Date of Visit: September 5-6, 2015
If Northern Luzon has Vigan City, Southern Luzon boasts of the Heritage Town of Taal in Batangas, also known as the Balisong and Barong Tagalog Capital of the Philippines. Travel back to the 18th and 19th century and learn some important segments of our history in the town.
Taal town was founded by the Augustinian friars in 1572. Now, it is a third class municipality in Batangas situated beside the town of Lemery and lies in between two bodies of water, the Balayan Bay on the right and Taal Lake on the left (if you are coming from Manila via Tagaytay-Lemery route). The town boasts of its Castillan church, ancestral houses and antique collections, barong tagalog and balisong (fan knife) among others.
How to get there?
- Via the Tagaytay-Lemery route: Alight at the Flying V gasoline station and ride a jeepney going to Taal via Lemery. The jeepney passes by Brgy. Balisong and the welcoming Taal Arch. If you need information of whereabouts in Taal, the Tourism and Information Office is stationed at the left side of the stairways to the church.
Guide in Exploring Taal Heritage Town
The historical landmarks and ancestral houses have close proximity, thus, making Taal tour easier. What are common among the houses are the windows with capiz shells, squash stairs, two-storey structure and four-poster beds.
You may consider walking along the calle (or streets) guided by a map, or if not hail a tricycle, which is the means of transportation within the vicinity (visit http://taal.com.ph/index.php/2012/07/11/taal-map-project/taal-map-3/ for the map). Jeepneys run along the main road only, the Calle Agoncillo. Most of the historic house museums open at 8am. Entrance fees are necessary and taking pictures is allowed within the museums. Several casas offer bed and breakfast if you wish to stay overnight.
I have clustered the must-see places in Taal for your DIY tour in a day or two. You may choose to start with SITE A (from Taal Arch to Calle Diokno), or SITE E (Calle Diokno to Taal Arch).
|SITE A||Don Gregorio Agoncillo Mansion, Casa Dela Rosa-Ilagan Museum and Bagumbayan Church
Bed-and-Breakfast on site: Feliza Taverna y Café
|SITE B||The Plaza, Taal Basilica Church, Escuela Pia and Villavicencio Residences
Bed-and-Breakfast on site: Casa Conchita (043-740-1585, 0927-722-8463), Casa Punzalan, The Wedding Gift House (c/o Ms. baby Quiblat – 0917-897-0363), Paradores del Castillo, Casa Victrola
|SITE C||Taal Market and Don Juan BBQ House
Bed-and-Breakfast on site: Villa Severina, Casa Asinas
*You may also dine at Taal Bistro.
|SITE D||Galleria Taal (Ilagan-Barrion Ancestral House), Don Leon Apacible Museum, Marcella Agoncillo Museum and Gen. Ananias Diokno House
Bed-and-Breakfast on site: Tampuhan Café, Villa Tortuga
|SITE E||Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay, San Lorenzo Ruiz steps and Well of Sta. Lucia|
SITE A: Don Gregorio Agoncillo Mansion, Casa Dela Rosa-Ilagan Museum and Bagumbayan Church
Few meters from the Taal Arch stands the Don Gregorio Agoncillo Mansion. Don Gregorio Agoncillo was among one of the wealthiest landowners in Batangas. The mansion houses antique wooden furniture, chandeliers and assorted vintage collections that have been preserved since the 18th century up to this time.
Next to the mansion is Casa Ylagan-Dela Rosa, which was constructed in the early 18th century and restored in 1996-1997. The house was once occupied by a prominent family led by Don Julian Ylagan, former Presidencillo (town mayor) during the Spanish regime and Dona Dionisia Agoncillo-Ylagan, whose brother was the founder of the Taal town in its present site. Don Ylagan has a niece, Marcela, who married Martin Sagada dela Rosa. The house was eventually transferred to the Dela Rosa clan when the Ylagan’s last daughter, Maria Asuncion, lived with the clan.¹
Walk down the intersection beside Don Gregorio’s mansion and turn right towards the Bagumbayan Church. According to history, this is one of the four churches built in the late 1700s near the Taal Basilica for the growing population of residents that turned and supported the Catholic faith² (The church was closed during my visit due to ongoing renovation).
SITE B: The Plaza, Taal Basilica Church, Escuela Pia and Villavicencio Residences
From Don Gregorio Agoncillo mansion, take a walk (or ride a jeepney) towards Basilica of St. Martin de Tours, the oldest and largest church in Asia. The present church was built in the 18th century. It traces its roots from the ancient ruins at Brgy. San Nicholas where it was first built in 1575. However, due to the eruption of Taal Volcano in 1754, the church was damaged and was incompletely buried.
