Batangas: Exploring Taal Heritage Town

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I found out about Taal Town while looking for a place to stay near Mt. Maculot in Cuenca, Batangas. While checking the route from Pico de Loro to Mt. Maculot on the map, I saw the small town of Taal along the way and decided to stay there for a night. It is quite close to Mt. Maculot where we planned to trek the next day. I was surprised to learn that there is an actual town called Taal, which is considered a heritage landmark by the National Historical Institute. I have always associated Taal with the famed Taal Lake and Taal Volcano so I was determined to learn more about this place.

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Taal Municipal Hall - Casa Real: Taal boasts of an old Spanish municipal government building erected in 1845. It is the only Spanish building in town that has a tile roof. It was formerly known as Casa Real, Tribunal & Casa Consistorial.

It was already too late to drive to Taal Town after we trekked Pico de Loro so we decided to stay at Tirona Hotel in Tagaytay City and drive to Mt. Maculot the next day for our trek. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get up early so we decided to forego of our planned trek and just explore Taal Town for the rest of the day. We were back on the road around 11a.m. circumnavigating Taal Lake towards Lemery, Batangas, and reached the town around 1p.m.

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Even without looking at the map, one won’t miss Taal Town. You will be greeted with rows of century-old ancestral stone houses, or bahay na bato, the moment you enter this rustic town. It’s like walking back in time to the bygone days of the Spanish era. Just like most stone houses, they were patterned after Castillan architecture and are made of stone on the lower floor and wood and other light-building materials on the upper floor. This is the next best place after Vigan for an experience of the old-world charm and rich culture and history – and on a cheaper budget I would guess!

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Driving further into the center of the town, we saw the renowned Basilica of St. Martins of Tours – the biggest church in the orient. The Basilica was dedicated to the town’s patron saint, St. Martin of Tours.  It was built in 1755 but was rebuilt a century later after it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1849. The structure was imposing from afar and even more so in the afternoon sun as the church’s facade reflects the light before sunset. The interiors weren’t as intricate as I was expecting them to be, but the altar and the dome ceilings are still impressive. The church yard is also a good starting point for a walking tour as well as offering free and safe parking area.

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The Basilica of St. Martin of Tours stands 95 meters long and 45 meters wide on a plateau in the heart of Taal. The façade resembles St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

 

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Its tabernacle is made of silver, the only one of its kind in the Philippines. It was declared as a national shrine on January 16, 1974.

 

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After exploring the Basilica, we were a bit overwhelmed by where to start our walking tour, since almost all the structures – restored, new or old – are remarkable in their own way. Fortunately, the Taal Municipal Hall was open that Sunday and we were able to get a brochure which has a list of notable heritage landmarks in Taal. We started with Escuela Pia just a few steps from the church. It was once used to educate the children of the upper-class of the town but now serves as a multi-purpose hall. We then followed the passage way towards the Ylagan- Dela Rosa Ancestral House – a beautiful house restored by the descendants of the family

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The “Escuela Pia” was originally constructed in 1853 to temporarily house the Virgin and hold masses during the construction of the Basilica. It later became home of the Colegio de la Sagrada Familia, which was a school dedicated to the moral formation of the youth, founded by Dona Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio. It is now used as the cultural center for the town.

 

Just a few blocks from this old house is The White House - the home of Gregorio and Mariquita Villavicencio Agoncillo. We also visited the Victorian-era Villavicencio Ancestral House, owned by Eulalio and Gliceria Marella Villavicencio, later in the afternoon. We weren’t able to get inside but these private mansions turned public museums are worth your visit not only for their fine woodwork and antiques but also for the opportunity to glimpse the lifestyle of the rich and famous of the olden days. They were also patrons of the revolutions who had supported heavily in the fight for the freedom of our country.

