LANAO DEL SUR | The Infamous Islamic City of Marawi ~ A Day Tour

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Mindanao Islamic Center Mosque in Marawi City

What an old man said to me while lazing around Linamon beach was still fresh on my mind as our vehicle wended its way through the tree-lined uphill road to Marawi City; he says that the people of Luzon are afraid to go to Mindanao, while the people of Mindanao are in turn afraid to go to Marawi City.

Mindanao KM 0 Marker in Marawi City

And yet, there we were, my companions from Iligan City’s Waterfalling Adventure Tour, finally exhausted of trekking across the city’s many waterfalls decided to pay a brief visit to one of the most feared places in Mindanao. Being a neophyte Mindanao traveler, I did have my misgivings about the trip, to say the least.

Mindanao Fabric in Marawi City

As it turned out, one of my companions is a professor at Marawi’s Mindanao State University—a considered safe haven from the city’s dangerous streets. At least we have with us someone as close to a local to guide us around the city.

Well, I guess it was really now or never—I may never get a chance to visit the infamous city north of Iligan ever again.


The Road to Marawi City

Getting to Marawi from Iligan City is easy enough. Vans plying the Iligan-Marawi route are readily available at Iligan’s South Bound Terminal in Camague. Since we were quite a big group, we filled up one of the FXs queuing the terminal to capacity. Speaking in local dialects, my friends found that our driver hails from Marawi and he’s offering to be our tour guide for a reasonable fee.

Knowing the reputation of Marawi City, I knew we shouldn’t really give our trust so easily. But I guess, there’s strength in numbers, so we did.


The Capitol Mosque in Marawi City

Marawi City used to be the capital of the now divided Lanao Province. Point in fact, Mindanao’s okir-inspired Kilometer Zero is located in the city (map). Its populace is ninety percent Muslims, quite apt with its official name, which is the Islamic City of Marawi. There is probably no place with a higher ratio of Muslims than in Marawi and it is apparent by the number of graceful mosques that pierce its skyline.

Colorful Textiles in Marawi City Market

The people of Marawi City are called Maranaos and there’s no better way to sample their culture than by going to their marketplace, the Padian in Banggolo District (map).

To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive in visiting it since we would be totally exposed to the locals. Most people I’ve talked with said that the Maranaos can easily tell visitors from the locals by simply looking at them. But it turns out my fears were unfounded. The market traders received our group quite warmly and even let us bargain for their wares.

Colorful Textiles in Marawi City Market

One cannot help but be overwhelmed by the sheer colors swirling inside Marawi City’s market; scarves, malongs, hijabs, and other vibrant textiles line the narrow pathways of the market. It wasn’t soon before everyone in the group is carrying a bag or two of colorful fabrics.

Mindanao State University in Marawi City

Next on our itinerary is the sprawling Mindanao State University (map). Established in 1961, MSU Main, as the locals call it, is the largest campus of the Mindanao State University system. It is elevated 2,800 feet above sea level giving it a nippy atmosphere similar to that of Baguio City.


Mindanao State University in Marawi City

MSU’s grassy rolling hills, lush greens and cool atmosphere makes for pleasurable walks along its meandering roads. Our friend who teaches in the university says it’s pretty safe to walk along its thoroughfares but still advises us to limit it only during the daytime.

Mindanao State University in Marawi City

Inside the campus, one can see Lake Lanao from afar. It is said that the Maranaos got their name from the lake itself, being pronounced as Ranao in their dialect. The lake is considered as one of the fifteen ancient lakes in the world, one that has continually survived for a million years without ever drying up.

Mindanao State University in Marawi City

For those wanting to stay overnight at Marawi City, your best bet is to get your lodging inside the MSU campus where it is safest. The Marawi Resort Hotel (map) offers standard cottages for as low as ₱1,500.00 a night; a traditional Torogan matrimonial room would only cost you ₱1,800.00, and a two-bedroom duplex, ₱3,000.00.

