Revisiting A Spanish Colonial Past and the Largest Catholic Church in Asia at Taal, Batangas, Philippines

taal, batangas
I confess. When it comes to my country tourism I am one of the worst offender.
Since I started this blog never I have posted about the Philippines, not because I don’t like to but the truth is I never had a chance to travel around.

Working overseas for almost 10 years, within that duration the longest that I stayed back home was three months and that time was even spent working on local contract.

Don’t get me wrong. I think with several modifications on infrastructures and facilities (let’s start with the airport please), ensuring domestic security and a change of attitude for some of my corrupt “kababayan” (country men), Philippines can be as competitive as the other South East Asian nation in terms of tourism, after all we have the best beaches in the region and a rich cultural heritage to back it up, particularly if you want to see something different from the usual temples, pagodas and shrines.

So I made a promise to myself, even if it is a week stayed back home, I shall visit as much places as I could possibly do and learn to appreciate my country once more and maybe who ever came across this blog will be encourage to include the Philippines on their backpacking trip across Asia.

Before we proceed on the best beaches around the country, it is important to know something about our past. After all to understand our nation, one must look beyond the diving spots and the “gates of hell” tag by Dan Brown and understand how a 333 years of Spanish colonialism had turn our small island nation to the largest Catholic country in Asia.

The reason why I choose this town as an introduction to Philippines is very simple, it has everything that I long for and I wanted you to know- a piece of history, the religion and local beliefs, analogue cameras, my sentiments about our lost identity and an overnight stay at the ancient house called Casa Punzalan.

Welcome to Taal, Batangas.
The Balisong (traditional butterfly knife) and Barong Tagalog(embroided formal garment typically made of Piña fiber) Capital of the Philippines.
taal, batangas

It doesn’t take a master planner to figure out how a typical town in the country is built.
Imagine a circle and at the very center is the Catholic Church.
taal, batangas

In front of the church is the municipal government, at one side is the university, on the other corner is the market and the rest are surrounding residential area.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

Religion.
Yes, everything has to do with religion. It has to be the biggest contribution and remainder of the century long Spanish occupation and still on my opinion has everything to do on why our country cannot advance on certain social issues.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

Putting aside for the moment the debatable aspect of separation of religion and state and why reproductive health bill is important, if there is one thing that is worth appreciating about our inherited religion, it has to be the magnificent architectural style of churches.

Basilica de San Martin de Tours(Taal Basilica, “Ang Basilika ng Taal”) is the best example.
taal, batangas

Originally built in 1575, survived the eruption of Taal volcano and considered as the largest church in Asia, Taal Basilica exemplifies the grandeur of churches in the Philippines from inside and out.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

Located at the left wing extension of the church is the residence of the priests and a small museum showcasing a mix of treasured, old household stuffs and religious artifact.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

Apart from being the largest church in Asia, the Taal Basilica also features the largest bell in the country.
taal, batangas

For a panoramic view of the town, you can ask the Basilica guard to give you access to the top of the church, usually for a donation of 1 USD. The path is small and leads to the topmost bell which I can only imagine manually rang back on those days by an assigned acolyte but now like almost everything in the world the bell is automatically rang.
taal, batangas

The town of Taal takes pride on the quality of fiber and the ability of the seamstress to create traditional gowns. People across the region travel purposely to buy or to have a tailor made Bridal gowns, Barong Tagalog, Baro at Saya and Terno noted for its butterfly sleeve made popular by the former First Lady with 3,000 pair of shoes, Mrs. Imelda Marcos.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

The people from Batangas are called “Batanguenos”, they are often recognized for their fond affection of putting short phrase “eh” or “ala eh” at the end of the sentence as if stressing the importance of what they are saying.

In terms of food, the town is known for strong coffee called barako(my favourite) and a sweet delicacy called “panunaw” or peanut brittle, which consist of fried peanuts hold together by frozen sugar.
taal, batangas

Admirable effort goes to the preservation of ancient, colonial styled houses, with some of them even functional up to these days. Meaning families who inherited from their ancestors still call these Spanish influenced architecture as their home, though maintenance and slight modification is required.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

Some of these homes belonged to the country national heroes whom with their intellectual brilliance able to fight against Spanish occupation.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

To honor our beloved heroes who fight for our sovereignty, the streets across the country are usually named after them. It is not surprising to encounter names that are Spanish sounding, even my middle name is typically Spanish “de Luna”. I guess the influence far extend not only on religion but on our language and customs too. Yes, Filipinos do enjoy siesta.
taal, batangas

One of the architectural aspect that I like the most about ancient houses are the windows made of capiz shell. I always imagine that if I will finally able to built my dream home, I will have a window just as the same.
taal, batangas

There is only one hotel across the whole town of Taal but it is worth staying particularly if you are keen to experience sleeping in an ancient home on an ancient bed.

