TALE AS OLD AS TIME 1: CASA VILLAVICENCIO
John Paolo R. Rivera
Travelling from Manila to Taal takes about two and a half hours by private vehicle. As one traverses the expressway and provincial roads, one can notice the change in environment and ambiance from urban to rural, from modern to historic. As one approach the Basilica Menor de San Martin de Tours (the largest Catholic Church in Asia) through the Calle Marcela M. Agoncillo, the antiquity of the heritage town of Taal becomes prominent. Other than the ancestral houses, Taal is also famous for its balisong (butterfly knife) and Barong Tagalog (traditional Filipino men’s formal wear).
Taal is known for its well-maintained ancestral houses. Because of this, it was declared a heritage town and was chosen as a national historical landmark, where several historical events took place. The town served as the birthplace of prominent people who took an active role in the Philippine revolution against Spain – the Katipuneros. The ancestral houses also served as a venue where revolutionary activities took place.
Not far from the basilica is the oldest and grandest of all ancestral houses in Taal – the Casa Villavicencio – located at 32 Calle Gliceria Marella, Taal, Batangas, Philippines. It is a Spanish-inspired bahay-na-bato built in the 1850s. It is dedicated to the couple Don Eulalio Villavicencio and Doña Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio, also known as Aling Eriang, known in history as The Forgotten Heroine of the Philippine Revolution. There is an adjoining house called the Villavicencio Wedding Gift House – a gift from Don Eulalio to Doña Gliceria on their wedding. Over the years, it has maintained its original design and preserved its architecture.
Casa Villavicencio is a two-storey house made mostly of hardwoods – Narra, Ipil, and Molave. During the Spanish era, the ground level is used for storage, garage, and waiting area for laborers. Today, a long wooded dining table with two long benches on each side would welcome guests upon entering the stalwart doors. These furniture compliments the experience of savoring Taal’s specialties – native chocolate drink (Tsokolate Eh) or Batangas coffee (Kapeng Barako); sweet, sticky, boiled rice cake wrapped in banana leaves (Taal’s suman); and local bread that is crunchy on the outside but soft inside (bonete).
After snacks (merienda), guests would have the opportunity learn the history of Taal and Casa Villavicencio through a short documentary film. Afterwards, as guests ascend the steep solid hardwood staircase to view the living rooms on the second floor, one would instantaneously noticed the original tin ceiling and artsy frescoes in the receiving area (antesala), where it was believed that the Katipuneros disguised themselves as cockfighters (sabungeros) and traders meeting with Aling Eriang. Other important features are the well preserved polygonal paneling; oil-on-canvas murals on walls done in the early 1900s by Emilio Alvero, original red clay tiles and black and white Machuca tiles by the staircase; crystal chandeliers of Victorian era; and impressive doors and carved floral motifs.
A few steps from the antesala is the living room or salon (sala). It is adorned with portraits of Eulalio and Gliceria painted by Juan Luna. In one corner of the sala by the huge window, a pair of high chairs (durungawan) is placed. It is believed that in this area of the sala, Aling Eriang oversees her trading ships anchored on Balayan Bay.
A double door in the sala opens to a bedroom that has an antique bed (also known as Ah-Tay bed). A larger bedroom has four more antique beds, a vintage yet elegant dressing table (tocador), and sideboard/dresser (aparador), classic chairs, and a huge door that leads back to the antesala. A common restroom, which was added recently, can be found a few steps from the beds.
Another door in the antesala leads to the dining room and the kitchen. There is a formal dining room with a long table that can accommodate at least 12 people. Just like the mansions, there is also an informal dining room (comedor). Since the house was built during the colonial period, there is a secret room below the dining room that can be accessed through a clandestine door covered by the carpet. In this secret room, Katipuneros have plotted strategies and made important decisions regarding the revolution. There was even a tunnel connecting the house with the basilica. Today, the tunnel is not anymore accessible. Likewise, the kitchen has been refashioned to resemble a kitchen (cocina) of the olden days with a spherical fireplace (pugon) and a collection of black earthen pot (palayok). One can also see the owner’s collection of old wine and beer bottles.
Indeed, the magnificence of Casa Villavicencio, its restoration and maintenance will gain the admiration of its guests. The house still stands erect after a massive restoration effort done in 1997 by fourth generation descendant, Ernesto ‘’Ernie’’ Villavicenccio, with his wife, Maria Rosario “Ria’’ Saldana-Benedicto. It is an on-going process of care and continuous maintenance done by the couple, who are in the forefront of heritage advocacies and tourism efforts for Taal.
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