Reminiscing Manila’s Magellan Monument

We all know of the (in)famous Lapu-Lapu monument found in the middle of Rizal Park’s Valencia Circle. Sure, there has been some controversy due to concerns of it overshadowing that other famous monument in the park we all know about, but there is no dispute that he deserves such an honor. After all, he is known as the first Filipino hero who managed to successfully thwart a foreign power’s first attempt to colonize us.

Lapu-Lapu monument in Rizal Park

On the other hand, and understandably, there is no monument in the city for Ferdinand Magellan, the antagonist in the story who tried to colonize us in the name of the Spanish crown but failed to do so and got killed in the process. While that historical tidbit should not be ignored, the aspect of Magellan the colonizer is the one Filipinos are more fixated upon while overlooking, if not ignoring, the aspect of Magellan as an explorer and navigator, the one who after all spearheaded the first successful trip around the world even if he did not live to complete it.

Ferdinand Magellan, or Fernando Magallanes as he is known in Spain

It is interesting to note though that a century ago, the situation was different in Manila. No Lapu-Lapu monument was seen (perhaps because the Spanish, then American colonial governments did not know about him yet) but instead the city boasted a grand monument dedicated to the Portuguese-born explorer. Its origins date back to 1848, when Spanish Governor General Narciso Claveria sought to have it built. It was originally to be erected in Cebu, but it was decided that such a prestigious monument should be erected in Manila instead.

the Magellan monument (courtesy of Nostalgia Filipinas)

Thanks to donations, the colonial government managed to have the monument built as it stood tall outside the Intramuros walls right along the Pasig River near the Puerta Isabel II Gate and the Puente España. The monument bore an aura of elegance and grandeur that befitted one who made a great achievement in exploration with its marble pedestal that supported a high column pillar adorned with bronze ornaments imported from Europe. The surrounding area of the monument became a popular park among the city’s residents.

In 1904, it was relocated a few meters away right in front of the Intendencia Building still along the river. Given the importance of the river in transportation and trade during those times, not to mention the bustling urban scene on both banks of the river, (Binondo and San Nicolas up north and Intramuros in the south) the Magellan monument became a prominent landmark in the city. It is not farfetched to consider it as Manila’s answer to the Statue of Liberty, especially for those ships that first entered Manila through the wharves along the river.

Magellan monument and the surrounding park known as Paseo de Magallanes (courtesy of El Neptuno Azul)

Sadly, the Magellan monument would meet its demise during World War II during the Battle of Manila in 1945. It was damaged heavily by an American bomb in the midst of shelling in the area to wipe out the Japanese forces there. It is said that debris from the monument were dumped into the Pasig by American artillery in the middle of a cleanup operation there.

Today, the only thing that would remind one of the presence before of this monument is a stretch of road from Jones Bridge to the Maestranza complex named Magallanes Drive, though no longer a place of prominence as it once was. As for the monument, no efforts have been made to date in rebuilding the monument. Which is a shame, considering that Magellan is not being given at least a more balanced treatment in the current context.

But if there’s something to hope about in this scenario, it is that intriguing idea that perhaps the monument (or what’s left of it) still lie in the depths of the Pasig River. Perhaps someone can check it out like a modern-day expedition to discover if there is something that lies beneath the river’s depths waiting to rise again to be appreciated by a new generation.

It would be one journey worthy of Magellan’s legacy.

Acknowledgements as well to Nostalgia Filipinas

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