Taj Mahal of Negros Occidental

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Friday, July 25, 2014


AGRA, Uttar Pradesh in India is known for its Taj Mahal, a white marble mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife. In Negros Occidental, it has a counterpart and it's called The Ruins.

I was together with other Davao journalists who made a familiarization tour around Western Visayas.

We thought The Ruins, located in Talisay City, was just another Philippine landmark that tourists could visit, but we were wrong when we had the opportunity of talking with Raymund Javellana, the man behind the restoration of the mansion to its former glory.

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Love, so goes a saying, comes from the most unexpected places. That happened to Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson, who frequented Hong Kong with his friend when he was still younger. There, the sugar baron met Maria Braga, a Portuguese lady from Macau. Smitten by her beauty, he courted her and eventually married her.

Don Mariano brought his wife to Talisay and started their own family. They were blessed with 10 children, two of whom became government officials. When Maria was pregnant with her 11th child, she slipped in the bathroom and started to bleed. In those days, in 1911, it would take two days to travel with horse-drawn carriage from Talisay to the town of Silay, where a doctor lived.

By the time the doctor arrived -- on the fourth day -- Maria and her baby were already gone to another world. Her death brought Don Mariano to depression; to get him out of it, he embarked into building a house for his unmarried children.

But before that, he told his father-in-law about the idea. He agreed and even went as far as supporting the son-in-law in every way he can.

Instead of just a house, it turned to be two-story mansion of Italianate architecture, whose plans "could have been given by his father-in-law," Javellana recounted.

As his father-in-law was a captain of his own ship, many items from Europe and China, ranging from machuca tiles, chandeliers, and china wares were carted to Talisay. He even brought some construction workers from China to help build the mansion.

After three years of construction, the mansion was finally finished. "The A-grade concrete and oversized twisted bars used in its construction had contributed much to the strength of the skeletal frame of the structure," Javellana informed. "The finishing touches on the walls and posts were a mixture of pure concrete with egg whites, resulting in a marble-like finish which can be seen and felt even to this day."

Don Mariano built the mansion in honor of his beloved wife. "Proof of his unwavering love for Maria, he had their initials molded on every post of the mansion," Javellana said. "The 2 M's, facing each other, stands for Mariano and Maria."

At that time, the mansion was the largest residential structure ever built in the area. It was constructed at the center of the 440-hectare farm. When World War II broke out, Don Mariano and his unmarried children left the mansion leaving everything.

When the United States Armed Forces in the Far East came to the area, there were some rumors that the Japanese forces might use the mansion as its headquarters. To prevent it from becoming as such, the mansion was burned.

It took three days of burning to consume all of its roof, ceiling, floors, doors and windows -- all of which were made of hard wood like tindalo, narra, and kamagong. When the flames finally died down, only the following stood the fire: the pillars of the mansion, the grand staircase, as well as parts of the two-inch wooden floors on the second story.

Today, The Ruins -- as the mansion is now called -- has gained the reputation of being one of the top tourist destinations of Negros Occidental. Thanks to Raymund Javellana, who believed that it should be a reminder of the glorious past of the province and undying love of his great, great grandfather to his beloved wife.

How to get there: The Ruins is only 15-20 minutes from the heart of Bacolod City and 10-15 minutes away from the Bacolod-Silay airport. Take the access road to the airport and turn west upon seeing the sign to The Ruins.

Cebu Pacific Air flies from Davao City to Bacolod City (one flight only) every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Travel time is about one hour and 10 minutes.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on July 26, 2014.

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