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Alcaicería means literally the King’s market, it was the name used in old times for a silk market, composed of one or more structures and instrumentalities. During Spanish times in the Philippines alcaiceria was a building complex reserved for Chinese merchants dealing in silk and clothes besides other fresh and dry goods. You could find in it also handicraft workshops.
   The concept of alcaicería en Filipinas needs to be placed within the context of the Parian, a district segregated from the Spanish city designed as a space where ethnic Chinese lived and plied their trade and commerce. The periodic hustle and bustle of Chinese people and merchandise through the Philippines preceded the presence of Spain in the islands. There was always a considerable traffic of Chinese merchants that arrived in the Philippines in their junks and sampans between the dry months of November and May, and returned to China before the onset of the typhoon season. In the XVI Century the traffic reached one hundred vessels a year according to a report by Manila Archbishop Salazar to the King. A good number of these merchants ended up settling permanently in different points of the Philippines, mainly in Manila, maintaining their particular uses and customs, their culture and values.     
   The civil society’s general view not necessarily shared by all governors was that the Chinese population in Manila was indispensable. Having an accurate feel of the market, not only were they providers of essential goods for the Spanish colony and government, among them were also excellent craftsmen and technicians skilled in the arts without which the fabric of society could not be maintained. However, at the same time the Spanish government often looked with mistrust at a Chinese population not prone to assimilation that resorted in some instances  to civil strife, at times very bloody like in the 1603, 1630, 1686 and 1745 rebellions, and that could join forces with hostile fleets, Chinese and otherwise, as it happened several times.
   Other than a few massive expulsions like in 1775 and 1762, the government policy to handle the Chinese polpulation had two master lines. One was to promote the conversion of Chinese to Christianity by Spanish missionaries, expecting that Christian Chinese would be more loyal and easier to assimilate. And the other was to keep the Chinese population outside of the walled city, developing villages called parians tha were always within sight and within gun range of the city walls. Besides houses and eventually churches and hospitals, market centers called alcaicerias would be built to host Chinese businesses and shops. The parian system was complemented by ordinances curtailing the movement of Chinese within the city walls, allowing them to enter and stay only during day time and requiring them to leave by night fall when the city gates close. The alcaiceria was a kind of commercial center designed with shops and warehouses holding local and imported goods; it also provided lodging accommodations for the transient Chinese that would rather not stay in their sampans.
   The Manila parian met a number of vicissitudes due to frequent fires and the destruction wrought by earthquakes and tropical storms. Several parians were built through time northeast of the walled city by the left bank of Pasig River like the city itself. After the bitter experience of the British invasion and subsequent widespread destruction of Manila in the XVIII Century and to provide the city with better land defences, a decision was taken to level all land north and west of the walls including the parian, which was moved to the villages of Binondo and Tondo across the river from the city and within easy reach of Fort Santiago’s guns. An essential component of the parian was the market or alcaiceria generally built as two or more rows of two-story buildings where independent units would provide the facilities for buying and selling stores, workshops and the necessary warehouses.

This partial Manila map dated 1766 shows in right upper corner the village of Parian with all its streets and buildings. The plan legend says that the "parian structures  mostly made of masonry are  detrimental for the stronghold." This partial map dated 1772 clearly shows that the "parian suburb" as is described in the map legend, is almost free of  built structures. By that time the parian  had been moved to Binondo on the opposite river bank.

Between 1756 and 1760 a new alcaiceria named after San Fernando was built by order of Governor General Pedro Manuel de Arandía y Santisteban. It was a very singular building on account of its octagonal plant and the security features incorporated in its design by architect Fray Lucas de Jesús María, a Recolect lay brother. The graphic below shows a well-annotated full plan of the alcaiceria. It was named of San Fernando because of the street of the same name where it was built, between it and the river. The street, not shown in the plan, would be along the left wall. The main gate, labelled no. 10 in the plan, opened to a space where San Fernando Street widened in the proximity of the river. The other gate of the alcaiceria was at the end of an internal alley and opened to a river dock and a minor landing just across Fuerte Santiago that would be right of the plan
   The alcaiceria had living quarters on the upper floor above the shops to provide lodgings for Chinese traders that began arriving in the city aboard sampans on November every year and would all return to China on May at the beginning of the rainy season.

Epigraph: Map of the Alcaicería being built in the place called Estacada or Barraca,
a river bar in this stronghold, whose castle, being on the oposite bank, overlooks said building.

Archivo General de Indias. Click plan to reproduce in large format.

 Alcaiceria de San Fernando, scale model by Centro de Estudios y Experimentacion de Obras Publicas, Madrid..

Virtual Museum CEDEX. Click plan to reproduce in large format..

Below is a 1772 Manila street map. partially reproduced earkier in the page, whose original includes a extense legend not reproduced here. Entry 39 in the numeric map legend says: "Real Alcaicería covered by Castillo (Fuerte) de  Santiago, where the gentile Chinese dwell and trade." A complete map with legend can be viewed by clicking the map below.
   The legend has two points worth noting. One is the element of security in its location. The complex is under the cover ("esta dominado") by been near Fort Santiago and its guns, merele one hundred meters acros on the oposite river bank. The other is the element of function. In alcaiceria lived and traded the gentile Chinese, that is the merchants who yealy arrived by sampan in Manila on November and returned to China by May. Living in the alcaiceria also ensured further control over them. As pointed earlier the Spanish authorities were very alert to the dangers posed by a Chinese population, transient or permanent, that because of their language and culture maintained a certain hermetism, often intentional and hostile, in regard to the population of Spanish and naturals.
   The mention that the alcaiceria served both as a center of lodging and trade for the gentile Chinese is found also in several other Manila maps of the time.
For instance, a 1762 map describes it as "Real Alcaiceria de San Fernando where the gentile Chinese who arrive every year by sampan dwell and ply their commerce.

Epígraph: Plan of the city and stronghold of Manila, capital of the Island of Luzon.
It includes the proposal for its better defense addreesed to Your Majesty by Lieitenant General don Juan Martin Zermeño.

Archivo General de Indias. Click map to view it in large format.

What happened to Alcaiceria de San Fernando?
A map of Manila dated 1849 labels “Real Aduana,” Royal Customs House, the octagonal lot occupied earlier by Alcaiceria de San Fernando, which after a fire damaged it in the 1850s never recovered its function.
   On the site of the old alcaiceria raises today the Pedro Guevara Elementary School, which has expanded its facilities through the years. During the excavations for expansion, several historical artefacts were unearthed that attest to its past, the most significant being an original marker carved in Chinese granite commemorating its completion in 1762. In 2012, the schookl joined efoorts with the City Government of Manila to organize an exhibit of the artefacts and in June of 2015 the marker was transferred to the National Museum where it is now on public exhibit (see photo at right.) Of the building itself, only two walls joined at an angle remain, part of the old external octagonal perimeter.

Web Page by Jose R. Perdigon
Last Updated Sept., 2016
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