Frutas y Plantas: Place Names in Manila


Tamarind Leaves

It is peculiar how place names are derived. In the city of Manila, it is interesting how names take root from endemic plants, fruits or the nature of the land. Take for example Quiapo. The name comes from the water hyacinth kiyapo which abounded in Quiapo’s estuaries. Its nearby district of Sampaloc comes from the tamarind trees, which sadly are no longer around, or maybe just in a mere scattering along the district’s few private gardens and street islands. Binondo comes from binundok or the once hilly terrain of the land. Pandacan was from pandanan, or the pandanus plant, the tropical plant with aromatic leaves used for cooking. Its other variety has its leaves used for making the all-around Filipino banig or mat, and bayong or basket. Nearby Paco is a nickname for the Franciscans, who administered spiritually to its citizens. But, Paco has a long history that dates back to the 17th century when it was founded as a village called Dilao, after the turmeric plant which abounded in the area. In fact, the very old district of Santa Ana was the seat of the pre-colonial kingdom of Sapa, so named after a brook or stream, referring to the nearby Pasig River. Mandaluyong comes from “may daluyong” referring to the surging sound of the river current, and Makati is from “ma kati” or the place where the river current is strong. Malate comes from maalat for the salt beds that were cultivated there. Intramuros stands on the old Maynilad kingdom of Raja Soliman. Maynilad literally means may nilad or where there is nilad. Nilad is a type of mangrove plant or scyciphora with white flowers tinged with pink . Thus, may nilad or or manilad means there is nilad or a proliferation of nilad.   Somehow the “d” at the end was dropped.  It is enlightening how etymology can give us bits of the past and how the city must have been in all its raw and natural beauty ages ago, before it has become a jungle of concrete, traffic and busy lives.


Tamarind Leaves Photo By Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Hotel de Oriente: The hotel that became a library

With Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Americans took over the Philippines, a Spanish colony.  Soldiers who came with the American troops garrisoned themselves in government and private buildings — some were converted into schools while others became offices of the new colonials.  That was the fate of the Hotel de Oriente in Manila’s district of Binondo, which was considered in the 19th century as the best hotel in the colony.  It became headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary and the American Circulating Library, the antecedent of today’s National Library of the Philippines.  It further housed the offices of the Internal Revenue, Forestry, Agriculture, Ethnological Survey, Civil Service Board, Official Gazette, Philippine Museum and Court of Customs Appeals.

The old Hotel de Oriente stood on land where the old Fabrica de Puros or old Cigar Factory of the government stood, beside the Church of Binondo and in front of the district’s main plaza known as Plaza de Binondo and much later as Plaza Calderon de la Barca.   The factory was a result of the colonial government’s entrepreneurial scheme of creating a monopoly on tobacco production in the late 18th century under Governor General Jose Basco.  The scheme became so lucrative so that for the next hundred years it became a major source of revenue for the colonial government.

When the monopoly was abolished in 1880, the old factory ceased its operation.  It was eventually left to decay and later demolished.  The land on which it stood was sold in parcels.  The lot parcels near the estero was purchased by Manuel Perez Marqueti in 1888, while the lot parcels adjacent to the church was bought by the La Insular Cigar Factory of Joaquin Santamarina in 1894.  Manuel Perez was the father of the businessmen Rafael and Luis Perez Samanillo.

On the land owned by Manuel Perez, the businessman Miguel Amatriain Armendariz established the Hotel de Oriente in 1889.  The hotel building was designed by the municipal architect of Manila Juan Jose Hervas and the actual construction was executed by the contractors Tomas de Guzman and Victorino Reyes.  The wood works in the hotel came from Jose Arriola’s  wood sawing machine factory and workshop  that was located in the nearby barrio of Meisic.    The hotel  boasted of 83 rooms and stables for 25 horses and an attic.  The walls had floral designs.  In the absence then of air conditioning, large broad-cloths or punkahs hung from the hotel ceilings which attendants would pull every now and then to provide the needed ventilation.   The hotel was one of the first buildings to be installed with a telephone line and electricity.  Malcañang’s telephone number was 1, while Hotel de Oriente’s was number 2.  For historical trivia, it was in this hotel at room number 22 that Jose Rizal stayed in 1892 after his arrival from Hong Kong.  Interestingly, his sister Narcisa  lived in a house at Calle Estraude, a street perpendicular to Plaza Calderon de la Barca.