Run and operated by the organization that keeps the Taal Basilica, Casa Punzalan is a restored ancestral home. Often use as horror movie set, I can feel goose bumps and excitement during my one night stay in the casa, particularly knowing that there is no one else at home but me and one care taker.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

Visiting on Monday, the Taal Visitors Center was closed together with some of the galleries, not wanting to waste my trip I randomly knocked on certain gallery and see if they will be kind enough to let me in so as not to waste my journey. Mostly, the guard on duty are very welcoming.

I don’t have any idea about this place, but I must say it is one of the reasons why you should visit Taal, particularly if you have an analogue heart and a thirst for history via photographs.
taal, batangas

Galleria Taal showcases an admirable collection of antique camera and antiquarian photographs that captured the Philippines history.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

The gallery is inside an ancient house said to be originally built by the Ilagan Family in 1870. Passing from generation to generation, the house is now owned by the Inumerable Family and was successfully converted by Mr. Manny Inumerable, a camera collector and photo enthusiast himself into a one of kind museum in the country.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

Apart from lusting on analogue camera, I was taken a back by some of the photographs on display. One thing that I love the most is the photo of old Manila. How I wish that my hometown stayed forever just like that.
taal, batangas

With a pang in my heart, Galleria Taal is a resemblance of a dream and a realization at the same time. How my country was trying so hard to adapt to the modern world, sometimes how everything revolves around political power and money. Sadly, we have to admit, we are loosing our true Filipino identity and the world branded us nothing but a work force shifted out of the native land in search for a better living.

Nowadays, the Philippine Government takes pride of the statistics of the number of domestic workers in the Middle East and yet none on statistics on how many youth able to finish High School or College or even able to start basic education.

Gone are the days when we produce brilliant, artistic minds who can revolutionize a country just simply by writing a novel, by the verses of poetry or simply by a stroke of paintbrush.

Maybe we are nothing but a product of economy but I know we are beyond that. I hope more emphasis will be given on educating a nation than celebrating the fact that the sole reason why the country is surviving economic wise is because of the remittances coming from workforce overseas.

Enough about my sentiments.

I was ready to head to my next destination but I was told by the Batanguenos that I’ve met that I should visit the church called Our Lady of Caysasay for the miraculous water from the ancient well.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

Another fact about the Philippines.

We believe in a lot of miracles and religious beliefs, whether it is the crying statue of Virgin Mary, an apparition of Jesus Christ, but most importantly if it has to do with healing power then be not surprise to see line of people blindly doing what is necessary.

It is believe that the water from the well of Caysasay church when drank or bathed can cure any illness. When I arrived at the location marked by the remaining wall of the original location of the church, I saw a mother scoping water from the well. I asked her for what purpose she will be using it, she replied to me that it will be used by her mother who can no longer walk and always experience pain on her legs even when lying down, but when bathed with miraculous water able to feel relief.
taal, batangas
taal, batangas
taal, batangas

Visiting Taal, Batangas made me realize that there are a lot to discover and appreciate aeround the 7,107 small islands across our archipelago. I hope I will be able to visit as much municipalities I could possibly do.

17 thoughts on “Revisiting A Spanish Colonial Past and the Largest Catholic Church in Asia at Taal, Batangas, Philippines

  1. Thanks for the article and for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the Philippines. It’s important and helps to ‘build an opinion’. especially for someone like me who grew up so far away. BTW very impressive photos 🙂 as always

    1. thank you very much!
      i guess many have an opinion or so, few takes action and majority just get so accustom to the situation and let it be..

  2. I can sympathize… it must be frustrating… and where I come from, it isn’t any better, socially at least. Infrastructure wise, its pleasing to see the buildings being kept as it is, maintaining much of its history =)

    1. i think what i love the most about Singapore are not the skyscrapers but the shophouses 🙂
      i hope continuous effort will be provided for its maintenance and preservation…

  3. Outstanding post ,your efforts are appreciated ,the pictures are amazing.l enjoyed the post .Cheers.jalal

  4. Great photographs, and a great story.
    Here, in the United States things are similar in some ways. Our education system is not very good considering how supposedly advanced the country is. We have very few manufacturing jobs here as well. Most everything is made in China and southeast Asia, and Mexico and Central America. Globalization is great for some things, but it would be nice to see the U.S. focus on manufacturing at home to help the citizens who actually live here by creating jobs. It sounds like in the Philippines it’s a little different though. People are leaving the country to work in the Middle East?

    1. thanks Scotty!

      i think everyone is leaving Philippines to go anywhere were there is work but majority of the opportunities are in Middle East, particularly for manual labors.
      after university, everyone’s mindset is to gain 1-2 years experience back home and work overseas once there is a chance.
      i don’t think it will be changing anytime soon specially that the government is promoting this kind of scenario.

  5. Amazing post. I loved seeing photos of the country I was born in and haven’t gone back to in years. I loved your commentary—looking forward to more posts from the Philippines. 🙂

  6. Amazing post! I would love to go back home and visit this place. Not sure about staying on the hotel, I’m not keen on staying there on my own! 😀

    1. the hotel is quite scary at night but no worries, there are tricycles outside + police station right across just in case you need to make a quick escape 🙂

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