Why visit Taal?
The charming town of Taal is the oldest town of Batangas province. It is located 112 kilometers (70 miles) south of Manila. When people think of Taal, what usually comes to mind are the famous Taal Lake and the Taal Volcano, not the Taal town.
Founded in 1572 by Spanish friars, Taal was situated close to the stretch of Pansipit River to Balayan Bay. However, in 1754, the small yet deadly Taal Volcano erupted. Taal was reduced to rubble and had to be transferred to a much elevated area where it’s located today.
In late 19th century, local coffee industry boomed. Also with trading ships coming in from Manila, the Visayan islands and abroad, Taal was living its days of economic glory. Because of that, Taal was one of the most prosperous and influential towns in the Philippines for over two hundred years. Due to the growing financial prosperity of middle class businessmen, numerous Bahay na Bato (stone houses) were built in Taal. We can still see them standing in the town today.
Primarily characterized by grand architectural structures with Filipino Hispanic lines, aesthetically-preserved museums and world-class places of worship, Taal is culturally rich with unique hand-woven textiles, metal craft, artifacts, and a variety of food. Recognized as a heritage landmark by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines, the quiet beauty of Taal town and its majestic Basilica is worth visiting by locals and foreigners alike. Taal is easily walkable by foot.
Here is my choice of 4 must see Taal sights:
1) Taal Basilica
Taal is blessed to have the "Biggest and Oldest Catholic Church in Southeast Asia", Minor Basilica of St. Martin De Tours, declared a National Shrine in 1974. An 18th century structure, the basilica covers a little less than half a hectare.
After the destruction of an earlier church by an earthquake, in late 19th century a new Baroque-styled church was built at the same site. It was supervised by Marcos Anton who commissioned renowned Spanish architect Luciano Oliver to take care of design and construction. In 1865, the newly erected church was inaugurated despite its unfinished state. The construction was finally completed in 1878 with the addition of its gigantic 79 feet altar under the supervision of Fr. Agapito Aparicio. The original ceiling was painted by Giovanni Dibella, one of the two renowned Italian artists responsible for the ceiling of San Agustin Church in Manila. It was a massive church, the biggest at the time, and would remain the biggest even centuries later. It stands 95 metres long and 45 metres wide on a plateau in the heart of Taal.
In 1953, the church underwent massive restoration in preparation for the canonical coronation of Our Lady of Caysasay, whose shrine is also found in Taal. The following year, the church was elevated to the status of a minor basilica, the third in the country to be given such honor.
The next restoration took place in 1972, in time for the town’s 400th founding anniversary. At last, several years ago, the basilica underwent a major facelift, with sections of its interior restored to their original form.
The Basilica of St. Martin De Tours allows travelers to experience a picturesque panoramic view of the town that overlooks the Balayan Bay, by climbing the church's belfry. Take a look to the inner yard and Casa San Martin too, adjacent to the Basilica. It seems this building serves as a parochial house for the priest. It also has a small museum inside.
Address: Calle San Martin
2) Marcela Agoncillo House
Marcela Mariño Agoncillo is a popular name in the Philippine history. She was the principal seamstress of the first and official flag of the Republic of the Philippines. This duty gained her the title "Mother of the Philippine Flag". She did this job while living in exile in Hong Kong in 1897. Made from fine silk, the flag was embroidered with gold and pictured stripes of blue and red, and a white triangle with the sun and three stars on it. The flag was finished in five days and became known as "the sun and the stars flag". It holds the distinction of being one of the most unusual flags in the world. What makes it so different is that one can know when the country is in a state of war by the way the flag is flown. If the dominant color flown on top is red, that means the country is at war. Just the other way around, if it’s blue, then the country is at peace.
Marcela was married to a well-known lawyer of the town, Don Felipe Agoncillo, and bore him 6 children, all daughters. Interestingly enough, none of them got married and none had any children. The house is one of the oldest in Taal, built in late 17th century by Marcela's grandfather Andres Mariño. The museum consists of two parts: exposition about the history of creating the flag of the Philippines and original interiors of Agoncillo family house. With heirs donating the property to the national government, it’s presently being maintained by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
Address: #14 Calle Marcela M. Agoncillo
3) Don Leon Apacible House
This museum is the ancestral home of the late Don Leon Apacible, a successful lawyer and Judge of the Court of First Instance of Batangas City. He was also a clandestine rebel in the 1890s, and even served as former President Emilio Aguinaldo's Finance Officer. The museum consists of two parts: exposition about Apicables family and original interiors of Apicable family house. His ancestral home is much renowned for its well-preserved Art Deco design elements. The museum is currently administered by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
Address: #59 Calle Marcela M. Agoncillo
4) Municipal Hall
Formerly known as Casa Real, Tribunal and Consistorial, the building was erected in 1845. It is the only Spanish building in town that has a tile roof. On its façade, there’s a Circa 1572 sign showing that the town of Taal was originally established in 1572, in place of present-day San Nicolas. Go in to see portraits of all the town mayors in the entrance hall. In front of the Municipal Hall and facing the church stands a statue of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.
Address: Batangas road
When visit Taal?
Taal celebrates a number of events to commemorate the rich cultural roots of the town. Try to visit Taal during these times:
March - Pilgrimage Month
April - Taal Foundation Day/El Pasubat Festival. EL PASUBAT stands for Empanada, Longganisa, Panutsa, Suman, Balisong, Barong Tagalog, Tapa, Tamales, Tawilis, Tulingan — delicacies and crafts that Taal is known for.
November 11 - Feast of St. Martin of Tours
December 8-9 - Taal town Fiesta and Fluvial Parade of Our Lady of Caysasay.
How to get there from Manila?
From Manila, a number of buses (BLTB, Tri Tran and Jam) take the Manila-Taal-Lemery route.
Ask the driver to drop you off for a short tricycle ride to Taal.
Author: Anita Sāne
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