According to a source, it stands 95 meters long and 45 meters wide, with its dense columns resembling St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.³ Inside the church, visitors will be fascinated with the sophisticated ceiling paintings, vintage chandeliers hanging beside wide yellow green stone pillars, and silver tabernacle.
The church has a mini-museum of St. Martin de Tours and a wishing well inhabited by koi fishes. The management allows visitors to climb the passageways to the belfry. There is an entrance fee of P50.00 and you will see a view of Balayan Bay, Taal town and nearby towns from the church’s rooftop. Just be careful when going up and down the stairways since these are narrow and steep.
On the left of the basilica is the Rizal College of Taal. If you are not the delicate type, you may buy fishball, kwek-kwek and the likes sold to students at food stalls along the street.
Adjacent to the basilica is Escuela Pia, which is now the town’s cultural center. Established in 1839, it used to be a school for the poor and abandoned youth of Taal by the Augustinian friars (PNHI marker). Hence, it is considered one of the oldest educational institutions in the Philippines. During my visit, an event has been prepared in the center. Outside, a group of students with their trainers practiced arnis on the grounds, wearing their red uniforms.
The old Municipal Government of Taal, formerly Casa Real which was built in 1845, is situated on the other side of the road facing the church. Ancestral houses surround the plaza.
Head to Calle Marella leading to the twin houses of the Villavicencio. The Casa Villavicencio is an 18th century stone house owned by Eulalio and Gliceria Marella Villavicencio. Gliceria is considered the godmother of the revolutionary forces. She donated her steamer “Bulusan” which was later converted into a war vessel. The couple donated a huge amount to help publish Jose Rizal’s novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.
Peculiar to this house are its Belgian-made tin ceiling, well-preserved oil-in-canvass walls, and Viennese-inspired wooden arch at the doorposts. The Balayan Bay, which was formerly the main port of Batangas, could be viewed from the sala.
The Wedding Gift House sits beside the Casa and is connected to the Villavicencio House by a bridgeway. It was built in 1872 as Eulalio’s wedding gift for his bride. What caught my attention were the pamimintana, a high chair for single ladies who would be looking out of the window and butaka, a chair used for giving birth.
Trivia: Several TV guestings like Kris TV and Jessica Soho and movie shootings such as Ilustrado and Ikaw Lamang (by Coco Martin) were held here.
SITE C: Taal Market and Don Juan BBQ House
The Taal Public Market lies in the heart of the town. It houses several shops offering barong tagalog and wedding gowns or embroidered garments (burdang Taal). Of course, prices are cheaper than in the malls. The market offers tapang taal, suman, longanisa, tablia and kapeng barako. Inside are eateries that offer tapang taal and other Taal specialties.
Hungry for lunch? Drop by at Don Juan BBQ House, which offers delightful Taal specialities – sinaing na tulingan (native mackerel boiled in banana leaves), tapang taal, fried Tawilis (freshwater sardine endemic to Taal Lake), longganisang Taal, sinigang na maliputo (a Batangas fish delectable soup) and a lot more at reasonable prices. The store opens at 9:30am-8:30am from Monday to Friday and 7:00am-8:30pm on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
SITE D: Ancestral House Museums at the Calle Agoncillo Street and Calle Ramon Diokno
The Calle Agoncillo is the busiest street in Taal as it is the main road that leads you in and out of the heritage town through jeepneys. The long road of Calle Agoncillo could entertain you with well-preserved ancestral houses, in which some were recognized by the Philippine National Historical Institute as heritage houses.
If you are coming from Taal Church, you may walk down Calle Agoncillo or ride a jeepney (P8.00) and alight at Galleria Taal (start of Site D tour; road going down to end of Site D) or Gen. Ananias Diokno House (end of Site D tour; road going up to start of Site D).
The Galleria Taal, the Ilagan-Barrion Ancestral House, is unique in the country. It showcases hundreds of vintage camera collections (late 18th century to late 19th century) by Mr. Manny Inumerable and antique Philippine photo collections (1800s, American occupation, 2nd World War and the Liberation period) from John Silva and three photographers. The house was built in the 1800s, abandoned in 1975 and restored in 2004 by Manny and Bobby Inumerable. They are the great grandchildren of the first owners, Domingo and Maria Ilagan, from their 3rd child, Candida Ilagan who was married to Antonino Barrion, a lawyer and delegate to the 1935 Constitution Convention.4
The Don Leon Apacible Museum lies across Galleria Taal. Don Leon served as the Finance Officer of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and a delegate to the Malolos Congress in 1898. The house has been a meeting place of Dr. Jose Rizal, Mariano Ponce and other heroes (PNHI marker).
