathedralImage credit: Manila Cathedral 

Address: Beaterio St, Cabildo St, Intramuros, Manila

11. Jones Bridge

Philippine landmarks - Jones BridgeImage adapted from: Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Commons 

The Jones Bridge is a famous bridge in Manila, not only for its importance to commuters, but for its fine example of architectural beauty that can rival bridges in Europe. Architect Juan Arellano designed it at the dawn of the 20th century in 1916, after the Bridge of Spain (also known as Puente de España), that once stood parallel to it was damaged by a flood in 1914.

Philippine landmarks - Jones Bridge
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons 

It was first reconstructed in 1946 after it fell victim to the destruction of World War II.

Philippine landmarks - Jones BridgeImage credit: Wikipedia 

For years afterwards, its Parisian beauty was replaced with a plainer design. But in 2019, the bridge returned to a design closer to its original structure when the City Government of Manila rehabilitated it for around P20 million. 

Address: Binondo, Manila

12. Smart Araneta Coliseum

Philippine landmarks - Smart Araneta ColiseumImage adapted from: Batang Pinoy – Ngayon at Noon, Wikipedia

Philippine landmarks - Smart Araneta ColiseumImage credit: Wikimedia Commons

The OG coliseum of event gatherings in the Philippines is the Smart Araneta Coliseum better known as the “The Big Dome”. Since its opening in 1960, it’s been recognized not only in the country but also internationally, as it was the biggest covered coliseum in the world from around 1960-63 and was also the largest dome in Asia from its opening in 1960 until 2001.

Philippine landmarks - Smart Araneta Coliseum
The Thrilla in Manila boxing fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier was held in the Araneta Coliseum on October 1, 1975
Image credit: The Kevin Pableo

The Smart Araneta Coliseum is the home of basketball associations in the Philippines, serving as the main venue for most national basketball games. But it has also hosted other historic events such as boxing events with legends Gabriel ‘Flash’ Elorde and Muhammad Ali, concerts with performances from Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga, and religious events led by Pope John Paul II. 

Address: General Roxas Ave, Cubao, Quezon City

13. UP Diliman’s Oblation Statue

Philippine landmarks - UP Oblation Image adapted from: UP Diliman Office of the Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs, UP Diliman Information Office 

The Oblation, a nude figure of a man with outstretched arms and open hands, is the most recognizable and enduring symbol of the University of the Philippines. 

Philippine landmarks - UP Diliman Oblation
Image credit: Andrew Moore 

National Artist Guillermo Tolentino’s masterpiece was made to be a tangible representation of two of Jose Rizal’s writings, Mi Ultimo Adios and To the Filipino Youth, but through the years, after it was transferred to its current location at U.P. Diliman in 1949, it has also been used in expressions of dissent, social criticism, public service, nationalism, and patriotism.

Address: Diliman, Quezon City

14. Ayala Avenue, Makati

Philippine landmarks - Ayala AvenueImage adapted from: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, Wikipedia 

Back in the 1960s, the Ayala Avenue was set to be the Wall Street of the Philippines as banks and businesses started setting up on this major street. Even then, it was just dotted with a few buildings such as the brutalist beauty of Makati Stock Exchange and had little traffic, with cars freely driving along. 

Today, it’s certainly our financial hub, as some of the tallest financial buildings in the Philippines, such as the 52-storey PBCOM Tower and the 46-storey RCBC Plaza Yuchengco Tower, are also situated along this avenue.

Philippine landmarks - Ayala Avenue
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons 

Address: Makati, Metro Manila

15. Makati Stock Exchange Center

Philippine landmarks - Makati Stock Exchange CenterImage adapted from: Retroscope, Wikipedia 

One of the first buildings in Ayala Avenue, the Makati Stock Exchange is the brutalist masterpiece of National Artist Architect Leandro Locsin. It began its trading operations in 1963 as the rival of the Manila Stock Exchange until the two merged as the Philippine Stock Exchange in 1992.

The Philippine Stock Exchange, our country’s official headquarters of stock trading, is now located at the Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

Philippine landmarks - Makati Stock Exchange Center
Image credit: Google Maps 

These days, Ayala Land Offices continues to preserve the building’s heritage by maintaining its historic facade while renovating its interiors and building services. It now offers various amenities such as executive lounges, function rooms, and office spaces. 

