QUIAPO: Heritage Treasures in Manila

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February 5th 2011
Published: February 9th 2011
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All Steel San Sebastian ChurchAll Steel San Sebastian ChurchAll Steel San Sebastian Church

A story goes that Gustav Eiffel actually designed this Church, with steel manufactured in a foundry in Belgium and shipped all the way to Manila.
Skipping Manila? I know .... the sun and sand beckons in the beaches of Boracay. There's serious diving in Palawan. You long to breathe the mountain air in Baguio and Benguet, or simply go completely rustic in the northermost part of the country in Batanes. Or maybe you want to try your surfboards in Siargao or even check out the tarsiers and chocolate hills in Bohol. For many, it's the heritage sites in Vigan and Laoag in the Ilocos region, where one is transported in time to a colonial era. The air is cleaner, less crowded, people likely less busy and thus friendlier, and board and lodging even cheaper in the islands south of Manila and the provinces north of Manila.

Metro Manila

I can't blame you. Manila is so congested, dirty in many parts of the city, and traffic is so bad. I live in the better part of the city not too far from the shopping malls and fancy restaurants lining the streets of Makati. I hardly venture out of Makati. In fact, it has been ages since I last got to the center of Manila where one finds Luneta Park, Intramuros with its city
Typical Filipino SnacksTypical Filipino SnacksTypical Filipino Snacks

Puto ----rice cakes. Try it!
walls and Fort Santiago. Whenever I have foreign visitors who have a day or a whole afternoon to spend in Manila, I would invariably bring them to Intramuros and Fort Santiago, and simply point out Luneta Park as we pass this park along the way. These 3 are the likely top tourist attractions in the city, but I'd say only because not too many write or talk about the other interesting historic sites in the metropolis.

No, it is not a secret. We have heard of some of these places, even watched documentaries on television about them. But perhaps not often enough. Many history books hardly talk about them too. And as soon as we hear the heritage sites are in Quiapo, many of us would either lose interest or feel not too brave to walk the streets there. Sad but true. And I am ashamed to admit it.

QUIAPO is best known for the Quiapo Church, the official "residence" of the Black Nazarene. Around the Church, one finds many hawkers selling religious articles side by side vendors selling "anting-anting" (charms, herbs, amulets, voodoo items) . Crossing the plaza towards the Church, one would likely meet
La Gota de LecheLa Gota de LecheLa Gota de Leche

Literally means "drop of milk". Built in 1917, restored in 2002-2003. Operated and sustained as a non-government charity organization involved in giving out free milk and pediatric services to indigent children.
"traders" who would not too subtly whisper the dollar-peso exchange rate for those interested to change their precious dollars to Philippine pesos. Mixing with the crowd are likely predators on the lookout for "innocent victims". You find them too in the streets of Madrid, Paris, Prague and Rome. The bag snatchers and thieves. Sadly, these characters kept many like me from visiting this place more often.

La Gota de Leche

Literally means "drop of milk". This place was inaugurated in 1907 by then Governor-General, later US President William Howard Taft. Designed by Arcadio and Juan Arellano, fathers of Philippine architecture, inspired by the Hospital of the Innocents, an orphanage in Florence designed by Brunelleschi, a renowned Italian Renaissance architect. As if to indicate what this structure stands for, there are decorative reliefs on pediments with images of infants.

Established as a clinic to address malnutrition concerns among the indigents, it was run by the La Proteccion de la Infancia, Inc. This outreach organization was founded by philanthropist Teodoro R. Yangco in 1907. Records show the construction was completed in 1917 so that makes this building nearly a hundred years old. You can say
Bahay Nakpil Bahay Nakpil Bahay Nakpil

"Bahay" means house. This house is right in the middle of Quiapo, wedged in by old, dilapidated buildings on one side and a slum area on the other, a line of fruit stalls and DVD-selling stalls in yet another side.
this organization was the country's very first NGO or non-government organization. A charity project dedicated to infants and young children, its operations involved the distribution of milk to indigent children. It further evolved to champion women's rights as it also houses the "Kababaihan Laban sa Karahasan Foundation" (literally "Women Against Violence"). The charity organization exists to this day, and must take credits for the restoration of this building in 2002-2003, for which it was awarded the 2003 Heritage Award of the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation.

Located in 859 Sergio Loyola Street (parallel to Morayta Street), La Gota de Leche is very near the University of the East. It almost sticks out like a sore thumb in the University Belt, in Sampaloc to be precise, in an area hemmed in by sidewalk vendors, dilapidated buildings and smelly trash bins. But La Gota stands proud like an old contessa, with its cross-vaulted arcaded loggias, front garden and a non-functional water fountain.