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The Whitehouse - Don Gregorio Agoncillo Mansion houses beautiful Edwardian and Spanish-inspired local furniture of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The prominent brass statue in front is of his uncle, Felipe Agoncillo

 

With all the walking around the town under the intense heat of the sun, we finally gave in and decided to have our late lunch and try the local delicacies of Taal. We headed to the public market to look for a carinderia that offers Tapang Taal (pork steak), sinaing na tulingan and Adobo sa Dilaw.  I was curious about their yellow adobo which makes use of turmeric or yellow ginger instead of the usual dark dish as well as the local tapa. Unfortunately, most of the people we asked were pointing us to go to Taal Bistro – a local restaurant which could also mean more expensive. It’s a good thing one of the meat vendors suggested one carinderia to us that accepts paluto of tapa. For 60 pesos of ¼ kilo of tapa, 20 pesos of steaming rice, and 20 pesos paluto, we finally satisfied our cravings all for 100 pesos for 2 persons. We also had the rest of the kalamay (desert made from sticky rice) we got earlier for desert.

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Dona Marcela Agoncillo Museum: The house is one of Taal's oldest, built in the late 17th century by Marcela's grandfather Andres Mariño. It was in this house that the first Philippine flag was sewn by hand by Marcella Agoncillo. With the heirs donating the property to the national government, it is presently being maintained by the Department of Tourism.

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It was still very hot in the afternoon when we finished our lunch so we decided to charter a tricycle to take us to the rest of the landmarks in our list. We headed to Don Leon Apacible Museum and Dona Marcela Agoncillo Museum – the house where the first Philippine flag was sewn by hand by Marcella Agoncillo. Both museums were open on Sunday and accept donations only instead of charging an entrance fee. After checking out the façade of The Wedding Gift house and Villavicencio Ancestral House, we headed back to the church and decided to call it a day.

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Don Leon Apacible Museum -Some notable items on display are blue and white Ming pottery, gilded Florentine wine decanters, a gilt-edge hand-painted Venetian dinner service, 18th -century chandeliers carefully preserved by the Apacibles. Don Leon was Emilio Aguinaldo's Finance officer and a delegate to the Malolos Congress of 1898.

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The Wedding Gift House: As his wedding gift to Gliceria, Eulalio built another house beside which was connected by a covered bridge. The houses are filled with delicate memorabilia and ancestor’s photos. Framed historical facts regarding its provenance; people who slept within its walls; materials that were used in building it; and, a family tree – are interesting finds.

 

On our way back to Manila, we passed by stalls of the famous balisong (fan knife) along the road. Aside from century-old charm, courageous heroes and delicious local delicacies, Taal is also known for its skilled craftsmen. It is the Balisong and Barong Tagalog Capital of the Philippines. Taal town is one of the few places in the Philippines where historical, cultural and religious treasures can be found. A tour around this quaint heritage village is one entertaining way to learn the history of the country. It is worth a visit as well as worth preserving for the next generations to come.

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The world-renowned Balisong fan knife, also known as “Batangas knife”, is expertly hand-crafted and use wood, bone or animal horn as gilt. Other bladed materials such as bolos and knives of various shapes and sizes are produced by blacksmiths from Barangays Balisong and Pandayan.

 

Other places to see:

z2 600x400 Batangas: Exploring Taal Heritage Town philippine heritage site featured articles churches batangas posts Sta Lucia Well – a spring-fed well where two women saw reflections of the Virgin of Casaysay, water has miraculous healing powers.

Our Lady of Casaysay Shrine – the home of the miraculous Virgin of Casaysay.

San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps – 125 granite steps dedicated to the memory of San Lorenzo Ruiz

Local crafts – balisong and hand-embroidered cloth

Balisong and Bagumbayan Church - built in the 1700 to cope with the expansion of the Catholic faith in Taal.

Taal Delicacies

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Kalamay, panocha, suman, achara and other local delicacies available at Taal's Public Market.

Tapang Taal

Suman (boiled sticky rice)

Panocha (peanut brittle candy)

Kalamay (made from ground sticky rice and sugar)

Adobo sa Dilaw (yellow adobo)

Sinaing na Tulingan

How to get to Taal Town

From Manila, a number of buses (BLTB, Tri Tran and Jam) take the Manila-Taal-Lemery route (80). From Tagaytay, you can either catch a bus marked for Lemery and get off in Taal, or take a jeepney (P15). From Batangas City, buses to Manila sometimes pass through Taal, but check with the driver first.

For more info about Taal Town and Batangas City you may visit the official website of Taal.


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