Get a history lesson from The Ruins

When you mention Negros Occidental, a province in Western Visayas in the Philippines, the first thing that comes to mind for many Filipinos is delicious food—it’s cheap and the locals love to eat. But they would be quick to add that the province is also rich in Philippine history and culture.

Take Talisay, a city in Negros Occidental, sandwiched between its equally culturally-rich neighbours: Bacolod to the south (a town established back in the mid-1700’s) and Silay City to the north (where a Spanish colonial settlement dated back to the 16th century). About 10 kilometers from the Bacolod-Silay International Airport, Talisay’s most famous tourist spot—The Ruins—dates back to pre-World War II.

Also read: Bombs, big guns and other WWII tales

Violent history
The Ruins is exactly that: ruins of an old mansion. In the early 1900’s, Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson, a Spanish-Filipino sugar baron, built the mansion for his Portuguese wife, Maria Braga. They filled their house with European and Asian furnishings, eventually earning the reputation of owning the biggest and grandest mansion in the province at the time.

Sadly, it met a violent end. In the early part of World War II, Don Mariano found out that the Japanese were planning to turn his mansion into their headquarters. So he asked Filipino guerilla fighters in Negros to torch his house, just to keep it from the clutches of the Japanese. Others believe (the more romantic perhaps?) that he burned his own house down as he had gone mad after the death of his wife. Whichever version of the fire you believe, it's been told that that it took days to burn down most of the mansion.

When the flames finally died down, the pillars of the mansion, the grand staircase, as well as parts of the two-inch wooden floors on the second storey withstood the fire. Architecture remains that attest to a point of history in the town of Talisay.

Photos: Hooray for heritage sites!

The Ruins, restored
Nowadays, the ruins of this mansion has turned into a favourite tourist spot among folks visiting nearby foodie-destination Bacolod (have to walk off all those calories and sweets).

For a fee of P25 (around 60 cents), stone steps welcome guests into what’s been left of a pre-war mansion. The grand stone staircase stands on the left. The banister is gone as well as most of what’s supposed to be at the top of the stairs. You could still climb it, though. Just make sure you’re not squeamish about heights. Inch your way along the cement path, about a foot wide, against where the wall used to be. At the end of it, you’ll be rewarded by a view of the mansion’s front garden, with the fountain that’s lit up at night.

Downstairs, a back bedroom has been restored to its original state, with a wooden bed and night table, and wide windows. This used to be the bedroom of one of the children. In the hallway beside this room are framed photos of the family, much like an informal memorial.

On the grounds, off to one side, are an outdoor café that serves Mediterranean food, and a souvenir shop that sells everything from refrigerator magnets to T-shirts and bags.  A few steps away is an 18-hole mini-golf course for visitors who are more into sports than history lessons.

If you look around the remains of the mansion long enough, you could just imagine how it used to look at its grandest. But despite it having no walls or roof, The Ruins still stands silently proud amidst the sugar plantations around it. Much like how its first owner likely stood while it burned.

Also read: Preserving a heritage in Batanes

How to get there:
A cab ride from the capital city of Bacolod would take about 30-45 minutes. If you’re driving, find your way to Bata (Pepsi bottling plant) and head east. From there, signs will lead you to The Ruins. Or you could rely on directions from locals, most of whom would know where The Ruins is. (A tip: Many locals inexplicably pronounce Ruins as “roo-whens.” Keep that in mind when you’re asking for directions.)

Visit Bacolod City Guide for more information about The Ruins.

More travel tidbits here: Check out the historical landmarks and hit the markets of Cebu in the Philippines. Video produced by Filquest Media Concepts Inc.

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