Bahay Nakpil

Bahay means house. This is the house of the Nakpils and Bautistas, built in 1914. Truth is the house should be called Bahay Nakpil-Bautista. Besides being a century-old house , its distinction lies in its being home to some of our heroes of the 1896 revolution. Located in A. Bautista Street, just off Ramon Hidalgo Street, the 2 Philippine flags and a marker in front of the house are the only tell-tale signs that it is a house of distinction. Right beside it is another house, even older, which seems ready to collapse anytime. Both are of the "bahay na bato" architecture which literally means "house made of stone", though structure is really that of an upper storey made of wood built over a stone foundation. Typical of the bahay na bato, architect Arcadio Arellano incorporated Viennese Secession motifs into the making of the house. Oddly, the style was adopted after the family received a gift of Secessionist furniture such that the design of the house worked around the furniture motifs.

The house is owned and built by Dr. Ariston Bautista, a noted propagandist during the Philippine Revolution . His wife was Petrona Nakpil, whose brother, Julio Nakpil, composed the secret society Katipunan's patriotic hymns. Katipunan was founded by Andres Bonifacio, who is married to Gregoria de Jesus. Inside, there is a marker citing that this has also been home to Gregoria de Jesus, widow of working class hero Andres Bonifacio, who then married Juan Nakpil. Bahay Nakpil-Bautista was also the place where the family operated its Plateria Nakpil which crafted many jewelry pieces highly prized by Manila's elite at the time. As distinguised Quiapo families, the house witnessed many social gatherings and concerts aside from being home to national heroes and artists.

We climbed the same stairs these heroes, artists and illustrious Filipinos climbed at the turn of the 19th century. There is an "entresuelo" or mezzanine where the room of Julio and Gregoria is located. On the 2nd floor, we were drawn immediately to the living room's ventanillas and capiz framed window slides. The ventanillas are openings beneath the huge windows to let air in where one can lay out a mat for afternoon naps. As one peers out of these windows now, the urban decay around the place makes one's heart sink. In this same living room, one also finds a reproduction of the Parisian Life. This is the controversial painting of Juan Luna , where the original used to hang on the same wall of this house for decades. A government financial institution obtained the original for US$870,000++ in a Christie's auction in Hongkong some years back, and now proudly displays the original in the GSIS Museum. Also found in the living room is a set of chairs where national hero Jose Rizal (you see his statue right in the center of Luneta Park, guarded all day) sat during his meeting with members of the La Liga Filipina in Tondo, Manila, as well as several artwork interpretations done by various artists of the Katipunan.

Today, the area around the house has transformed into a pitiful place, wedged on all sides by vendors selling anything from fruits to pirated DVDs, with a faint aroma from a stinking canal, electrical wires hanging from everywhere and potholes marking the streets and alleys. Just the same, the place instills some national pride as well as gratitude to the family who endeavored to preserve the place. Truly a heritage treasure.

Bahay Nakpil is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. The exact address is 432 A. Bautista Street, Quiapo, Manila, Philippines 1001.Phone: +63 (2) 704-8955 . Here is a map of this heritage treasure.

Walking Along R. Hidalgo Street

The old photo makes your heart sink even deeper. San Sebastian Church looms in the background, as one strolls along a street passing more old houses, many in decay. We went up one "bahay na bato" which has been leased out, and subleased out, to many families occupying small rented spaces. The Rent Control Law in the country bars property owners to increase rental rates at a certain range, and this allowed these families to keep leasing these spaces at ridiculously low rates. Gentrification truly makes a huge issue here! But such is life. It takes political will to want to restore this once elegant street and district and give new meaning to urban renewal. Preserving our heritage does not necessarily mean being anti-poor. My fingers and toes are crossed that somehow, someday, we can all agree that national pride resides in these heritage treasures.

Towards San Sebastian Church

As we walked towards the Church of San Sebastian, we felt so downhearted that this church had to be painted this flimsy green hue. It is made of a steel frame and panels and is known for being the only neo-gothic steel church in the Philippines and in Asia. The minty green shade certainly does not give it justice.

Why steel? The Church was destroyed 3 times by earthquake before the Order of Augustinian Recollects decided to have an all-steel structure in its place. That, despite the humidity and tropical climate in Manila. The steel parts were manufactured in a Belgian foundry, then shipped to Manila in 6 ships beginning June 12, 1888. This is the same Belgian foundry which produced the Orient Express. Architect Palacios oversaw the construction of this landmark structure. For two years, the church was assembled with local artists and craftsmen joining the Belgian firm in applying the final finishing touches. The stained glass windows were imported from a German stained glass factory. In 1891, the all-steel church of San Sebastian was inaugurated and blessed, and remains to this day as the only known all-steel basilica in this part of the world. There are also confessionals, pulpit, altars, statues of saints in the Gothic style blended with innovations of 19th century. We took 3 spiral stairways to reach the belfry. From there, we were afforded a view of the metropolis in
Old Photo of San Sebastian ChurchOld Photo of San Sebastian ChurchOld Photo of San Sebastian Church

