Where to go, what to do, and what to eat in Taal, Batangas
The municipality's over two hundred ancestral houses are just the starting point in Taal's rich culture and heritage
Aug 8, 2019
What can you do in six hours? A lot. And that’s exactly what we set out to do one Wednesday when we toured Taal, Batangas, a historic town with a record number of ancestral houses that are still intact—230 to be exact, most of which recognized by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
The first thing we need to know about the town, according to our tour guides from the municipal tourism office and our travel companions from the Southern Tagalog Arterial Road (STAR) Tollway and San Miguel, is that where Taal stands now isn’t originally where everything was located. After many volcanic disasters, especially the 1754 six-month Taal eruption, the townsfolk are forced to move to higher hills.
What remains of that original location is now known as San Nicolas, an entirely new town with little remnants of what used to be Taal town.
We start our journey to one of the most recognizable structures in the locale, the Taal Basilica, the largest Catholic church of its kind in Southeast Asia measuring 96 meters by 45 meters.
Built in 1755, the original Taal Basilica was relocated to where it is now a year after the 1754 eruption. Since then it has withstood many natural disasters including an earthquake in 1849. Its resilience is part of the lore of the historic Taal town, which itself surpassed many destructions, most notably World War II, and the most recent of which was in 2017 when a magnitude 6 earthquake severely damaged the belfry.
It is said that their patron saint, St. Martin de Tours cast an illusion making the entire town look like mere fields from above, to distract Japanese forces from bombing the entire town.
Today, the basilica is noted for its distinct details like the tiles which were from the original 1850s plan, a collection of silver and gold goblets hidden away for centuries, five altars, and its Doric-style main altar decked in silver finishing and its ceiling painted with trompe-l’œil mural by an Italian designer.
Our Lady of Caysasay Shrine and Sta. Lucia wells
The marvel of Taal Basilica is rivaled only by another Taal town church located near a river where a miraculous image of the Virgin of Caysasay was believed to have been found by a fisherman named Juan Maningcad.
While it has none of the basilica’s Baroque design, it is regarded as an important site for the municipality’s history mostly because of its two structures: the Sta. Lucia wells, where two ladies once saw the image of the Lady on a tree surrounded by kasay-kasay (kingfisher) birds and which waters are believed to possess healing powers; and a series of 125 granite steps called the San Lorenzo Ruiz steps that lead to the town center.
Goco Ancestral House
Located at Calle H. del Castillo is the 142-year old Goco ancestral house where the former Ambassador Raul Goco and his father Juan Cabrera Goco, the treasurer of the Katipunan once lived. Today, Emmanuel Pio, a third-generation member of the Goco clan conducts 6-hour tours of Taal, which include a comprehensive history of his own family and their home.
Part of the tour also is a lunch meal, where you get to dine in the likeness of the Goco family gatherings on the second floor of the bahay na bato. Heirloom dishes such as sopas a la pobre (bulalo with miswa and malunggay), adobong dilaw (chicken stew with turmeric), and sinaing na tulingan (tuna) among others are part of the spread.
The Goco residence is also adjacent to the home of the “forgotten hero” and the “godmother of the Philippine revolution” Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio who contributed to the movement through her generosity. She donated the SS Bulusan, the first Filipino warship, and also lent Jose Rizal money to publish his novels.
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