Taal Heritage Town – Bonding with Time
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A few hours ride south of Manila,just west of the southern tip of Taal Lake, lies a small classic town that is brim full of visual and historical interest.
On the hill top looking over the town itself is the impressive Catholic Church of San Martin de Tours. Built in 1856 and reputedly designed after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and it has the modern reputation of being the largest Catholic church ever built anywhere in the whole of Asia. A walk up the ancient stone steps within the belfry brings one to a stone balcony with a magnificent view over the town and beyond, as far as Mindoro Island on a clear day. A host of paintings and artefacts adorn the church premises and it is a worthwhile spirited and soulful visit.
Nearby in the town there are several museums, all within old Spanish houses, one a camera museum with photos from the Philippines dating back as far as the 1880s. Even an ancestral home of one Filipina heroine from the revolution against the Spanish, Gliceria Villavicencio known as the Godmother of the Revolution, can be visited with prior arrangements. The seamstress of the first official Philippine flag was also born here, Marcela Agoncillo, and her house is still heralded as a national shrine, and is a worthy visit and full of memorabilia and rooms preserved in their original styles. The streets are awash with classic Spanish town houses of many shapes and sizes, and a walk down a long flight of ancient stone steps takes one to Caysaysay church and a well which both have mysterious stories surrounding the miracles performed by the Virgin of Caysaysay who lived here in the late 15th Century. Needless to say the water from the well is thought to contain curative powers.
Down one side street a local well respected welder lives in a small quaint old house built of local materials and reckoned to be possibly the oldest house in town. He shares his artistic side with visitors walking down the street with a display of both tall and short figurines welded out of old mechanical pieces, including car springs and engine parts, from machines of all shapes and sizes. If you are lucky enough to meet him he will tell you that the neighbours brand him as ‘crazy’, but in reality he is a true artistic genius.
Down a side street near here is a hotel -Paradores Del Castillo- with its quiet gardens tucked out the back, which is converted from a classic Spanish house, and an ideal place to visit to soak up the ambiance of this town that is accepted as the 2nd most preserved Spanish town in the entire Philippines, while Vigan in Ilocos Sur is the best preserved.
The Spanishness is still rampant in this busy modern town which also has the reputation of having an abundance of skilled artisans producing delicately embroidered native cloth in fine intricate designs, resulting in a plethora of clothing and dress shops surrounding the main marketplace in the centre of town. The exquisite and distinguishing embroidered Taal ‘barong’ shirt tops are made here from native fabric woven from pineapple, abaca or silk fibre blends. The local embroidery is also used to make cotton sheets, pillowcases and tablemats that beat Manila prices hands down, and are handmade. Then there is the fact that this place is recognised as the centre of a particular make of traditional knife known as the ‘Balisong’. The blade neatly folds between two sides pieces which are made out of brass and wood or bone from local animals. They can be found in dedicated shops particularly in one area of the town, and are produced as framed ornaments as long as one metre, and down to miniature ones as key rings at 5cms. But essentially the main bulk are used as practical knifes for many purposes…a unique Batangas tradition. Then on the side lines in different shops can be found a wealth of antiques and handicraft offerings.
All in all, Taal Heritage Town is a magic visit and an experience not to be missed.
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