That's the same Ramon Hidalgo Street. We walked from Bahay Nakpil to San Sebastian Church along this same street.
all its chaos and lack of urban planning. Sigh 😞

San Sebastian Church has been accorded the status of National Historical Landmark in 1973 as well as one of the Most Endangered Sites in the World by the World Monuments Watch in 1998. In 2006, San Sebastian Church was included in the Tentative List for possible designation as a World Heritage Site. The only all-steel building in the country, and only one of a few all-steel churches in the world. The National Historical Institute undertook restoration of the church since 1982, but sadly, the structure has experienced rust and corrosion on a massive scale. About 36 kilos of steel parts have already fallen from corrosion. Volunteers like Historical Conservationist Tina Paterno (Project director of the San Sebastian Conservation Development Foundation) are heaven-sent. But she certainly needs a lot of help. An international team of structural engineers, conservators, corrosion scientists, metallurgists, architects, historians, have banded together to study the problems and find solutions to prolong the building's lifespan. As Tina gave us a lecture on the "diagnosis" and poor state of this minor basilica, our eyes wandered around the center aisle, the lovely stained glass windows, the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the altar, the holy water fonts made of marble from Romblon, the frescoes, the lectern near the altar, the steel columns and walls, and sighed. 😞

It has long been reputed that Gustav Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame actually had a hand in the design of San Sebastian Church. The connection was reportedly confirmed in a report done by historian Ambeth Ocampo in the 1970s, citing that even the famed architect I. M. Pei visited Manila to inspect San Sebastian Church and reportedly pronounced that the metal fixtures and overall structure were indeed designed by Eiffel. (I.M. Pei is the American Chinese architect responsible for that glass pyramid you see in the Louvre Museum) Is this true? Was the Basilica designed by no less than Gustav Eiffel? To this day, the question remains unanswered. But it certainly adds charm if not mystery to this heritage treasure.

Additional photos below
Photos: 38, Displayed: 30


Not Tuscany. Right in ManilaNot Tuscany. Right in Manila
Not Tuscany. Right in Manila

The arcaded loggia was inspired by a Brunelleschi-designed orphanage in Florence. Italian Renaissance architecture modified and adapted to tropical weather.
View from the Living RoomView from the Living Room
View from the Living Room

The door opens up to a front garden. A rarity in this congested part of Manila which is called the "University Belt" as many schools are located in this area which gets flooded easily.

9th February 2011

I must admit that I've lived all my life in Manila and yet I haven't been to these landmarks. I didn't even know these places are in Quiapo, which for me is just a place where one can: (1) buy cameras and photography equipment (at R. Hidalgo); (2) buy pirated DVDs; (3) buy all sorts of gemstones, semi-precious stones, pearls, native crafts; and of course, (4) see the Quiapo Church and get a palm reading from fortune tellers. Great post! It's like something I'd read in the lifestyle section of a magazine.
9th February 2011

I really enjoyed this blog
I have not made it to the Philippines yet but hope to.
9th February 2011
Shot taken from the Choir Area

I absolutely love this picture!
9th February 2011

Another great blog and I LOVE your pictures!
9th February 2011

Went to school in Mendiola and detest having to go to Quiapo too. But this blog showed the amazing stuff in Manila often masked by the dirty and chaotic facade of the city. Very nice read Tita Lili !!!
9th February 2011

Manila Viejo
Wonderful blog! I read and re-read it several times. As a native born and bred Manileno, all the place names in this article have a nostaligic resonance for me, except one place cited that I never knew existed. Thanks for the coverage of Bahay Nakpil which I will certainly visit next time I'm in Manila. Such places should b e preserved for future generations and the surrounding areas cleaned up and maintained properly.
10th February 2011

You have the most interesting information! I definitely will visit these places when I have a few days to spare in Manila ( I always do). Thanks for giving me ideas of places to revisit. I love to visit old homes to see how poeple of those past times lived. Will make sure to go to your blog before I come!! Thannks again!!
15th February 2011

Delicious Veggie Food in Manila!
As I’m sure many of you are longing for a nice sunny vacation on the beaches in the Philippines, make sure to stop for a day or two in the capital, Manila, to try out some amazing vegetarian dining. I can testify that the Tofu Walnut Burger at Corner Tree Café in Makati Village is a must-have. Check out this link for more information http://www.petaasiapacific.com/feature-VegEatingInThePhilippines.asp!
28th March 2011

i love this post! i always wanted to visit some uncommon places in manila. i definitely will visit some of these in july. thank you for sharing and nice pictures!
25th January 2012
160 year old house

does anyone know who is the owner of the house?? and do you have article about this 160 years old house?? i'l just use for research study.. thanks for those who will reply.. god bless you..^_____^v

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