Saturday, 5 July 2014

Touring Negros Island: Talisay City's The Ruins

If you've seen the Philippine movie Oro, Plata, Mata, a Peque Gallaga classic, you would have an idea on how life was during the early 20th century in the province of Negros Occidental in the Philippines.

                     (The two 'M's plastered one side up 
                         represent Mariano and Maria)

In those times, rich families of Spanish descent lived in mansions that would probably be standing in the middle of their hacienda or right in the middle of a pueblo, just opposite the town hall.  Although these big houses had a lot of rooms, the number of rooms was always outnumbered by the number of servants.

Although there are still a lot of these ancestral mansions in the province, one mansion's history has become a popular attraction. 

The Ruins.  That is what the remains of the mansion of the late Don Mariano Lacson is now called. Situated in Talisay City (just next to Bacolod City, the province's capital) and in the middle of a hacienda, the mansion's silhouette and history are what attracts tourists to this site. 

Built in the 1920s, the mansion of Don Mariano was Italianate in style with neo-Romanesque small twin columns that guard both sides of the windows and that rise up to an arch giving the mansion a very elegant character from the outside . Looking at those huge windows, it must have been very breezy all year-round! And they didn't need air-conditioning!

                       (A running fountain in the garden)

The mansion had ten rooms, but during World War II, Don Mariano agreed that it be burned down because if it fell into the hands of the invading Japanese army, they would definitely turn his very luxurious home into their command post. The Filipino guerrillas fighting for the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (or USAFFE) helped torch the mansion down. It is said that the timber used for building the mansion came from the sturdiest of the trees available that the structure burned for three days.

Don Mariano actually had this mansion built in memory of his wife Maria Braga, a Portuguese lady from Macau, who died while she was pregnant with their 11th child. This mansion was like a Taj Mahal of the Philippines. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum in India built by a Mughal emperor in memory of his third wife. On the other hand, Don Mariano was like an emperor in his own right, lording over his haciendas and hundreds of laborers at that time. But in memory of his first wife, he didn't build a big mausoleum; instead, he built a big house.

If his mansion wasn't burned down and was still standing today well-preserved like an ancestral home complete with furniture, curtains and locked doors, I think Don Mariano's ghost would be seen standing by the belvedere gazing out as if to watch the sun set over his hacienda. Or maybe, on some moonlit nights, he and Maria Braga would be seen roaming their well-maintained gardens, and that would be enchanting!

                          (The gardens and gardeners)

As I am now based in Seoul, Korea, and my days spent in the province are limited, I made sure I squeezed in a trip into my vacation schedule to visit The Ruins in Talisay City. Having abandoned plans on a sidetrip to Don Mariano's hacienda during my vacation in the province before, I made sure this time that I wander around this corner of the province that once revered his name as an emperor of sorts. 

                                      (Maria Braga)
                         (Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson)

And just like the many local and international tourists who came to visit all these years, I also discovered The Ruins' history, admire its architecture and enjoyed walking around Don Mariano's gardens. Looking at the silhouette of the mansion surrounded by the lushness of the trees and his gardens, and caressed by Negrense breezes under the Visayan skies, any visitor can sense his undying love and devotion to Maria Braga, even though they're no longer around. Just like the Taj Mahal, the ruins of the mansion still stand as one man's monument and testimony for his love.

And if you're visiting Bacolod City or Negros Occidental in the Philippines, do drop by The RuinsWho knows? Don Mariano will be there to welcome you.

                     (During the mansion's construction)

Here's their official website for details and directions:

                          Don Mariano and Maria Braga

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