Philippine World Heritage List: One More to Go!
Ever since I got hooked into Digital Photography, the more I became fascinated with old architecture, more so with old structures and churches. During our travels there is always a part in our itinerary to visit old churches and then it led to visiting Historical and Heritage Sites, this is where the Philippines World Heritage List comes in.
There are eight (8) sites listed in the Philippine World Heritage List and Twenty Nine (29) sites on the tentative list, which the Philippines Government intends to consider them for nomination in the future.
The Eight (8) sites includes the following:
• The Historical Town of Vigan, Ilocos
• Puerto Princessa Sub-terrainian River National Park
• The Rice Terraces of the Philippines, Banaue
• The four (4) Baroque Churches in the Philippines, which are: Miag-ao Church, San Agustin Church, Paoay Church, & Sta Maria Curch
• The Tubbataha Reefs National Park
on the eight on the list, the place which we have not yet visited is the last place in the list, which is The Tubbataha Reefs National Park and we are hoping to visit it in the near future, and if there are any would be sponsors out there who would like to fund out trip we would gladly appreciate and would gladly answer your questions.
The list start off with The Historical Site of Vigan… we visited the town of Vigan, when we joined a group for a tour to the Ilocos Region, where we had a chance also to visit two (2) of the Baroque Churches on the list.
The Historical Town of Vigan is one of the few Hispanic towns in the Philippines where its structures remain intact, and is well known for its cobblestone streets and a unique architecture that fuses Philippine and Oriental design and construction with Colonial European Architecture.
The town of Vigan can be considered an island because it is detached from the mainland by great rivers namely, the Abra River, the Meztiso River and the Govantes River. What is unique with Vigan is its extensive and only surviving historical city in the country that dates back to the 16th century Spanish colonial period.
Vigan was an important coastal trading post long before colonial Spanish gallions arrived, chinese junks sailing from the South China Sea came to Isla De Bigan through the Meztiso river, on board were sea-faring merchants that came to barter exotic goods from Asian Kingdoms in exchange for gold, beewax and other mountain products brought down by the natives from the cordilleras.
How Vigan got its name is told from an anecdote carried by the tongue of generation, which tells of a Spaniard walking on the banks of the Meztiso River, there, he met a native pf the place and stopped to inquire: “Como se llama usted de esta lugar?”
Not understanding a word in spanish, the native scratched his head and upon seeing the Spaniard was pointing to a plant, exclaimed in ilocano “bigaa apo”. Bigaa being Alcasia Marconiza, a giant taro plant belonging to the gabi family, which use to trive at the banks of the Meztiso River. From the name of the plant – Bingaa, hence Vigan derived its name.
Next on the list is, Puerto Princessa Subterrainian River National Park, which we visited recently. With a lot of other places to visit around Puerto Princessa, including a trip around Honda Bay, Firefly Watching near the Iwahig Penal Colony and lots of excellent restaurants to have your fill with some exotic food like crocodile meat and “Tamilok” or woodworm, which the locals eat.
Puerto Princessa Subterrainian River is one of the most distinguished protected areas of the Philippines, located some 360 miles (580 Km) southwest of Manila. It was established as National Park in 1971 primarily to protect and preserve the intact old forest growth, interesting wildlife, pristine white sand beaches, unspoiled natural beauty and one of the most impressive cave systems in the world.
The Park features a spectactular limestone or Karst mountain landscape and an 8.2 kilometer long underground river that flows into the sea. The lower half of it is brackish and subject to ocean tides, and the associated tidal influences makes it the most unique natural phenomenon of its type to exist. The presence of 11 minerals, scientifically and aesthetically unique speleothems, and a 20 million year old serenia fossil embedded on the walls of the caves justifies the declaration of the underground river as one of The New 7 Wonders of Nature.
The Park contains a full mountain to sea ecosystem and protects forests that are important to biodiversity conservation, which are the most significant in Asia, and is noted for high levels of regional and local endemism. The site is habitat to numerous endangered, rare and endemic wildlife species. In the coastal area, mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs are found.
The Third on the list is The Rice Terraces of the Philippines, which is located in the cordillera region. Our trip here was with a group of volunteers who distributed pencils and notebooks to the school children in the far-flung areas of Ifugao. There are a lot of terraces sites here including the terraces of Batad, Mayaoyao and Bangaan Rice Terraces, which is included in the UNESCO world heritage list.
