Side trips are often brief and trivial but it does not always mean that they can’t be as interesting as ultra-touristy sites are.
In fact, there are instances when a brief excursion off the main route of an itinerary can hold just as much (and sometimes even more) meaning as those visits in major tourist attractions.
In the Philippines, there are some special places you can consider getting acquainted with aside from its beloved natural gems.
Centuries-old churches in the Philippines tell something about the country’s history, its architectural influences and the ingenuity of its natives.
For instance, the Church of our Lady of Gate in Daraga, Albay borders on the baroque with very ornate decorations on the facade. Its collection of architectural relics of saints and rare religious seals were carved out of blocks of volcanic rocks, making the church distinct from the rest of churches in the country.
The hill where the church is perched offers a
bonus commanding view of Mt. Mayon.
San Agustin Church could have been one of the remnants of the savagery and conflict of World War II, but it has remained standing after the bombardment of establishments inside Intramuros during the 1945 Battle of Manila. As a result, the church has become not only the oldest building standing in the Philippines to date, but also a witness to many significant events in the Philippine history during the Spanish Period.
The adjoining museum albeit eerie also offers some important lessons on history. Inside the museum is a collection of statues, paintings, artifacts and other church ornaments. The first governor-general Miguel Lopez de Legazpi rests here together with other Spanish conquistadors including Juan de Salcedo and Martin de Goiti.
With some help from Augustinian and Franciscan friars, Legazpi established a governing city council in 1571. At the same time, he ordered the construction of Intramuros, proclaiming it the capital of Manila and seat of the Spanish Government in the East Indies. (From tita Lili’s blog)
The San Sebastian Church has been recognized by UNESCO as the only all-steel church or basilica in Asia. It has also been implausibly reputed to be the first prefabricated building in the world, and more plausibly claimed as the only prefabricated steel church in the world.
Sagada is the only town in the Philippines that is predominantly Protestant. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Sagada served as the center of festivity for Filipino Protestants during the celebration of the 100th foundation of the Episcopical church in the country. There had been no Catholic church in Sagada until last year, when the CBCP announced that the construction of the first Roman Catholic Church in Sagada was already underway.
Opting for guided tours. “…guided tours are best if one wants to appreciate the place’s historical and architectural significance. You may Google all you want but you may miss out on some historical tidbits.”
It sounds a far-fetched idea but cemeteries can be worthy of your time especially if you want to know about the flamboyant architecture and the interesting history of the 54-hectare cemetery that is La Loma, or the nearly forgotten Panchong in North Cemetery. Or, you can simply revisit the cemetery that should have earned more attention, respect and recognition other than as a popular wedding venue — the Paco Cemetery.
Here are excerpts from Tita Lili’s blog about her cemetery tours (organized by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines) in Manila and Quezon city. The Old (and Dead) Rich of La Loma.
All of 54 hectares within the metropolis. You’d think one should find better use for this land in this time and age. But Campo Santo de La Loma is a significant link to Philippine history and architecture. After all, this 2nd oldest cemetery counts among its buried citizens the important icons of history, the aristocratic families of old, the illustrados, the religious leaders, the hacienderos and simply the famous.
A Nearly Forgotten Panchong in North Cemetery
It would be interesting to draw up a list of graves whose “tenants” now grace some street signs around Manila. The place also counts resting places of past Presidents and national leaders, celebrities and prominent families. Just like the nearby La Loma Cemetry, architecture flourished in this area.
Remnants of World War
Ruins usually have historical and aesthetic significance. But often it is the fascination of the ruins (either archaeological or romantasized) that attracts people to take a pause and give a wrecked, partly destroyed architectural piece or an incomplete work of art a closer (or perhaps longer) look . Why would they not when sights like these, albeit a symbol of absence and loss, suggest the possibility of endurance, hope, memorialization and restoration.
If you happen to be in Bacolod, make sure to visit the Ruins of Talisay. Although Bacolod is also home to a number of heritage or historical landmarks, you can’t miss visiting this great edifice for a number of reasons. To quote a favorite blogger, “The Ruins exudes beauty from the past that lingers up to the present. It is also an exquisite rendition of a marriage of cultures, and a representation of a fine taste of architecture of European influence. Touted as the Taj Mahal of the Philippines, this also becomes an icon of undying love and devotion.”
Besides, Talisay is just a 14-minute ride from Bacolod city.
The story of Fortress Corregidor is one of legend and myth combined with the reality of modern war.
Corregidor stands sentinel over the sea routes into the legendary port city of Manila. From the fifteenth to the early part of the twentieth century, the Spaniards, and later the Americans assigned to Corregidor the the role of defending Manila and fortified it accordingly. The fortifications were meant not only to discourage ambitious Western colonial powers and greedy Asian pirates and bandits, but also to safeguard the commercial shipping passing in and out of the harbor.
Today, although its role has changed, Corregidor retains its spectacular beauty featuring sweeping vistas of the open sea and the calm water of Manila bay. The huge artillery pieces are silent and unmanned, and the old concrete fortifications that reflect the island’s violent past provide homes for monkeys, for gulls and other seabirds. (Excerpts from the book Corregidor in Peace and War)
Intramuros and Fort Santiago
From its founding in 1951, Intramuros was the exclusive preserve of the Spanish ruling classes. Within its walls were imposing government massive buildings, stately homes, churches, convents, monasteries, schools, hospitals and cobbled plaza.
Fortified with bastions (balaurte), the wall enclose an area of some 64 hectares. Gates (puerta) with drawbridges provided access to and from the outside world.
At its heights, Intramuros instilled fear in Spains’ enemies as a mighty European city, the only of its kind in Asia. By the end of WWII, the walls here were almost all that remained of the once-proud city, and 150, 000 Filipino civilians had perished in the crossfire.
Guarding the vital entrance to the Pasig river, Fort Santiago was once the seat of Spanish military power. Today it is a memorial to Dr. Jose Rizal, who was imprisoned here in the final days before his execution in 1896 for inciting revolution against the Spanish colonials. It is also a memorial to all Filipinos who have fought or died for the cause of freedom. —excerpts from the book Philippines by Greg Bloom.
The National Museum is a five-story building with tall Roman columns atop a short flight of very wide stairs. The building alone is a showcase of a bygone era. And just looking at the building makes you feel like you are in another time. Read the full story here.