by Julia Escaño
If the constant stream of tourists in places like Vigan and Taal say anything, it’s that there’s still space in the Filipino’s heart for culture and history. After all, there’s no better way to get a feel for the olden days than to visit a town that’s pretty much a time machine. One such place is the Pila Heritage Town in Laguna.
Pila’s historic town center is located in Barangay Sta. Clara Norte. In 2000, The National Historical Comission (NHC) declared it as a National Historical Landmark, but didn’t gain traction as a mainstream tourist spot until a few years ago. If you’re looking for a cultural weekend experience and a quick break from the city, check out Pila Heritage Town for a good dose of history.
It’s only 1 of 4 such towns in the country
Over the centuries, one war or another obliterated most of our rich heritage. After 300 years of Spanish colonization and the subsequent American reign, we were left with only 4 towns recognized as national historic landmarks. These are the city of Vigan, the town of Taal in Batangas, Silay in Negros, and Pila, Laguna.
It’s like going back in time
A visit to Pila Heritage Town is an excellent way to get a real feel of the Philippines in that era. Its rareness and the stellar condition is a unique peek at the way the country once was. It’s also an opportunity for some great photos, with blocks and blocks of ornate houses and lavish architecture you won’t see in the metro.
It has a total of 35 structures considered as Built Heritage
The town center’s exceptional preservation resulted in a total of 35 structures in the town of Pila to be declared as Built Heritage. The NHC is now protecting these structures. It’s not just houses and mansions either. Included in this list are a couple of Spanish-era bridges, churches, schools, a well, and even a crematorium! Check out this map by the Pila Historical Society for a glimpse of the town’s layout.
It’s home to one of the oldest churches in the country
As old Spanish towns go, the San Antonio de Padua Parish sits in the heart of everything. It’s the mark of Pila’s plaza mayor, along with the municipal hall and Liceo de Pila. Founded in 1578, San Antonio de Padua Parish is the first church in the country dedicated to St. Anthony. It’s also said to have the 3rd oldest belfry in the Philippines. The bell was such a town treasure that it was sunk in Manila Bay to protect it during the invasions.
It has evidence of pre-colonial life
Apart from a being a great example of colonial heritage, Pila Heritage Town was also designated as a historical landmark for the Pinagbayanan archaeological site. In the 60’s, an archaeological dig here unearthed jars and pots dating back to the pre-colonial Philippines. Some of the artifacts even had distinct Sung Dynasty designs, proving further that the country had abundant trade practices before the Spanish arrived.
It’s an architectural treasure
Pila Heritage Town, and especially the town center, is essentially a living museum. The streets lined with old mansions and buildings are a grand visual display while still being used in everyday life. While some of the houses are open to guests, such as the Alava Ancestral House, some are being used as plain old houses. It’s a testament that progress and daily use need not get in the way of preserving our cultural identity.
How to get there:
From Manila, take a DLTB bus to Sta. Cruz, Laguna and ask to be dropped off at Pila Town Center. Fares cost approximately Php150.