Barely a month when I last visited Taal Town, I found myself there again. It is such an interesting place that it’s worth exploring the second or the third time around. It’s only a few hours bus ride from Manila which makes it a nice weekend getaway. I wrote about the Taal Basilica before but it was just a cursory visit. This time around join me as we explore the grounds up to the bell tower.
Coming from a Lemery bound bus from Manila, we could already see the towering Taal Basilica Church as we enter the town. Standing at 96meters and spreading at 45 meters wide at the heart of Taal Town, the Taal Basilica is considered as the largest Catholic Church in Asia.
On its grounds is the Taal Park along with Escuela Pia, a school built by the church during the 17th century. It has now been turned into the town’s cultural and heritage center. Whenever there are organized tours, activities are held here.
Since I already covered the church history several times, let me just reiterate briefly its history. The Church was originally built in 1575 and was then rebuilt on its current location in 1755 following a major eruption by Taal Volcano. An earthquake brought massive damage in 1849 so another rebuilding was done in 1856.
If one would just look at a photo on a certain angle without looking at it, people could easily mistake it as a church in Rome. Its European inspired facade is how Architect Luciano Olivero envisioned it when he rebuilt it after the earthquake in 1856. Nothing has changed much from its appearance now save for the bell that was destroyed by the Japanese during World War II.
We went past through the horde of vendors selling familia candles and local delicacies to enter the church. Taal Basilica has massive interiors, high ceilings and large decorative chandeliers. Much of the ceiling murals were destroyed due to the renovation. The only original part left is the portion above the altar.
While I found the interior architecture still impressive, I’m also saddened by the fact that the church isn’t being maintained that well. The walls and wooden parts of the church are decaying. Paints are fading and peeling off. Parts of the walls are chipped off. And the floor needs some work on evening it out.
We got a chance to go up this time to the church tower. We were escorted by one of the friendly church guards and led us to the church loft which now has been turned to some sort of a garage. From there, we went through a small door entrance along statues with severed heads and a carved wood with only Jesus head.
The door has capiz windows which I heard are what is left of the original Capiz windows of the church. Among the Churches in the Philippines, only Taal Basilica and the one in Baclayon Church in Bohol used capiz on their church windows.
The stairs leading up the bell tower is cramped and dark. It could only fit one person at a time. Claustrophobic are advised not to go through it. We reached the church bell and got out of the tower to see the town’s sweeping panorama that morning. The view stretches up to Lemery and beyond it the bay. We enjoyed the cool breeze and scenery from the tower but had to go down for lunch at Taal Bistro.
We went back again to the Church in the afternoon when the setting sun cast a golden glow to the church facade. It was more picturesque at that time. It was our first and last stop on out tour of Taal. After finally buying a few panutsa(Sweet peanut delicacy), we were on our way home.
How to go to Taal Town: Ride a bus (Jam, Tritran, et al) headed for Lemery at the terminals located along Buendia in Makati. Tell the conductor you’re boarding off at San Nicolas. Fare is around P180 with a travel time of 3 hours. The last trip going back to Manila is at 6pm
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Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.