Aside from the old town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur (and perhaps Intramuros de Manila), the municipality of Taal has the highest concentration of well-preserved Antillean houses locally known as the bahay na bató, a mixture of pre-Filipino (or before the foundation of our country), Spanish, and Chinese architectural influences. The town is very fortunate for not being razed to the ground by both Japanese and American forces during the last world war. And this is perhaps due to the intervention of the town’s patron saint, Martín de Tours (whose image is housed inside the mighty interiors of the Basílica de San Martín de Tours), and also of Our Lady of Caysasay.
Last October 5 (Monday morning), Arnaldo and I went to Taal. Despite a looming low blood pressure, I just have to take that trip. Haven’t done much traveling and “field work” for a long, long time. We were unfortunate, though, to find out that most famous houses there which are now museums are closed on Mondays. That’s why we don’t have photos of some of the houses’ interiors. Drats.
It was my second time in Taal. The first time I was there was when I was still a college brat. Me and my Parañaque homies were just passing by on our way to Lemery to party and swim and get drunk. I didn’t care much about local history back then. And so this time around, I was prepared for one of the grandest moments of my life — a walk through time, a blast from the past!
Walking along the old streets of Taal reminded me of other centuries-old Filipino homes across the country. Many of them are already neglected. And every year, many of them are nonchalantly brought down to the ground to give way to the new (what price modernization!).
Here in Taal, the people take pride of their town’s rich cultural past. The people are wise enough to preserve their homes not just for posterity but for the sake of income-generating tourism. If only other towns follow Taal’s initiative, not only will they give their own people rewarding jobs, they would also help conserve remnants of our Filipino Identity.
I once tried to do the same for Unisan, Quezon, my father’s hometown. Some houses there could rival the beauty and architecture of those in Taal. But I failed, no thanks to hooligans in uniform.
I hope that the national government will do something to spread the conservationist stance of Taal. After all, to borrow from renowned conservationist Augusto Villalón, heritage conservation is everyone’s business.
Without further kalamazoo, here are the photos we took of that wonderful Hispanic town in Batangas — Taal!!!
A neighborhood of history and charm...
NATIONAL HISTORICAL COMMISSION, 1972
ANG BAYAN NG TAAL (1572)
UNANG ITINATAG SA POOK NG BALANGON NOONG 1572. DAHIL SA MADALAS NA PAGPUTOK NG BULKAN AY INILIPAT ANG BAYAN SA KASALUKUYANG POOK. NAGING KABISERA NOONG 1732 KAYA’T TAAL ANG IPINANGALAN SA BUONG LALAWIGAN. NANG MULING MASIRA ANG BAYAN DAHIL SA PAGPUTOK NG BULKAN NOONG 1754, ANG KABISERA AY INILIPAT SA BATANGAN AT ISINUNOD DITO ANG PANGALAN NG LALAWIGAN. ANG BULKAN NG TAAL, NA PINAKAMALIIT SA BUONG DAIGDIG, AY NSA GITNA NG LAWA NG BONBON AT SA BUNGANGA NG BULKAN AY MAY ISANG PULONG NASA ISA PANG MALIIT NA LAWA. PUMUTOK ANG BULKAN NOONG 1634, 1635, 1641, 1709, 1718, 1729, 1731, 1749, 1754, 1867, 1874, 1880, 1911 AT 1965. ANG NGAYO’Y MGA BAYAN NG LEMERY, SAN LUIS, AGONCILLO, SAN NICOLAS, AT STA. TERESITA AY DATING SAKOP NG TAAL.
Ventanas cerradas: the curse of modernization seems not to be welcome among these houses.
To the local government of Taal: please save this Filipino house!
This one didn't get lucky...
One part of this house (near the municipal hall) is converted into a small school.
Philippine baroque: adobe ground floor; wooden second floor projecting over the sidewalk -- classic bahay-na-bató design!
An 18th-century house converted into a small hotel under the auspices of the Taal Heritage Foundation.
