The once quiet and peaceful Islamic City of Marawi came into the limelight when the armed men shrouded in black took siege on the city, after that, initiating the months-long war within its borders. Fear and terror reigned in every nook and cranny of what is known now as Ground Zero. Exchanges of bullets and bombing became the daily norm as both forces tried to take hold of the city. Marawi City became the daily headline in all traditional media outlets and avenues.
After months of heavy warfare, the siege ended and left the city in a dire state The eerily quiet Ground Zero turned to be a cemetery of the armed conflicts. More bodies and bombs are cleared. The long war crept deep within the minds of the Filipinos and the usual stereotyping that “Mindanao is not safe narratives” came in waves and remained a status quo mindset of the locals, especially people from Luzon.
Eventually, the City opened its borders to its residents and allowed humanitarian activities to help Marawi City recover. Until the last building was cleared, ultimately, the City resumed its tourism activities.
YES! Marawi City is certainly safe to visit and explore its tourism potential. The lone Islamic city in the Philippines is one of the best destinations to learn and understand genuinely the Muslim culture and faith. Living in Luzon since birth usually gave me the stereotyped image of Muslims as war freaks. But visiting Marawi City, gave me an understanding that the Marawi locals and the rest of the Muslim population are peace-loving people. It is totally different from what the rest of the population says negatively about the local Muslims. It will truly give you a deeper perspective and respect towards them. Additionally, the colourful and glittery culture will be awe. Their truly unique way of life is something to learn from, too. Their way of life, the city and urban life, the rural life is just similar to have we have across our own archipelago, just add glitter to it – that is how I largely observe.
ABOUT THE CITY
Marawi City is the capital of the Lanao Del Sur Province, which is part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao or BARMM. The city is perched on a high-altitude area surrounding the northern shores of Lake Lanao, hence, the cooler temperature here. During our visit at noon, we never perspired even exploring under the sun, thanks to the cool breeze seemingly ever-present.
I can compare Marawi City to Baguio City sans the pine trees and greater traffic. Due to its altitude, some parts of the city experience thick fogging especially during the afternoon, and rain showers are often.
The main language spoken in Marawi City is Maranao or Meranaw. The population is the majority of Islam Faith and visiting here would indeed require modesty in terms of clothing.
The common intercity connection or jump-off point is via Iligan City, which is about an hour’s drive away.
CONNECTIVITY AND TRAVEL GUIDE
The nearest airport is via the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental. While seaport entries are via Iligan City or Cagayan de Oro City. Other alternatives are Claveria or Tangub City if sailing from Visayas.
Other airport entries are via Ozamis City or Pagadian City, then take buses bound to Cagayan de Oro but alight at Iligan City.
Once at Iligan City, you have to note there are two Integrated Terminals there. The North/West Bound is located in Tambo and the South Bound is located at the NSC Grounds. You have to reach the South Bound Integrated Terminal where the Marawi Bound public vehicles are located. You can choose to travel via a jeepney or air-conditioned van. Travel time from Iligan City to Marawi City is approximately about one hour.
In order to maximize your Marawi City exploration, it is best to coordinate your activity with the Marawi City Tourism Office. Send them an e-mail indicating your intention and date of arrival. Soon as you arrive in the city, tourism staff shall be welcoming you and guide you through the labyrinths of Marawi. If you do not have a private vehicle, they can arrange your vehicle type of choice without costing you much. I knew some travellers who did backdoor visits and paid up to thrice much on chartering their transport of choice.
During our visit, we are guided by Mam Jho and Mam Rose. It is crucial to really have their services to have the best insights as you roam around. They would also assure of safety and formal access to various sites within the city borders.
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PLACES WE VISITED
RANAW RESTAURANT (Homegrown Must-try Restaurant)
Before we explored the city, we had our early lunch at Ranaw Restaurant. The location of the restaurant is right in front of Senator-aspirant Samira Gutoc. It is an open-air restaurant serving Meranao Cuisine.
CITY HALL GROUNDS
After which we proceeded to the City Tourism Office where we logged into their Visitors Logbook. After which, we marvelled at different art displays around the office.
After, we visited the City Hall Ground Floor where all of the mayors’ portraits of Marawi City are on display. We also visited the Lower Ground floor where a replica of the city is placed. It is here where Ms. Rose and Ms. Jho explained to us our itinerary for the day, which gives me more excitement.
The Grand SARIMANOK SPORTS STADIUM
One of the clear signs of recovery in new infrastructure in the city. We were given access to the ongoing construction of their biggest sports centre – the Sarimanok Sports Stadium. It features a rubberized running path and a 3,700 spectator seating capacity with a view of the great Lake Lanao. Isn’t it a great consolation while marvelling at any sports activity there?
During our visit, there are stage installations at the grass open pit and “pasandalan“. The Pasandalan are huge flags designed with yellow, green and red colour accents typical of a Muslim style.
Interestingly, we met the wife of the project manager of this stadium at Lantay View Mountain Resort in Zamboanga del Norte.
Located at the Northern Shores of Lake Lanao, this unmistakably Green Mosque is one of the largest in Marawi City. Its very location is indeed a picture point. Apart from its picturesque facade and tall minaret, the lake as its backdrop is one that tops it all. We set foot here at around the hours of noon, but the cold breeze and high altitude kept us comfortable.
The Lagoon is right beside this masjid. From the road, you can view the fish pens and the surrounding hills akin to a crater.
Being the second largest lake in the Philippines, it is one of the important freshwater bodies in Mindanao. It is source of life and livelihood of the communities surrounding it. Lake Lanao also helps control the climate, giving Marawi City a more comfortable climate compared to the lowlands and coastal cities.
A good trivia about Lanao Lake is that is listed with only 20 Ancient Lakes in the world. It means that the lake has held water for more than a million years. Lake Lanao’s origin is believed to be volcanic.
