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Published: September 28th 2011
The Taal Basilica and Park
The largest Catholic Church in the whole of Asia lies on top of a hill looking out to Balayan Bay in Taal, Batangas.
There is the heritage town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur. And there's the heirloom houses in Silay City in Negros Occidental. Both are an hour's away from Manila. By plane.
Yet just 2 hours drive south from Manila lies this heritage town of Taal, Batangas. A colonial town "frozen in time", an open museum providing a glimpse not just of how it was back in the 19th century, but of how many of our patriots lived during the Spanish occupation and through the Revolution. Declared a heritage village by the National Historical Institute, a walking tour of Taal, Batangas is certainly worth a day trip.
Having started with visits of the Taal Basilica (St. Martin de Tours Basilica
), the Caysasay Shrine
and the Sacred Well of Santa Lucia
, this trip may well be a pilgrimage. The Taal Basilica is the largest Catholic Church in the whole of Asia, and Caysasay Shrine has a wonderful story about how its revered image was found, lost, and rediscovered. The sacred well of Santa Lucia is simply the remains of what used to be a chapel --- a coral stone arch with a bas relief of the Virgin --- with
The White House
This is one of the Agoncillo houses. There are a few prominent families in Taal: the Agoncillos, Villavicencios, Gocos, Apacibles. Their affluence during the 19th century shows in their lovely ancestral houses.
spring waters claiming miraculous healing powers. Do check out this link
The White House
There are rows and rows of century-old houses of the bahay na bato
(stone houses) architecture. A walking tour transports you to the bygone days when Spaniards were all referred to as Castilla or Kastila
. Never mind that the Castilian region or Castile in Spain referred only to its northern and central region. In fact, to this day, most Spaniards are still called Kastila
by Filipinos in much the same way Caucasians are commonly, and erroneously, called Americano
The White House is actually the ancestral house of Felipe Agoncillo
, a Filipino patriot and the country's very first diplomat. Inasmuch as his role in representing the Philippine Revolutionary Government entailed many foreign travels, this diplomat actually funded his own trips with his own savings to the extent that he had to sell his wife's jewelries to augment his travel fund. Really, this makes this patriot a true gem, don't you think? The same can be said of his wife, Marcela Agoncillo
, remembered in Philippine history as the woman who sewed the very first and official flag of the Philippines. In photos displayed
Don Eulalio married Gliceria and gifted her with the "wedding house" , more fondly called "Goldilocks" house in Taal, Batangas. Wide windows opening up to vistas of Balayan Bay, and several antique pieces make for this very charming house.
inside the house, one sees how lovely Dona Marcela was when she was younger. No wonder Don Felipe jilted his former fiancee to marry Marcela! At the time, Felipe and Marcela were nearing 30 , both orphans, when they wed.
Not one but 2 Villavicencio Heritage Houses. The lovely Gliceria Marella married Don Eulalio Villavicencio
who owned this stone house whose wide windows overlook the Balayan Bay. Don Eulalio gifted Gliceria another house on their wedding, which locals fondly call the "Wedding Gift House" or "Goldilocks" house. Why Goldilocks
? Here in the Philippines, there is a chain of bakeshops by that name with the signature yellow and sky blue motif, the same colors painting both Villavicencio houses.
Both houses are filled with the family memorabilia and photos of their ancestors. Thanks to the Villavicencio descendants for preserving these lovely heirloom houses! Just imagine how many revolutionary heroes climbed the same stairs and how many Katipuneros met and plotted the revolution in these very houses. And may I add.....both houses are so tastefully done. Unlike the ancestral houses of Europe where you find ropes guiding the tourists where to walk (and where not to), one can
A Sitting Room in the 1800's
Just love these wide windows framed by capiz shells. The Villavicencios truly preserved this heritage house, and with it, the legacy of their ancestors. All patriots.
freely wander around the house, even touch many of the heirloom pieces including those which can easily fetch a fortune in an auction of antique pieces.
The Leon Apacible Museum
Welcoming us inside this ancestral house turned into a Museum is this 18th century caruaje
and a row of old photographs. The photos remind us of our history though I found some a bit disturbing. Ever heard of having your lips lopped up? Torture. Sheer torture. Reminds us all of what our Filipino patriots had to suffer to give us the independence we now enjoy.
Carefully preserved and lovingly restored, the Apacible House have on display an antique piano which has seen better days, right below a painting of the lady of the house. What caught my attention then was the pink terno
(Filipino costume) --- an unusual color for a traditional Filipiniana attire.
Don Leon was our very first Secretary of Finance during the revolutionary government headed by then President Emilio Aguinaldo. The house was last occupied by a descendant who later became Mayor of the town.
Marcela Agoncillo Museum
Whether or not the first and official Philippine flag was sewn
The Secret Exit
Who knows how many secret meetings were held in this house? Who knows how many Katipuneros (revolutionaries) met and exited through here to hide?
in this house or in Hongkong does not bother me. What I know is that the lovely lady who had hand-sewn our first flag is Dona Marcella, with some help from her daughter and a niece of Jose Rizal. A statue of the 3 of them greets one as you enter the Museum. The flag was unfurled in that famous balcony of the Aguinaldo House, now a Shrine, in Kawit, Cavite. There are differing stories on the exact location within the Aguinaldo House where the flag was first unfurled, and also on the exact date, but I am not going into that.
Reputably the prettiest in Taal during her time, she married late at the age of 30 to Don Felipe, our first diplomat who represented the Philippines in contesting the Treaty of Paris in 1898
where Spain ceded the Philippines to America for $20 million
. Dona Marcela is an icon of selflessness and patriotism when she disposed of her jewelries just to finance the foreign trips of her husband-diplomat and to sustain the family's day-to-day expenses during the Revolution.
I Need To Get Back
What a day well-spent here in Taal, Batangas. Like Vigan, I
In the olden days, this is used to press clothes. These days, they make for great door stoppers. Nice touch. Old World charm at its best!
wish Taal will likewise be declared a UNESCO Heritage Site
. Just like Vigan, this is another rustic town reminding us of a life in the 1800s. Of a people then struggling, rich and poor, for Philippine independence.
The rows of heritage houses make for a very interesting stroll. For sure, we missed quite a number. Well, that gives us a good excuse to head back. Anyone coming along? I actually headed back. Sooner than planned. Had a wonderful time trying out the traditional costumes in this place called Villa Tortuga.
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