The morning the killer quake hit Bohol and Cebu, we were in Silay City, Negros Occidental. A hundred miles from the epicenter. Waiting for our breakfast inside this homey pastry shop called EL IDEAL. The breakfast never came. A few minutes before 8, the ground shook. Everyone dashed for the door, struggling with their footing. I saw the powerlines lashing like horsewhip. It was no doubt the most powerful earthquake I have experienced in 23 years. Later in the day, horrible news of death and destruction in Bohol.
El Ideal (pronounced as el eed-jal by the locals) is an old structure. One of the many antiquated edifices here which put Silay on the map. It boasts “Silay’s Original Bakery Since 1920’s.” Colonial era Philippines. Emblemed with a grinning Caucasian chef. At the first sign of tremor my eyes flashed on the shop’s columns. They must have been through a lot of tremblors before, why would they give in now. Minutes later, everything went back to normal. It’s as if everything was just a pause in the traffic light.
Nothing is disturbable in Silay City. Earthquake or no earthquake the town remains still. Our being here is an additional junket from a Bacolod City business trip. The first time I heard of the place — heritage zone, old houses, historical landmarks, and as the “Paris of Negros” — I knew I’ve got to see it. X marks the spot!
Silay has been declared as Museum City. In fact the place has merited a string of appellations: City of Museum, Paris of the Orient, Seat of Arts and Culture in the Western Visayas. Awarded as Best-Tourism Oriented Local Government Unit twice. Declared as one of the Top 25 Tourist Destination in the Philippines.
A word from Silay’s Tourism Office:
We learn and draw from our past. In Silay, the past comes alive in the architecture and fine craftsmanship of its ancestral homes. These jewels continue to inspire awe and imagination to whoever enters its doors. A confluence of foreign and local ingenuity, these palatial dwellings tell the tale of an era made sweeter by the sugar produced and the colorful life lived. It is sugar that made Silay one of the richest towns in the country and the sugar barons or hacienderos spared no expense in the construction and furnishing of their homes.
Founded in 1760, Silay was at the forefront of sugar production at the turn of the 20th century. This golden age ushered in an era of prosperity, where dances, opera, theatre and carnivals are a common occurence. In fact, the revolution that ended more than three centuries of Spanish rule in Negros was planned in the guise of Silay’s lavish parties.
The city is remindful of the time when everything was a walking distance. (Today, everything is a walking distance — if you have the time.) Well, we have a full day to spare here. I snatched a big chunk from our very limited timetable in Bacolod City for a spin around Silay and didn’t even think twice. In other words, the sidetrip overshadowed the expedition.
Built between the late 19th century and pre-war years, 29 surviving ancestral houses here were identified by the National Historical Commission as national treasures.
Above is the Maria Ledesma Gomez Heritage Building. The architectural design amazes me no end I had to snap it from all directions (and make it my lead images). Very French. Much like the colonial villas in Phnom Penh. I am tempted to match the cluster of ancestral houses here in Silay as against those in Vigan — or perhaps those in Intramuros and Pagsanjan as well — in my very own improvised way:
Vigan, Castillan. Silay, French.
Vigan, stately. Silay, elaborate.
Vigan, 19th century. Silay, turn of the 20th century.
Vigan, commercialized. Silay, living laboratory.
Random, spontaneous tour around Silay is of course, time-consuming. I’m not sure if they have a Carlos Celdran here to cater an organized, on-cue walking tour. Still, we managed to squeeze some time for the three of the more popular museums here: the Balay Negrense, Don Bernardino Jalandoni Ancestral House and the Manuel Hofilena Heritage House. Three awesome castles, three awesome histories. But that would be another post.
The Balay Negrense by sugar baron Don Victor Gaston. A fusion of Spanish-French-American architecture.
Bumming on the pavement of Bernardino Jalandoni Museum — the “Pink House.” Reminds me of the opening whistlestop scene in Once Upon A Time In The West. People have been lazing around like this for centuries.
The Green House (below) or the Angel Araneta Ledesma Ancestral House which now houses the Culture, Arts and Tourism office of Silay.
Where that pedicab passes by is one of a number of abodes I failed to identify.
Below is a lineup of the charms of Silay. Keep it as your checklist when you come to visit the place or better yet — try a little Matching Type..
- Soledad and Maria Montelibano Ancestral House
- Antonia dela Rama Locsin Ancestral House
- Sen. Jose Corteza Locsin Ancestral House
- Cinco de Noviembre Monument
- Digna Locsin Consing Ancestral House
- Balay Negrense
- Teodoro Morada Ancestral House
- Delfin Ledesma Ancestral House
- Leandro dela Rama Locsin Ancestral House
- El Ideal
- Arsenio Lopez Jison Ancestral House
- German Unson Ancestral House
- Josefa Tionko Lacson Ancestral House
- Manuel dela Rama Locsin Ancestral House
- House of Antonio Novella Sian
- Kapitan Mariano Montelibano Ancestral House
- Vicente Conlu Montelibano Ancestral House
- Lino Lope Severino Ancestral House
- Generoso Gamboa Ancestral Twin House
- Alejandro Amechazurra Ancestral House
- Angel Araneta Ledesma Ancestral House
- Manuel Hofileña Ancestral House
- Maria Golez Ancestral House
- Don Bernardino Jalandoni Museum
- Old Silay Puericulture Center
- Jose B. Gamboa Ancestral House
But before you do, here I am knocking myself out. Thanks MVP.
Taking a break outside the Jose Gamboa Ancestral House. The town is so peaceful you could hear the angels whisper as you walk.
Sad to see one of the structures — a crumbling Art Deco — is up for sale (below). At a whooping 10M! I say the local government invest in on this one.
Another castle falling apart.
The steps that’s once a testimony of the glory days.
A city built by sugar cane.
I sat quietly as we rode out of Silay. This town is an admonition to the revolting state of heritage here in the Philippines. The total disregard and destruction of ancestral legacies.
I remember the demolition of the old Jai-alai Building on Taft Avenue. One of the most significant buildings in Asia, designed in a beautiful Art Deco style. More than a decade now, the lot where it once stood remains empty. It’s sad when idiots in power get their hands on cultural landmarks.
I look out the mirror and see an old town.