Cute cubed casita.
Many Taal houses have opened shops on their stone-built ground floors such as this one.
Arnold said it's a house. I think it's a bodega. But we're not really sure. Whatever it is, it's still exquisite to our eyes, a historic Taal edifice.
An amalgam of old and new.
There is no street in Taal where there are no classic Filipino houses.
A well-maintained bahay-na-bató.
Taal town still uses CALLE instead of STREET! Awesome! A job well done for preserving something that is very Filipino!
Historical marker at the ancestral home of Doña Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo, the principal seamstress of the first and official Philippine flag.
PHILIPPINE HISTORICAL COMMITTEE 1955
MARCELA MARIÑO DE AGONCILLO 1859-1946
IPINANGANAK SA TAAL 24 HUNYO 1859; NAG-ARAL SA KOLEHIYO NG SANTA CATALINA; ASAWA NI FELIPE AGONCILLO AT SIYA NIYANG MATAPAT NA KATULONG SA KANYANG MGA GAWAING MAKABAYAN; IPINAGBILI ANG KANYANG MGA HIYAS UPANG MAGUGOL NG ASAWA SA MISYON NITO SA IBANG BANSA SA KAPAKANAN NG PAGSASARILI NG PILIPINAS. SA PANAHON NG KANILANG PAGKAPATAPON SA HONG KONG, AY TINAHI NIYA ANG UNANG BANDILANG PILIPINO NA BUONG PAGMAMALAKING IWINAGAYWAY NI HENERAL AGUINALDO SA KAWIT NOONG 12 HUNYO 1898 SA PAGPAPAHAYAG NG PAGSASARILI NG PILIPINAS. NAMATAY SA TAAL 30 MAYO 1946.
A row of Barong Tagalog stalls at the public market.
We had Lomi for lunch at the mercado público!
This arch is a disappointment. The carved text should've been written either in Spanish or Tagalog to preserve the town's historicity.
THE ANCESTRAL HOME OF ANANIAS DIOKNO
The home of one of Taal’s local heroes, Ananias Diokno, is a sad story. The place is already decrepit, and the second floor can even be destroyed by ten men’s bare hands within minutes. What’s ironic is that there is a historical marker placed on the house’s first floor exterior wall, implying that the place is taken care of by local authorities. Hopefully, this house will still be preserved for posterity.
The ancestral home of Ananias Diokno (un taaleño revolucionario).
Ananias Diokno historical marker.
NATIONAL HISTORICAL INSTITUTE, 1991
KILALA SA TAGURING HENERAL NG KARAGATAN. IPINANGANAK SA TAAL, BATANGAS, ENERO 22, 1860. NAGING KALIHIM NG DIGMA SA PAMAHALAANG PANGKAGAWARAN NG BATANGAS, 1898; NAMUMUNONG HENERAL NG HUKBONG EKSPEDISYUNARYO NG PANAY; MATAGUMPAY NA NAKIPAGLABAN SA BALWARTE NG MGA KASTILA SA AKLAN, ANTIQUE, CAPIZ AT LUNGSOD NG ILOILO; GOBERNADOR PAMPULITIKO-MILITAR NG CAPIZ. LUMAHOK SA PAKIKIPAGLABAN NG MGA GERILYA NOONG DIGMAANG PILIPINO AT AMERIKANO SA CAPIZ, 1898. NAKIPAGLABAN AT NADAKIP NG MGA AMERIKANO SA MAY BUNDOK MAKAWIWILI, AKLAN, 1901. NAMATAY SA ARAYAT, PAMPANGA, NOBYEMBRE 2, 1922.
THE ANCESTRAL HOME OF LEÓN APACIBLE
The ancestral home of León Apacible. Rizal and other propagandists have been to this house.