The Philippines Rice Terraces was carved into the mountain over a 2000-year period, by the ancestors of the indigenous “Ifugao” people. The Rice Terraces commonly referred to as the Eight Wonder of the World is located approximately 1500 meter above sea level and covers about 6,487 square kilometers of mountains. They are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rain forest above the rice terraces. The system comprises of dams, sluices, channels and bamboo pipes, which are open or closed in co-operation with each owner and are built using hand tools only. The locals here still plant rice and vegetable but wet weather causes damage and the steps need constant repair.
The Rice Terrraces are stone-walls which can reach as high as 50 feet and are constructed along the contours of the mountain side. The Terraces are then backfilled and another wall is built at a slightly higher elevation, this process is commenced from the valley floor upward. The Terraces require an elevated water source to flood the fields during the growing season. They also dam the water dirung construction to aid in moving boulders and earth. The irrigation water is channeled long distances by stoned lined channels or bamboo aqueducts that traverses the sides of the mountains.
Tourists prefer other locations nearby than that of the Terraces of Banaue, which include, Batad Rice Terraces, Mayaoyao Rice Terraces, Hapag Rice Terraces and the Kiangan Rice Terraces.
The next four on the list, are the four (4) Baroque churches in the Philippines, the first of which were built by the Spaniards in the late 16th century. Their unique architectural style is a reinterpretation of European Baroque by Filipino craftsman, which I had written in my blog.
Here they are in detail:
San Agustine Church
Concealed behind the walled city of Intramuros, built by the Spaniards in 1570, is the church of San Agustin. This church is a significant monument to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, being the first religious structure built in the island of Luzon, after the Spanish relocated from Cebu in the south.
Built within the administrative center of the Spanish government, San Agustin church enjoyed privileges not commonly dispensed to most colonial churches. It was built by the Spaniard Juan Macias in 1586 and was completed in 1606. Luciano Oliver later renovated it in 1854. The book Great Churches of the Philippines points out that the church was designed “according to the plans approved by the Royal Audencia of Mexico and by a Royal Cedula.”
Jesus Encinas, who wrote San Agustin Manila, states that the design of the church was derived from other churches that were built by the Augustinians in Mexico. Pedro Galende, OSA, in his book San Agustin Noble Stone Shrine, adds that the Augustinians “who came from Spain and those born in Mexico had a great opportunity to observe and study the South American monastic architecture which they later used in the Philippines. They took into consideration the quality of the local stone and the weather conditions which required them to sacrifice aesthetic requirement for durability.”
This practical and banal approach to aesthetics is evident on the church’s facade. It may have been the most sought and copied facade in the colonial period, but its static appearance and dark adobe stone lack grace and charm. Even the Augustinians themselves were not too kind with the church’s displeasing appearance. In another book, Angels in Stone, Galende recalls the Augustinian historian, Agustin Ma. de Castro’s critical comment of the church’s facade: “It was of triangular form, very ugly and of a blackish color; flanked by two towers, one of which has no bells and does not serve for anything. Due to the frequent earthquakes in Manila, they (towers) have only one body, ugly and irregular, without elevation or gracefulness.”
Sedate and direct to the point, the facade follows the style of High Renaissance. The symmetrical composition are prefixed by pairs of Tuscan columns that flank the main door of the two-tiered facade. The vertical movement of the paired columns is adapted at the second level by equally paired Corinthian columns. At the second level, mass and void alternate in a simple rhythm of solid walls and windows. The two levels, are emphasized by horizontal cornices, are then capped by a pediment that is accentuated with a simple rose window. The facade’s hard composition are held together by two towers; unfortunately, the missing left belfry further exaggerates the lackluster facade. It was taken down after a destructive earthquake hit the church in 1863 and 1880, splitting the tower in two.
The facade has a touch of Baroque by the ornately carved wooden doors that depict floras and religious images. Baroque is also evident in the carved niches that quietly reside between the paired lower columns. The church is bequeathed with Chinese elements in the form of fu dogs that emphatically guard the courtyard entrances.
Santa Maria Church (Nuestra Señora dela Asuncion Church)
Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion: Municipality of Santa Maria, Province of Ilocos Sur Built in 1765 under the direction of the Agustinian order, the ensemble resembles a citadel sited on the crest of a solitary hill rising above one side of the Santa Maria town plaza. The architectural ensemble presents its side and detached pagoda-like bell tower rather than its façade to the town. Thick contrafuetes (buttresses) are attached to the walls, reinforcing the structure against earthquake damage. The bell tower is constructed a distance away, protecting the main church structure from possible earthquake damage. Approached on foot by ascending a long, wide flight of Piedra china, steps that rising from the edge of the town plaza, the small, cramped plaza at the top of the steps is bounded by the church façade that faces the convento, enclosed by an arcaded bridge that connects both structures.