Hotel de Oriente in front of Plaza Calderon de la Barca

Hotel de Oriente in front of Plaza Calderon de la Barca

After  Manuel Perez died on June 19, 1899  in Saigon, his wife Agustina Samanillo Fragoso inherited the property.   It was after his death that the hotel would see change of ownership many times.   Ricardo H. Andrews purchased the hotel and the land on which it stood from Perez’s widow and Amatriain.  The land was sold by the widow at 160,000 pesos and the hotel  sold by Amatriain at 25,000 pesos.  Interestingly, Cayetano S. Arellano y Lonzon was the widow’s legal representative during the negotiations.  He later became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court under American civil administration of the Philippines.

With the turnover of colonial administration to the United States, many Americans began staying in the capital’s foremost hotel.  Anna Margherita Hamm in 1899 wrote about  the hotel’s interiors and its cooking which was considered superior: …The service is first class, and the cooking admirable.  Beside the leading dishes of the French cuisine it serves the national dishes of Spain so as to captivate the most fastidious eater.  Its chicken, chile peppers and rice are a revelation to those who have never eaten that ancient Barcelona dish.  On occasions it serves tamales larger than the Mexican article with a filling made of game instead of chicken, as is the case with the latter.  Most notable of all, it dispenses a curry equal to thefinest production of Bombay or Calcutta.  Its most popular curry is one made of camerones or large prawns, and the side dishes served with it include the Bombay duck, the Macassar redfish, fired breadfruit, fried onions, granulated roast peanuts, Spanish anchovies, grated young coconut, green and red chile ribbon, mango chutney, green chutney, English pickled walnuts, English mustard pickels, and palm farina.  It is the most elaborate curry east of India, and is superior ro anything in either the United Sates or even in Europe itself.

Hotel de Oriente at the far end with La Insular building at Plaza Calderon de la Barca

Hotel de Oriente at the far end with La Insular building at Plaza Calderon de la Barca

In 1900, Walter A. Fitton bought the property from Andrews for the sum of 350,000 Mexican dollars or pesos.  On August 19, 1901, the Oriente Hotel Company Limited was created by Walter A. Fitton, John Williamson, Venancio Balbas y Ageo and Robert Wemyss Brown.  It would advertise itself to be under new American management and, during July 4 festivities, would pride itself with an elaborate and sumptuous menu.  On August 25, 1903, Fitton conveyed all  rights, title and interest at the hotel in favor of Ah Gong, a businessman who owned a store in Echague Street, Quiapo.

On August 21, 1903, the Insular Government bought the hotel and the land on which it stood for 675,000 pesos after relaying through a verbal offer  to purchase both building and lot.  It then became the house of several government offices — the American Circulating Library, Commercial Museum, the Philippine Constabulary and the Official Gazette.

During its heyday as the colony’s best hotel, the Hotel de Oriente graced Binondo’s main plaza becoming one of the district’s foremost landmarks.  Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire caused by bombs in 1944 during the Second World War.  It was razed together with its neighbors, La Insular and the Church of Binondo.


Hamm, Margherita Arlina.  America’s New Possessions and Spheres of Influence. 1899.

Hotel de Oriente. Philippine National Archives.

Hotel de Oriente in


Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year!  It is the first day of the Chinese new year and Binondo, supposedly the oldest Chinatown in the world, is once again alive.  Binondo was originally an island, known as the Isla de Binundok or Minondoc, after its hilly terrain.  The name has since been transformed to Binondo, and so has the island community been expanded to the outer fringe near the bay.  What once was Baybay, literally meaning beach, became the old barrio of Binondo, known as San Nicolas.  It is now a separate district from Binondo.

The Governor General Luis Perez de Dasmarinas purchased Binondo from a Spanish couple  Luis and Sebastiana del Valle in 1594 and offered it to the Chinese who had themselves baptized into the Catholic faith.  Baptism into the Catholic faith gave the Chinese the privilege to leave the Chinese ghetto or Parian and stay in Binondo, where they could freely mingle with the native populace and marry  native women.  This appropriated island became the site of the first settlement of Catholic Chinese who married native women and were able to engage freely in enterprise.  Binondo became the cradle of the first generation of Chinese mestizos or hybrids who had native women as their mothers and Chinese as their fathers.  To supervise them were the religious from the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans.  The settlement began to have a church which later was dedicated to San Gabriel the archangel but which later was dedicated to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.  Thus, the main road of the town came to be known as Calle Rosario, now Quintin Paredes Street, after the Virgin.

Map of Manila

Map of Manila

Puente de Binondo with Panciteria Macanista