MARÍA YLAGAN OROSA – FABIÁN DE LA ROSA ANCESTRAL HOUSE
Historical marker of the Ylagan - de la Rosa ancestral house
BASÍLICA DE SAN MARTÍN DE TOURS
Basílica de Saint Martín de Tours
For years, I’ve been hearing a lot about the old church in Taal which is situated on a high hill, and about the Virgin of Caysasay. I’ve always thought that this miraculous image is housed in that same old church on top of the hill. So when Arnaldo and I arrived in Taal and saw the massive structure of the church, I thought that it was the Church of Caysasay. But the natives told me otherwise.
Pardon my ignorance, dear readers. So the Church of Taal and the Church of Caysasay are two different churches after all.
The Church of Taal is officially known as the Basílica de San Martín de Tours, the largest church in all of Asia! It stands 96 meters long and 45 meters wide. It was the Augustinian Missionaries who initiated the construction of this “magnificent monstrosity” way back in 1856. Even today, modern architecture might still find it difficult to build such a structure. So you could just imagine the kind of architectural and masonic genius our forefathers (and Spanish architect Luciano Oliver) had —not to mention the dedication and faith— in creating such a stylish and grand structure for God and Christianity and its people in this quaint and bucolic town of Taal.
As stated in the town’s historical marker, Taal used to be in a different site. The Taal basilica was first built in present day San Nicolás, Batangas under the care of Fray Diego Espina, O.S.A. in 1575. But in 1754, nearby Volcán de Bonbón (the onomatopoeical ancient name of Taal Volcano) erupted so violently it destroyed not only the original church but the whole town of Taal itself. The church was then transferred to its present site, the Taal that we know today.
A new land was prepared for the new church in 1755, but in 1849 it was destroyed again, this time by an earthquake. Construction of the new church began in 1856 and lasted up to 1878. A small tower was made on the church’s left side but it was destroyed during the Japanese Occupation. It was reconstructed later on, much taller than the original.
It was only during the previous generation when this historic church was made into a basilica: 8 December 1954, feast day of the Immaculate Conception; it was later declared as a national shrine on 16 January 1974.
When Arnaldo and I went there last October 5, it was a windy Monday afternoon (my favorite weather!). My clothes were flapping on my thin frame, and the winds were bouncing heavily on the weather-beaten façade as it howled onto my ears. I stood right in front of the massive structure, looking straight up. The sentiment of that moment was something undescribable. Something which curdles the blood nostalgic.
It was something else — something that is purely and spiritually FILIPINO…
We then entered the church, eyes gaping at the imposing ceilings of this granddaddy of all Batangas churches.
I would have embraced the whole structure if I were Galactus of Marvel Comics.
So far, this is the most beautiful and awe-inspiring church these pretty eyes have laid on!
The massive façade of the largest church in Asia.
The church's imposing interiors.
Founded by Augustinians, this small edifice is one of the oldest educational institutions in the country: Escuela Pía (since 1839).
Nope. Not Europe -- Batangas!
NUESTRA SEÑORA DE CAYSASAY
The church which houses the 17th-century gem -- Nuestra Señora de Caysasay.
The chapel-like Church of Caysasay is a stark contrast to the giant that is the Basílica de San Martín de Tours. Caysasay Church is located in the outskirts of the town, standing beside Río de Pansipit. The famous icon of Nuestra Señora de Caysasay, a 17th-century image of the Immaculate Conception, is housed there. The image was discovered by a Taaleño fisherman named Juan Maningcad in 1603. Up to now, nobody knows the origins of the miraculous image. There have been even reports of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the hill of Barrio Caysasay. The Blessed Mother of Christ appeared on the same spot where the Church of Caysasay now stands.
The historic and miraculous image of Our Lady of Caysasay.
The simply-designed retablo of the centuries-old Church of Caysasay.
The ancestral home of Don Gregorio R. Agoncillo.
OUR HERITAGE SPEAKS SO MUCH OF OUR IDENTITY. CONSERVATION SPEAKS SO MUCH OF OUR LOVE AND RESPECT FOR OUR OWN IDENTITY.