Mindanao State University's Aga Kahn Museum in Marawi City

One of the more interesting structures inside the Mindanao State University is the Aga Khan Museum of Islamic Arts (map). The simple austere-white building houses historical artifacts from the south of the Philippines as well as Maranao cultural gems like indigenous artworks and cultural displays. The museum is not that large and the condition of its exhibits leaves much to be desired, but still, it’s a good place to acquaint oneself to the culture of the Maranaos.

The Marawi Resort Hotel in Marawi City

It wasn’t long before our tummies called to us. We checked out a few café’s in MSU like Mami’s Place but decided to have our lunch instead at the Marawi Resort Hotel (Ayala Hotel). We ordered platefuls of their bestseller, beef rendang, and it was absolutely fantastic.

Beef Rendang in Marawi City

It’s an Indonesian dish which is quite popular with our Muslim brethren. Cooking one traditionally takes two full hours, no wonder we waited quite a while before it was served on our table. It’s basically very tender beef cooked in coconut milk and a plethora of spices. Everything is left to evaporate until only the beef and its thick sauce remain. As a local touch, the Maranaos include palapa in their rendangs, which gives the dish a very spicy flavor.

Darangen Dolls in Marawi City

While in MSU, we met one of the more popular personalities in Marawi City, Dr. Sainuddin Malawani Moti, the creator of the Darangen Dolls. These Barbie-like dolls are dressed in traditional Maranao garbs inspired by the Maranao’s Darangen epic. Each of these doll’s regal clothing is painstakingly handcrafted and has even attained international recognition in Czech Republic’s Prague Quadrennial of Performance Space and Design.

The Mindanao Islamic Center Mosque in Marawi City

With our stomach full, we again roamed the city. We know better than to alight from our van, but we just cannot help but stop at the Ma'ahad Jamio Mindanao Al-Islamie or the Mindanao Islamic Center Mosque at the heart of the Marawi City (map).

The Mindanao Islamic Center Mosque in Marawi City

Our guide talked to someone inside the huge mosque and we were allowed to enter its hallowed halls, sans our shoes. It was my first time to enter a mosque in Mindanao, and a mosque of this stature left my jaw hanging with its sheer massiveness and stateliness.

Writings in the Mindanao Islamic Center Mosque in Marawi City

As we were going out of the mosque and started boarding our van to go back to Iligan City, I remembered another thing that the old man from Linamon said to me about Marawi City. He relates to me how he once saw the city from Lake Lanao one morning, the lake was shrouded in mist and far above the swirling whiteness, the morning light stuck Marawi City like a gleaming kingdom in the sky.

How to get to Marawi City:
From Iligan City’s South Bound Terminal, board an FX van (₱70.00) or jeepney (₱50.00) with a Marawi City signboard. Travel time is 45 minutes to 1.5 hours


Marawi City
Marawi City, Lanao Del Sur, ARMM
GPS Coordinates Map: 8.003094, 124.285078


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  1. O.M.G. I miss the place. Kudos Sir for beautifully capturing in your wordsmith my beloved MSU (and Marawi City). Daghang salamat!

    1. Glad my Marawi post brought back good memories for you Lou :)

  2. Now, this is a place one rarely gets to see! The city looks very green and quite scenic. You're fortunate to have been able to go with someone who's familiar with the place!

    1. Thanks AC, indeed we are. From what I know, it's a bit dangerous to go to Marawi without a local guide

  3. Infamous? To use that word to describe a city that you've only been to once, and have only heard bystanders' stories about warrants, in my opinion, an explanation however brief. Remember what I told you when you described the victims of the Jabida massacre in Corregidor as "mercenaries."

  4. Thank you for the comments on Marawi as well as the pictures. You are quite right about it's reputation, however. I live about 3 hours from there, but have never been. At the present time, there is a war going on in the city, and many of the sites you saw on your journey do not exist any longer. Terrorists attempted to take over the entire city and after 3 weeks, the military is still battling to eliminate them. Much of the city is destroyed and most of the population has fled. No matter what your religion, say a prayer for the refugees, as many will have lost everything when they are able to return.

    1. That is very sad and unfortunate. Hopefully the siege in Marawi would end soon. Let's all pray for Marawi.