Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Back in Time in the Town of Taal

Two things I knew of my Batangas trip: my flights dates and how to get to Batangas from Pasay. Nothing more. I had left all the planning to my good Batangueño friend.

It was only on the first day that I had learned of our itinerary. He had plotted out a clockwise route from Lipa, Batangas and our first stop was the historic town of Taal. Just how historic it was I had no clue, until I stepped off the jeep that had stopped a short distance from Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours.

Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours
(also known as Taal Basilica)
Calle Marcela Mariño Agoncillo
Brochure Php 5
Bell Tower (9AM to 4PM) Php 50

The church was built in 1575, rebuilt in 1642, destroyed by the eruption of Taal Volcano in 1754, relocated and rebuilt in its present location in 1755, then destroyed by an earthquake in 1849. The Basilica that is standing now was built in 1856 (completed in 1878) and is said to be the largest in Asia.

In front of the largest church in Asia is a massive bell, which took residence at the belfry up until 1942 when it fell because of an earthquake. What resides now at the bell tower aside from bats? 

For 50 pesos each, we were allowed to go up the bell tower. The way was dark and dank, and there was a lingering stink in the narrow stairway. The breeze up top was literally a breath of fresh air. In the company of three huge bells (though not as massive as the one displayed in front of the church), we stayed a few minutes for the breeze and the view. And we prayed...that the bells wouldn't toll while we were up there.

View of the town from the Basilica's bell tower

After saying our prayers and gulping down fresh air, we headed back down the narrow staircase and made our way to...
Don Gregorio Agoncillo House
(also known as White House)
Calle Marcela Mariño Agoncillo corner Calle Felipe Agoncillo
8AM to 4PM
Admission fee Php 70

When we reached the gates of this white house, it was closed. There was no sign that the house was open to the public. We peered through the gate like little prisoners until we spotted a ghost! Just kidding. We spotted a lady inside. She let us in but didn't tell us anything about the people who had lived there.

So who was Gregorio Agoncillo? I found this little piece of information written on a little brass sign somewhere in the house:
"An active supporter of the Philippine Revolution against the colonial government of Spain in 1896. Exiled to Hong Kong in 1898 where, as a member of the Revolutionary Council established by General Emilio Aguinaldo, he continued the struggle to establish a sovereign Filipino nation. Solicited funds in Japan and Hong Kong for the revolutionary forces. 
Launched the modernization program of the sugar industry in Batangas and served as first president of the "Associacion de Agricultores de Oeste Batangas." Served as director of Philippine National Bank and the Manila Hotel."
Next house we visited was the...

Casa Villavicencio
32 Calle Gliceria Marella
Tuesday to Sunday 8AM to 5PM
Admission fee Php 70

Through a short film that we were encouraged to watch, I learned about Gliceria Marella Villavicencio and how she would give up her wealth, life, and family for the love of the country.

What is the significance of this house? This house once served as a meeting place of the revolutionary chiefs (like Andres Bonifacio, Miguel Malvar, Felipe Calderon) who came to Taal disguised as sabungeros. On June 12, 1898, Philippine Independence Day proclamation, General Aguinaldo referred to Gliceria Marella as the godmother of revolutionary forces. I did not make that up. I found that little note in the house.

We stupidly missed visiting the house right next door: the Wedding Gift House which Eulalio Villavicencio built for his wife, Gliceria. From Casa Villavicencio, we went looking for the...

San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps
(also known as Caysasay Steps)

and somewhere between the first and the 125th step we met some kids who led us to the...

Miraculous Well of Sta. Lucia

Under the arch of coral stone, which was part of a chapel that was destroyed in the 1754 eruption of Taal Volcano, is a well where the water is said to heal. People go there to pray in the little grotto off to the side of the arch and to wash themselves with the water from the well (there are changing rooms too!). Also nearby is the...

Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine
Photo from Lakad Pilipinas

The church and the well have an interesting story to tell, but for that, you have to head on to Ironwulf's blogpost.

After visiting the Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine, we traced our way back to Calle Marcela Mariño Agoncillo and walked westward, where we found...

60 Calle Marcela Mariño Agoncillo
8AM to 5PM
Admission fee Php 70

Galleria Taal was the home of the Ilagan–Barrion family and is now the home of Emmanuel "Manny" Barrion Inumerable's fantastic collection of old cameras from the late 1800s to the late 1900s! The cameras still look spiffy and, I am told, still work. Copies of old photographs are also on display in Galleria Taal.

It was almost noon and our stomachs were grumbling. It grumbled more when we were told that lunch for a minimum of eight persons can also be booked at the Galleria Taal. It would cost Php400 per person and the menu would consist of Batangueño fare.

Hungry, we decided to visit one more house: the house of Marcela Mariño Agoncillo down the road. But on the way there, we got sidetracked by another old house, which did not charge any admission fee:

Leon Apacible Museum
Tuesday to Sunday 8AM to 4PM
No admission fee; donations welcome
Photo from taal.com.ph

Leon Apacible was a lawyer and his house was also one of the meeting places of the revolutionary leaders (Jose Rizal included). Leon Apacible became General Miguel Malvar's right-hand man and led his own force of soldiers against Spain in capturing Batangas.

Then we were finally on to our last stop, the house of:

Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo
Tuesday to Sunday 8AM to 4PM
No admission fee; donations welcome
Photo from taal.com.ph

The house of Marcela Mariño Agoncillo is one of the oldest in Taal. It was built in the late 17th century by Marcela's grandfather. So who was Marcela Mariño Agoncillo? She sewed the first Philippine flag!

Taal Town is teeming with beautiful ancestral houses and I wished I was wearing a barong while strolling its streets...but then, with the blazing sun and my big black backpack, I would be sweating like a pig. On second thought, I wished I was wearing a barong while riding a calesa along the streets of Taal. That would have completed my back–in–time tour.

Map by Ian Paul Bautista Agojo

Tip: Period costumes can be tried on at Villa Tortuga for a fee. But the costumes cannot be worn on the streets.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Around the Northern Half of Batangas:
Around the Northern Half of Batangas in Three Days
Back in Time in the Town of Taal (you're here!)
Boy Scouts in Burot Beach, Calatagan
What's in a (Business) Name? Treinta y ocho
The Waterfalls of Laurel: Malagaslas and Ambon–Ambon
Lipa, Batangas: Casa de Segunda, San Sebastian Cathedral, Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church
Where and What We Ate in Batangas

A Bit of Cavite in Between:
Wisdom from the Road #23
People's Park in the Sky


  1. Replies
    1. Nindot ang Taal town. Was amazed at how they have preserved these houses. Unta ing-ani pud sa Carcar!

  2. Wow. You made it to the Miraculous Well! The farthest we've been was the Agoncillo house.

    1. Ang Agoncillo house man ang pinakalayo hehehe :D

  3. I am already in-love with this town just by looking at your pictures! Putting this in my to-go list!

    1. I was impressed by how well maintained the ancestral houses were. We missed a couple of houses though and how I wish I had found the map before the trip!