Down the memory lane is Casa Gahol and Tampuhan Café and Villa Tortuga that offers bed and breakfast services. You might want to experience Spanish-era fashion at Villa Tortuga. Next is Galeria Orlina that displays paintings of Ramon Orlina and the Taalenas Antique Shop, that sell wooden furniture.
The Doña Marcella Agoncillo Museum is just nearby. It was built in the 17th century by her grandfather Andres Marino. Marcella is the wife of Felipe Agoncillo, who was sent as an exile to Hong Kong for participating in efforts to gain Philippine freedom. During this time, it is in this house that Marcela sew (by hand) the first Philippine flag that was waived in Kawit in 1898 during the declaration of Philippine independence (PNHI marker). The museum is open from Tuesdays to Sundays at 8:00AM-4:00PM.
Beside the intersection near the Pansipit bridge and road going to Lemery stands the Gen. Ananias Diokno House. Gen. Diokno led the Philippine expedition to the island of Panay and successfully fought the Spaniards in Aklan, Antique, Capiz and Iloilo (PNHI marker).
SITE E: Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay, San Lorenzo Ruiz steps and Well of Sta. Lucia
From the Diokno House, you may ride a tricycle going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay. If you still have time, you might want to walk on foot from Villa Tortuga to Calle Noble beside the Pansipit River for around 10-15 minutes.
Inside the shrine is a painting of the virgin’s image caught in the fishnet of Juan Maningkad in 1603 at the Pansipit River. The story of the Virgin of Caysasay remains to be a mystery. The image, found by two women fetching water from the well found the image on a tree branch from the water reflection, was said to be guided by Casaycasay birds (kingfisher).
On the left side of the San Lorenzo steps, you will find a store. From it, follow the trail towards the Miraculous Well of Sta. Lucia, marked by a coral stone arch built in early 1600. It is where the two women saw the reflection of the Virgin of Caysasay. Many believed that the water from the well brings healing and therapeutic powers up to this time. There is a place for prayer for religious devotees beside the well. During my visit, there were visitors fetching water from the well and filling in their bottles.
When you reach the end of San Lorenzo steps, you will pass by Paradores del Castillo, a new hotel in town.
Other Places to Dine:
Aside from the Bed and Breakfast casas, you may dine at Taal Bistro, Café G and Kua Lee Lomi Haus.
You gotta try this special lomi offered at Kua Lee Lomi Haus (along Calle Agoncillo) for P40.00 (super sulit!). They also offer guisado, bihon, miki bihon, canton bihon and goto at prices ranging from P40-P50.
Other Places to Visit near Taal:
Taal boasts of its balisong industry. Buy your souvenir of balisong (fan knife) at Ona’s Batangas Blade Store or Rivera’s Balisong store situated along the highway of Brgy. Balisong at a minimum price of P200.
Also, along the highway stands the Balisong Church. This is among the small churches built in the late 1700s to cater to expansion of Catholicism in the Taal.5
In addition, try to visit the old Taal Church ruins at Brgy. San Nicholas, a 20-minute ride from Taal town. The old Taal church was built in 1575 and was destroyed in 1754 during the eruption of Taal volcano. The church was made with coral reef stones. Today, statues of St. Martin de Tours stood beside the ruins. According to stories, St. Martin passed by a road and gave his clothes to a beggar. After a while, he saw Jesus wearing the clothes he gave.
Finally, walk beside the shores of Taal Lake at Brgy. San Nicolas and fish for tilapia, bia and maliputo (batangas fish). When we visited the place, we saw men fishing at the dock. From here, you will see Taal Volcano on the east (see background) and Mt. Maculot on the west (special thanks to Sir Benj, owner of Tampuhan Cafe for the free tour at said barangay 🙂 )
- In Taal, there aren’t pretty much lights on the streets at nighttime. Curfew hours for minors start at 10:00PM up to 4:00PM.
- The shooting of Felix Manalo was done in an ancestral house in Taal (near Paradores del Castillo Hotel).
- It’s more fun in Taal, Batangas!
For more information about Taal, visit the following websites:
- ¹ taal.com
- ² Ibid.
- ³ ibid.
- 4 Ibid.
- 5 Ibid.