A Thing of Beauty

Talisay City, Negros Occidental, the Philippines

December 29, 2009

A thing of beauty is a joy forever / Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness; but still will keep / A bower quiet for us, and a sleep…

These verses by John Keats came to mind when I beheld what was simply called The Ruins.

The Ruins in Talisay, Negros Occidental

Talisay City, the northern neighbor of Bacolod, was just a town you passed through en route to more happenin’ places, such as Silay and Victorias. It certainly wasn’t a place to wax poetic in.

That changed in January 2008 when The Ruins was unveiled to the public. I got wind of it through a Facebook photo album of a relative in Negros.

The Ruins: A Thing of Beauty
Vertigo View from the Second Floor of The Ruins

For decades it lay in a state of ruins – its rubble reportedly visited by teenagers on ghost-hunting outings. Only one rather discreet sign could be found on a street corner, pointing to a dirt road that cut through a sugarcane plantation. The entire route just begged to be missed.

The Ruins was a mansion built in the early 1900s by sugar baron, Mariano Ledesma Lacson for his Portuguese wife from Macau, Maria Braga. I thought they lived there together, but the wife had died before its construction. It was built in her memory – a sort of lived-in Taj Mahal.

Don Mariano Lacson @ The Ruins
Maria Braga @ The Ruins

In its halcyon days, the mansion was the largest residential structure in Negros. One thing for certain – Negrense hacienderos knew how to live the good life. The sweet life, if you will, thanks to the robust sugar economy.

The (Arch)way We Were
Cruciform Creeper

A 3-day conflagration reduced the mansion to a magnificent shell. It was burned to a crisp by guerilla fighters at the start of WW2 to render it useless to Japanese forces. The roof caved in and its contents went up in smoke, but the concrete skeleton stubbornly remained standing.

Only imagination could fill up its hollow interior with elegant furniture and luxurious decors. The tiles were somehow salvaged; they were still the original ones on the flooring. I gingerly climbed up the staircase to a deck for the view, but without railings, it was not for wobbly knees like mine.

Hollow Hall
Light and Shade: The Ruins
Through the Fire

Its fiery history reminded me of a story about my great-grandfather. His house in the countryside was similarly torched around the same time, along with its cherished contents, primarily my grandfather’s mementos and photos of his stay in the US. My mother said he could only crouch in agony as he watched the house and family history reduced to cinder.

Unlike my grandfather’s house, The Ruins had enough remnants to become a tourist attraction. With a minimal entrance fee of P25 (only about 50 cents!), we could fully explore this relic of Negrense history at our own pace.

Mom at The Ruins
Mom Strikes a Pose in The Ruins

It was a photography buff’s dream. Tall arches and rows of columns would photograph well at sundown, when shadows were long and the light soft. Even at mid-afternoon, the streaming beams of sunlight through the archways were dramatic. My mom who would usually be indifferent to camwhoring could not resist asking me to take her photos, conceptualizing them herself. My young nephew, Dylan, was similarly inspired and snapped photos as well.

My Nephew, Dylan James
Dylan at the Front Lawn of The Ruins

The grounds around The Ruins were just as picture-perfect. A flower garden on one side of the mansion was restored. Originally tended by a Japanese gardener, who understandably disappeared when the Japanese invaded the island, the garden retained a Zen-like tranquility in its European design: a cobblestone oasis of flowers and fountain as an accent on a wide lawn of even-trimmed grass, a wishing well, and shade structures. Rows of yellow bells dancing in the wind made us forget the heat.

A multi-tiered fountain provided a dynamic contrast to the stone-cold imposing ruins and to an old towering smokestack (simboryo), a common sight in the Negrense landscape, behind it. The sound of cascading water completed the enchanting ambiance.

The Fountain @ The Ruins
Fountain and “Simboryo”
Yellow Bells

What had been torched and abandoned became a tourist attraction. Beauty prevailed over the ravages of war and time. Seeing The Ruins brought to mind other architectural relics and ancient edifices, testaments that beauty could outlive the physical structure that possessed it as their stories and histories lived on in their hollow shells.

This photo was taken by my nephew, Dylan.

49 thoughts on “A Thing of Beauty

  1. What is it about ruins that attract us so? Not even ones of beauty but even industrial and commercial remains are fascinating. I actually saw a picture of this place while browsing on the web previously but your images are far superior. What a lovely spot but melancholy as well when you think of how it was ruined and what was lost. Thanks for this post!

      1. I’m lucky I know “salamat” in Tagalog. If I knew more I’d have a better chance of decoding the taglish I see friends write. LOL! Hopefully I’ll visit some day and get some instruction.

  2. What a beautiful place!! The photos are awesome. You perfectly got the light and shadows there.
    And I can picture a boy in the garden who is watering his yellow bells, which is really cute. 😉
    Hope to visit there someday. 🙂

    1. Hi Karry! Yes, I was a horticulturist when I was young. 🙂 And yes, you should come for a visit, but my hometown is just as remote as Aomori is from Tokyo. 🙂

  3. Wow, what a coincidence! I was just looking for places to visit in Negros for our vacation in April. We’ll be visiting some of my husband’s relatives in Bacolod and La Castellana (Garezas). I hope we can have time to pass by Talisay. Is it between Silay and Bacolod?

    Thanks for visiting my blog, by the way. Awesome photos!

  4. @Mauie: What a coincidence too! My grandmother was from La Castellana (last name Roa). Was there last month for a reunion. Yes, Talisay is between Bacolod and Silay. You’ll enjoy Negros…there’s just so many places to see and food to eat! 🙂 In my case, I was mainly there for family get-togethers so had no time to go sightseeing that much.