Address: Ayala Avenue, Makati

16. Roxas Boulevard

Philippine landmarks - Roxas BoulevardImage adapted from: Retroscope, Wikimedia Commons

The Roxas Boulevard is a historic thoroughfare stretching along the shores of Manila Bay. It traces its origin to the dawn of the 1900s as part of architect Daniel Burnham’s beautification plan for Manila.

Philippine landmarks - Roxas Boulevard
Image credit: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries 

Before it became Roxas Boulevard in honor of former President Manuel Roxas in the 1960s, it had gone through two names first – Cavite Boulevard during the time of Burnham and later on as Dewey Boulevard in honor of the US admiral George Dewey.

Philippine landmarks - Roxas Boulevard
Image credit: Wikipedia 

During its early years, it was the opposite of the bustling metropolitan boulevard we know. It was a serene stretch of trees and water, saved for a few residential homes nearby and sorbetes vendors.

As time passed, the boulevard transformed into a busy thoroughfare lined by important establishments such as government offices, embassies, and Rizal Park.

Address: Roxas Boulevard, Manila

17. Manila Hotel

Philippine landmarks - Manila HotelImage adapted from: Newberry, Manila Hotel 

Hailed as the “finest hotel in the Far East” during its opening in 1912, the Manila Hotel lives on till this day. It’s situated across Roxas Boulevard, overseeing Manila Bay, the fortress of Corregidor, the walls of Intramuros, and the sprawling Luneta Park.

Philippine landmarks - Manila Hotel
Image credit: Lou Gopal 

Some of its earliest facilities, such as its opulent lobby, remain. The history of the space is obvious in its arches, as they still resemble what the architect William Parsons conceived. 

Philippine landmarks - Manila HotelImage credit: Manila Hotel 

Address: One Rizal Park, Manila

18. SM North EDSA

Philippine landmarks - SM North EDSAImage adapted from: SM Investments, Wikimapia 

There was once a time where there was only one SM supermall in the Philippines. And this was the SM North EDSA, SM’s first mall that opened in 1985.

Since its initial size of 125,000 square meters, it has grown to become one of the biggest malls in the Philippines that draws hundreds of thousands of shoppers per day. 

Philippine landmarks - SM North EDSAImage credit: SM Investments 

It has expanded with our mall culture, with its several developments such as the SM Annex in 1989, the Block in 2006, and in more recent times, the Sky Garden in 2009.

Philippine landmarks - SM North EDSAImage credit: SM City North EDSA 

Address: North Avenue cor. EDSA, Quezon City

19. Session Road, Baguio

Philippine landmarks - Session RoadImage adapted from: Retroscope, Baguio Midland Courier

From the Luneta Hill down to the Baguio City Market, Session Road in Baguio is a two-way thoroughfare at the heart of Summer Capital of the Philippines lined with commercial centers.

It traces its origin all the way back to 1904, when it was a dirt road that led to the then Baden-Powell Hall (now known as the Baden Powell Inn) where the First Session of the Second Philippine Commission was held from April to June 1904.

Philippine landmarks - Antipolo Building
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Establishments here come and go, such as the Star Cafe which opened in 1940 but ended its run 74 years later, in 2014. Some remain, albeit with obvious renovations, such as the Antipolo Building that was the site of Baguio Colleges when it opened in 1946. The college is now known as the University of the Cordilleras and the building serves as a rented space for various businesses.

Philippine landmarks - Antipolo Building
Image credit: Google Maps

Address: Session Road, Baguio City

20. Rizal Park

Philippine landmarks - Rizal ParkImage adapted from: National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Wikimedia Commons

The Rizal Park is perhaps the de facto symbol of Philippine nationhood, a memorial and tomb built to honor the National Hero Jose P. Rizal. Rizal’s figure, carved in bronze in front of an obelisk, stands guard over the city since its inception more than a hundred years ago in 1913. 

Philippine landmarks - Rizal ParkImage credit: Wikimedia Commons 

The park has seen various historical events held in the country such as World Youth Day in 1995. On more casual days, it’s a favorite recreation spot among Filipinos looking to unwind. 

Philippine government officials pay respect to the national hero’s monument every December 30, or Rizal Day. 

Address: Ermita, Manila

Historical Philippine landmarks then and now

We hope that these Philippine landmarks that are embedded in our heritage continue to be preserved as well as possible.

More than physical structures, they are fine examples of architectural beauty, tiding through many transformative events of history to emerge today as symbols of our communities and nationhood.

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Cover image adapted from: Sinulog Foundation Inc., Cebu Tourism Office