Paoay Church (San Agustin Church)
The best-known earthquake Baroque church in the Philippines is Paoay Church, which has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The cornerstone of the church, was laid by the Augustinian Missionaries in 1704, while the cornerstone of the belfry was laid in 1793. The people already used it even before completion in 1894,but it was formally inaugurated on February 28,1896. It is said that large coral stones were used for the lower level of the church structure, and bricks were used for the upper levels. The walls, which were made of coral blocks, tree sap, lumber and stucco-plastered bricks are 1.67 meters (more than 3 feet) thick, and are supported by 24 massive buttresses of intricate design. The church was partially destroyed twice by earthquakes in 1706 and 1927.In the restoration, permanent columns were built to support the ceiling. Today, this uniquely beautiful church still stands, wowing tourists with its majestic structure of Oriental, Gothic and Baroque influences.
The belfry stands a few meters from the church. As in other belfries of Ilocos churches, Katipuneros used the belfry as watch point in the 1896 revolution, and guerrillas of World War II also used it to check out coming enemies.
Miag-ao Church (Sto. Thomas de Villanueva Church)
The town’s first church building was constructed in Ubos by Nicolas Pangkug, the first capitan of the town. The church was completed three years before the first Spanish priest came in 1734, but this was burned by the Muslim pirates in 1741. Miag-ao was officially created as a parroquia on May 15, 1734.
The second church was constructed under the leadership of Parish Priest Fray Fernando Camporedondo (1746-1747). This church was also burned and looted by the pirates. The raids discouraged the people from building another church. But they needed one not only as a house of worship but also as a stronghold against pirate attacks. So they decided to build a third church in Tacas where the townsfolk have a commanding view of the mouth of the Miag-ao river, the usual route followed by the pirates in entering the town. This church still stands after defying elements and catastrophes for two centuries.
Construction of the present Miag-ao Church was started on a Saturday, the town’s market day, in December 1786, half a century after the founding of the Miag-ao parish. The parish priest at the time was Fray Francisco Maximo Gonzales and the town head was Capitan Domingo Libo-on. When it was finished in 1797, Fray Gonzales was still parish priest and Tomas Paguntalan was the town capitan.
The blocks of stones used in the construction of the church were quarried at Sitio Tubog in nearby San Joaquin town and in the mountains of the town of Igbaras. Work was supervised by a certain Matias, a fore-man from Igbaras, who later on was replaced by a certain Aquino from Alimodian, Iloilo, when the former was called to direct the church construction in his own town.
In baroque-romanesque style, the church sinks six (6) meters deep into the ground with walls, one-and-a-half (1 1/2) meters thick and buttresses thrice thicker in size. A truly ‘Philippine Church’, it exudes a native touch. Its artistic facade is decorated with a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child amidst coconut, papaya and guava shrubs. A large stone image of St. Thomas of Villanova, parish patron saint, dominates the center. Carved life-size statues of the Pope and St. Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance. Supporting the facade are the twin belfries, one towering two-story and the other three-story high.
When finished in 1797, the left tower was lower than the right. In 1830, thirty-three (33) years after it was finished, an additional structure was added to the left belfry to make them equal in height. Fray Francisco Reyes was then the parish priest and Capitan Bernabe Paguntalan was the towns-head.
Now 206 years old, Miag-ao Church is one of the few remaining old churches in the country. The earthquake of January 24, 1948, the strongest ever to hit Panay, toppled the bell tower of Jaro and the old church of Oton as well as many other Spanish-built churches in the island, but not the Miag-ao Church. Only a small portion of its concrete beam gave way sending some stoneblocks loosened by heavy tremors.
While Miag-ao Church stood the test of time and calamities, it did not somehow escape the trauma of two wars. It was burned during the revolution against Spain in 1898 and during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1944.
When liberation came in 1945, the people of Miag-ao undertook the herculean task of reconstructing the church. Led by then Reverend Father now Msgr. Wenceslao Enojo, parish priest, contributions came readily and it was not long after that the church was put back in shape.
When Msgr.Fernando Javillo took over as parish priest in August 1959, he not only continued the rehabilitation work but also expanded the repairs and renovations. Msgr. Javillo renovated and restored the church facade and the twin towers that were left untouched for more than one century and a half.
And the last on the list which we are hoping to visit in the near future would be the Tubbataha Reefs, hope to see this pristine place before it is lost. More detail on this part when we have visited it and will be posting photos for sure.
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