    @Sky: Thanks! Negros has a lot of old colonial houses, most are not even in ruins like that. 🙂 I might retire there so by then you can visit me. In a few years? LOL

  5. Wow, you have some great work here.

    Not only the photographs but I found your writing extremely informative and engaging. It’s so easy to find out about places using wikipedia or such but then this blog unveils places in such an incredible personal light.


  6. AWESOME! You make me feel, see, touch, hear, and smell every place you visit through your artistic shots and descriptive language. I continue to be your #1 fan!

  7. Wow!!! Awesome….While reading this I could really feel the atmosphere of the place- everything was so tangible….
    Thanks for making me feel the spirit of every place you write about. Those are places I’ll probably never visit but I’m curious about.
    So,I’ve been reading your blog since November when I saw your link in Tam’s profile in FB( you remember Tam?-a friend who’s no longer there…). I’m the visitor from Bulgaria and the funniest thing is the moment I saw a post of yours, I knew you were a teacher (just like me…) – piled with papers and tests…Shall I say I felt like writing there cause I was up to my eyes in paper work?!?!?
    Anyway, I do like your blog! Keep writing! I promise to keep reading!

    1. I deeply appreciate your kind words, Reny. Thanks for reading. I was curious who would be reading me in Bulgaria! 🙂

      Is it that obvious that I’m a teacher? It really takes one to know one, huh?! 🙂 Yes, I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in papers. Blogging is my me-time although I can’t update as much as I want to because of all the research papers I have to check. You know what I mean. 🙂 Do you have a blog too?

      I do wonder what happened to Tam. He left without saying goodbye.

      I hope I can write about Bulgaria in the future. 🙂

  8. Hahahaha…I knew you’d be surprised that someone from BG is reading your blog…..

    I haven’t travelled that much but I do love reading travel blogs…Probably, this is my escape from reality…. And one day I may start writing, who knows?!?!? ;-)))
    Btw, I hope you’ll visit BG soon. There are plenty of spots worth visiting here….. Besides, it’ll be a completely new experience for you….

    So,teacher’s job’s the same anywhere- devotion, devotion….and love…no matter how much you wanna scream at certain periods…..We know the rest and should not state it here….;-)))

    No news from Tam, sorry.
    Looking forward to new posts!

  9. scene: erich reading blog in office
    brainwave activity: spiking as the soul travels to times before and filled the pictures of bygone people.
    facial features: somber with a small twist revealing to intimate people a sign of pleasure
    posture: hunched over with fascination

  10. amigo, i got the chance to go home and decided to visit the place. twice. once during mid afternoon and i was trying to catch sunset the following time but got there too late. hmmm, not a problem though, the structure is just as lovely during night time. 🙂 haven’t posted it yet in my blog but i have the series in my facebook album.

  11. @Ms Markus and Travellingrants: Thanks for the encouraging comments.

    @Mr Siomai: It’s a few turns from the main road of the town center, but you go through a sugarcane field that conceals it from any paved road.

  12. Oh wow’s dude. This is very interesting. It looks like ima have a lot to read on your blog. I love the photos(i need to get someone to help me with mine) and i really want to travel now so i can get out of NYC hahas.

    I also love the history you provide with it. Very touching. You’re very good at this. I shall learn from you =D

    1. You’re sharp, Chris. I think there was restoration work going on at the time. I didn’t ask what the net was for specifically.

  13. We’ve been in Bacolod sometime in 1998. We’ve just visited the Park fronting the DBP Building. We took pictures in that place but we’ve never had a chance to visit this place. Had it known this place during our visit, surely, we had a lot of photos that time. Hoping to revisit this place someday. I like Bacolod, especially the land use planning system. It has widened road. Well planned City with passionate Negrense (Malambing). Thank you also for taking your time reading my blog.

    1. Wide streets – yep, that’s Bacolod’s claim to urban planning fame! 🙂 I sure hope you could revisit the place. It’s the most amazing place in the country. Of course, I’m biased for my hometown. Haha!

      Btw, I learned to walk in that park you mentioned. 🙂

  14. no wonder why you objected on the construction of obelisk in the said place of the ruins for you’re a Talisaynon and you’ve been there in the place before. I have no objection of what you’ve written here. It’s already too descriptive. Your choice of words are enough to magnify the description of the ruins. but personally nothing is too brag about the place. Its historical significance is not much, the only thing is of importance is its commercial value. I look for a brochure about the background of the place to my dismay, it’s sold for ten pesos, the foods there are to expensive, even a small plastic mineral water costs Php35. I just visited the place for I’m interested in its architectural design. well, I’m convinced not so. we’ve a similar edifice in our place with such craftsmanship, but it was “sold” to the public. anyway my curiosity at least was satisfied!

    1. Actually I’m not a Talisayanon. I’m Bacolodnon. I had never heard of this place till a few years ago. But yes, there was no obelisk marker yet when I visited.

      I thought the prices there were so cheap! I guess that’s cuz I live in Manila where everything’s pricier. P10 for a brochure is quite reasonable, though ideally brochures should be free. I beg to differ though that The Ruins’ sole importance is commercial. Though it is a private property of one clan, it is still a piece of Negrense history. I’m glad the family decided to open it to the public, but I hope they’d be judicious in embellishing it, like the aforementioned obelisk marker that I find tacky.

    1. It is, but I don’t live in Bacolod anymore so I’m not that lucky. I have to take a plane or Super Ferry if i wanted to revisit. 🙂

    1. Thanks for asking Jam. Not many netizens have the decency to ask. Sorry, though, I don’t usually allow reposting of my snapshots. There are worthier pro shots in the net.

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