Lake Lanao has four tributaries and a sole outlet river draining to Iligan Bay. This ancient lake also helped shaped the mythical beliefs of the Meranaw community.
The “GROUND ZERO”
The Marawi “Ground Zero” symbolizes the heroism of our soldiers and a permanent scar within the Marawi Society. It depicts the fear and terror, seemingly, a permanent scar evidenced by the artillery holes amongst the dead concrete walls within the zone.
Soon as you enter its premises, an eerie placid state starts to cloak your very consciousness. Most of its streets are void of any human activity nor presence. The war torn buildings and abode are veiled with faces of the current city administration and other remnants of previous elections. The area is open and accessible general to the public currently. There are no guards or armed forces manning its boundaries. The streets are just made alive by the roarings of private vehicles passing through.
Nature already find its way around the zone and crept to every walls and bare soil. Looking from higher ground, there is much more greeneries than before. We actually never stopped and took photo of any ruins, we just sped through. This is a different kind of experience. The deafening silence of a once bustling sector now seemingly rotting and rusting.
Being at this area always led me deep in my imagination. Listening to individual’s experience of siege and being at the very sight send a creepy hair raising feeling. If only the walls could speak the horrors it encounter during the climactic war, and the apparent permanent horrifyig and atrocious memories deep within the consciousness of its survivors.
Leaving the Ground Zero left a dent in my travel memoir. It was indeed a different perception. I had one wish – to make the Ground Zero alive again.
Marawi’s RIZAL PARK
Between the edge of “Ground Zero” and the new sports stadium is Marawi’s own version of Rizal Park. It is perched on a natural platform with a commanding view of Lanao Lake. In the middle of the pavement, the park is the historical marker and statue of Jose Rizal. A noticeable feature of the park is a minaret ruin studded with bullet holes. It is known that a body of a female sniper from the terrorist group is found here during the clearing operation by the Philippine Military. Adjacent to the open area is two public buildings – the new convention centre and the upcoming School of Living Traditions. The building facades are designed with unique architectural features – the Panolong. It is a type of house ornament with an intricately carved design on a wooden beam jutting out from columns. These Panolong are typically found at a Maranao Traditional Home called Torongan.
The best time to visit is during sunset when colder breeze starts blowing the natural high platform. You can get also the amazing effect of the golden hour and have your photoshoot there with the backdrop of downtown from afar. From that very park, you can view the towering mountain ranges surrounding the massive Lake Lanao. Only on a sunny fine day will let you clearly view the southern portions.
THE NEW GOLDEN MOSQUE OF MARAWI
Standing glimmering within the midst of the eerily quiet Ground Zero is the newly renovated Marawi Grand Mosque. It is rebranded as the Golden Mosque of Marawi. On a fine sunny day, the huge golden dome gleams against the ghastly ruins surrounding it. Being an iconic structure, the Golden Mosque became part of the usual Marawi Tourism Circuit. It is twin minarets and the huge central dome are truly amazing works of wonder. The colourful and intricate Muslim-inspired details are the ones that make the structure splendid and awe-inspiring.
As of posting, it is considered the biggest place of worship for Islam in the Philippines. The mosque can house about 20,000 worshippers, isn’t that indeed a huge number?
This bridge indeed looks mundane and similar to most bridges around the country. In recent history, this bridge is pivotal during the siege era. The bridge was known to be the vital connection between the war area and the rest of Marawi City. It is believed that many died here, both trying to flee or entering the zone. Understanding its grim history, standing and sauntering at this very structure feels strange, eerie and uncanny. Passing vehicles, regardless of size and weight, would cause the bridge to shake, adding up to the bizarre sense.
THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM
the Aga Khan Museum is one of the well-frequented destinations in Marawi City. The museum lets you enter the historical, cultural and religious aspects of the Islamic City. It is a must visit should visit the city to give a glimpse of their way of life. Thanks to its two-storey structure, the museum building is able to house heaps of meaningful and significant artefacts you can learn much and marvel at. The local artistry, the carvings, the glittery fashion and the brasswares are the ones that caught my attention. I really love visiting museums, after each visit provides a great deal of information and historical anecdotes that would surely enrich my travel experience in Marawi City.
Marawi City produces one of the top quality talents and graduates from Mindanao, thanks to the Mindanao State University – Marawi Campus which indeed provides quality education. The MSU in Marawi is located at a higher altitude and there are portions of the school grounds that have sweeping views of Lake Lanao. The school grounds are open to the public. You can saunter around and have a picnic in open spaces. There are many stores and snack kiosks around. Expect the breeze to be colder in the afternoon since of its altitude.
It is usually the last destination in a day’s itinerary since there is a public transportation vehicle located here if you wish to exit the city via public transportation.
TRYING DODOL – A Local Delicacy
For tourists, a black delicacy seems not appetizing. Dodol is a local delicacy made from glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and brown sugar. There are many delicacies being sold city-wide, it is easily recognizable thanks to the catch colourful wrappings that are easily identifiable. Their price is really economical and it is best as take-home treats for your friends and loved ones to taste and try
SOME COMMON MARANAO WORDS
Malingkat – Beautiful
Mapiya Y Nanam – good taste / delicious
Sukran – Thank you
Mapiya kapipita – Good morning
Mapiya maudto – Good noon
Mapiya gagawi-i – Good evening
Our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Marawi City Tourism Office, headed by Ms. Princess, and her team, Ms. Rose and Ms. Jho for making our Marawi Tour seamless, enjoyable, full of insights and truly, memorable. Thank you to Bobby Fabayos for the aerial shots.
2 thoughts on “YOU SHOULD VISIT MARAWI CITY: Here’s why”
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Thanks so much for the unwavering support khaleesi Mel
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