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Quiapo: A heritage zone of fond memories

By Tats Rejante Manahan Published Sep 02, 2023 5:00 am

For those who have lived long enough to experience a youthful shopping experience “side barred” by religious practices in the district of Quiapo—perhaps with their grandmothers, mothers, aunts, or all of the above as I have—it now seems hard to imagine what it was like then after having the ease and comfort of mall shopping in contrast to a trip “Downtown,” which was the generic name of the area, synonymous with shopping and praying.

At the center of it all was the Quiapo church with its exterior surrounded by what my siblings and I referred to as ”witchy things”: occult charms (anting-anting), healing leaves or religious statues comprised the sidewalk wares, which would prompt my grandparents to mutter a short prayer in Spanish and rebuke the spirits with the sign of the cross. The church plaza was the entry point to streets that branched out to specific areas selling merchandise of similar types; Carriedo, with a wide variety of shoe stores; Avenida Rizal which was the movie house district; “Erre” Hidalgo” St. (R. Hidalgo), as my grandparents referred to the street, which was peppered with remnants of beautiful old homes owned by “old rich” and prominent families like the Legardas, Aranetas, Tuazons, and Nakpils. It is said that in these homes, concerts and musical shows were hosted by these families.

Quiapo Church on market day
Anting-antings for sale in front of Quiapo church

There, too, was Central Market, where the women of the family shopped for fabric needs for the home, from curtains to cushion covers and “twinning” dresses for the moms and their daughters, hand-sewn by the family “modista.” And then there was the go-to “palengke” which had everything in it, Quinta Market on what was then Echague St., the rear side flanking the banks of the historic Pasig River. The market was built by a rich businessman, Francisco Carriedo (after whom the street was named) in the 18th century. For odds and ends and knickknacks, the popular bargain place was “lalim ng Tulay” (under the Quiapo bridge), which was later Frenchified by collegiala types to “Illes de Tuls.”

Feast of the Black Nazarene

Recently, a coalition of community preservation organizations prepared a nomination dossier to declare this historic area as a Heritage Zone. The dossier, entitled “Lakad-Dasal: The Quiapo Pilgrimage and Living Heritage Corridor,” substantiates the title in its cover letter, noting that “Quiapo’s vibrancy owes much to its fame as a major religious pilgrimage zone, its ongoing commercial appeal, and its rich multicultural fabric, which has remained a constant feature throughout the centuries.” At some point, various Asian nationalities settled in Quiapo: Chinese, Tagalog, Japanese, Indian, and Muslims, and to this day a smorgasbord of their dishes can still be found in the variety of restaurants that still stand. 

Bahay Nakpil

The beautiful mansions are still found along Hidalgo and Bautista Streets displaying refined examples of the “bahay na bato at kahoy”: colonnaded arcades in the facades, representing “the pinnacle in the evolution of residential architecture in the Philippines,” as stated in the dossier’s statement of significance. The addition of wooden insertions to the typical “bahay na bato” came after the major earthquake in 1880, when Spanish authorities switched to thinner and lighter brick panels, with insertions of wooden framework for increased flexibility, which is still seen in Bahay Nakpil-Bautista and at the Boix house on A. Bautista St. Building techniques such as these—focusing on the evolution of a specific type of architectural design resulting in quintessential Filipino architecture, unique to the world—is something we can claim as our own.

Ilalim ng Tulay
Carriedo shoe store

San Sebastian Basilica, built in 1891, is an all-metal church that represents a major engineering advancement in Europe, kicked off by the erection of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. In the quest to answer engineering challenges, the church was constructed with the belief that it would be fireproof and earthquake-proof. Attempts such as these serve as inspirations to builders, architects, and designers to meet the challenges of today’s ever-changing environmental challenges. Protecting heritage structures such as these can offer continuing educational lessons, as they are living documentation of possible urban planning solutions. Demolishing them simply because of their advanced age is tantamount to eradicating learning opportunities for the next generation, apart from history.

San Sebastian Church

The filing of Senate Bill No. 1471 by Sen. Manuel Lapid, which remains pending at the committee level, encompasses the protection and rehabilitation of cultural properties declared as National Cultural Treasures and Important Cultural Properties, whether they are publicly or privately owned. Under the measure, these cultural landmarks would be entitled to assistance and funding from the DOT, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and other government agencies. The bill would ensure that each structure within a given area lends itself to contextualizing history, aesthetics, intangible and tangible properties that make up the “narrative of a sense of place.” Quiapo, an area that exhibits these important aspects in abundance, is just one example of a living narrative of our precious and colorful history. Future declarations are hopefully at hand, and we can look forward to more areas with stories to tell, the past brought into the present for the future.