We’ve just received an unexpected report from the Little Mail Carriers, all the way from the Philippines! We don’t know exactly when they were there as mail has been slow to leave the country in the past year… but we’re definitely not complaining — there’s so much to see in this amazing country, and it’s a treat to get a glimpse of it through the eyes of our little intrepid wanderers. Join us for another fantastic report of their travels!
Our host Jom (aka jugatmos) told us that the late Carlos Celdran (a popular cultural activist and performance artist) used to say: “If you can’t find beauty and poetry in Manila, you’ll never find it anywhere.”
Manila is commonly used to refer to the whole metropolitan area (Metro Manila), which includes not just Manila City itself but also Makati, Quezon City and 14 other cities, merged together in a huge metropolitan area. Today we’re focusing on the City of Manila itself, the place with most of the historical and iconic landmarks in the Philippines.
In order to learn more about the history and culture of the country, we’ll make a stop at the National Museum of the Philippines, which is actually a group of different museums housing the nation’s treasures. First on our list is the National Museum of Anthropology, formerly known as the Museum of the Filipino People, located in the Rizal Park.
Here we can see the Laguna Copperplate, a document that shows the use of mathematics, inscribed in the Shaka year 822 (corresponding to Monday, April 21, 900 AD) and the earliest known calendar-dated document used within the Philippines Islands. This document is demonstrative of pre-Hispanic literacy and culture, and is considered to be a national treasure.
Baybayin can be seen on the windows of the museum! Have you heard of it before? This is one of the Philippines many ancient writing systems, used before the popularization of Latin characters in the archipelago.
And look at that these traditional attires — they’re made of piña, which are the fibers from pineapple leaves. Early Filipino clothing used several different fibers, including piña, jusi and abaca. The Maria Clara gown on the right, sometimes referred to as Filipiniana dress or traje de mestiza, is a traditional dress worn by women in the Philippines. It is composed of four different parts: a blouse, a long skirt, a cloth to wear over the shoulders, and a knee-length over-skirt.
After the National Museum of Anthropology, we took a detour to the National Museum of Fine Arts, to marvel at its architecture and take a peek at some famous paintings…
…like the “Parisian Life” by Filipino painter and revolutionary activist Juan Luna, or “The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines” by visual artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco. This mural was specially commissioned for the entrance of Philippine General Hospital and was later declared a national cultural treasure.
The last stop on our Museum tour is the Museum of Natural History, a building with striking architecture where we met Lolong, the world’s largest crocodile to ever be measured. After he died in captivity in 2013, he was brought to the museum, where his remains were taxidermied.
No visit to Manila would be complete without a stroll in Intramuros, the walled city within the city of Manila (intra = inside, muros = walls) which today remains rich and intact in its cultural significant. It was considered to be the educational and religious center in colonial times, where original campuses of the University of Santo Tomas (the oldest university in Asia) were once located. As Filipino writer Nick Joaquin would say, “Intramuros! The Old Manila. The original Manila. The noble and ever loyal city…”
Inside the walls of Intramuros we stumbled on Casa Manila, a museum depicting colonial lifestyle during the Spanish colonization, which is a copy of an 1850s San Nicolas House that was once located in Calle Jaboneros. We took a rest at the packed heritage café Barbara’s nearby, before gearing up to visit the magnificent Manila cathedral as well as the San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Below you can see the gates of Fort Santiago. Built in 1590, it remains as one of the most important historical sites in Manila, as many significant events took place in it throughout the years.
One of these was the imprisonment of national hero Jose Rizal. Rizal’s writings partly inspired the Philippine Revolution, although he was not involved in its planning. He was held in Fort Santiago before being executed by the Spanish colonial government in 1896 for the crime of rebellion, and did not get to see his home country gain independence just 2 years later.
Rizal spent his last 24 hours in a chapel converted into a prison, before marching to his execution in Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park). There’s a memorial trail that traces his steps to the park, which we followed as night fell. There we found Rizal Monument, the final resting place of this martyr.
Entitled "Motto Stella” (Guiding Star), the monument by Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling is composed of a standing bronze sculpture of Rizal in overcoat holding a book that represents his novels Noli Me Tángere and El Filibusterismo, with an obelisk commonly understood as Rizal’s masonic background with its three stars standing for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao (the three main island groups), set on a granite stone base inside of which his remains are interred.
There are at least 118 Rizal monuments in the Philippines with an exact replica in Madrid, Spain. Other similar monuments can be found in Wilhelmsfeld (Germany), Jinjiang, Fujian (China), Cherry Hill Township (New Jersey), San Diego (California), and Seattle (Washington), Reforma Avenue in Mexico City (Mexico), La Molina in Lima (Peru), Litomerice (Czech Republic), and Singapore to name a few.
We were told the monument has a “photo bomber”, an ugly residential building that peeks out on the right side, spoiling a lot of the photos… So we’re glad we decided to take our selfie there at night! 😜
This report is getting long already, but there’s still so much more we have to show you, so much to discover in the Philippines… So stay tuned for further broadcasts!
PS – Our huge thank you to jugatmos for this fantastic report, and for taking the time to show the little guys around so many interesting places!