Rizal Park, Part 1: Beginning at Bagumbayan

This Holiday season, and also in commemoration of this year being the 150th birth year anniversary of our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, the Urban Roamer pays tribute to Rizal and the ever popular metropolitan destination, especially this season, named after him

Unless there are any disputes to this, (of which I am certain are just few and not that significant) there is no doubt that Manila’s number 1 tourist attraction would be the Rizal Park. In fact, Rizal Park is seen by some as what Manila is all about. While this perception may be unfair to the rich landscape the city has to offer, for good or ill, its popularity as Manila’s top destination among locals and tourists alike has made the park inextricably linked to the city, a showcase of what’s good and not so good of the city and the country as a whole encapsulated in its 50-hectare area. In a way, Rizal Park is Manila’s equivalent to New York City’s Central Park, only with a Statue of Liberty of sorts.

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But before it became a park, the area we know today first began as a settlement located just outside the Intramuros walls that was established at the beginning of the 17th century. It was named “Nuevo Barrio” or “New Town” but it was more popularly known by its local name: Bagumbayan.

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The task of administering the settlement’s religious matters fell upon the Augustinian Recollects who put up a church and convent dedicated to San Juan Bautista or John the Baptist in 1606. But this church was more popularly known as the first home of what would be a symbol of Manila Catholicism: the image of the Black Nazarene. That was at least until 1608, when it was moved to the larger Recollect church in Intramuros. The church/convent and settlement would remain for more than a hundred years until it was destroyed during the British occupation of 1762 as Bagumbayan was used by the British as a base from which they made their offensives against the Spaniards defenses in Intramuros, which turned out to be successful.

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site of the former Recollect Parish of Bagumbayan

The Spaniards were so traumatized by the British experience that after the invasion, they decided to not rebuild Bagumbayan settlement anymore and was converted instead into a military barracks, given its proximity to the Manila Bay. A crescent-moon shaped plaza was built near the barracks, called the Paseo de Luneta or Plaza of the Lunette in 1820. Thus the origin of the park’s famous nickname, Luneta.

Bagumbayan and Paseo de Luneta in the 19th century (taken from the Internet)

Other than its use as military barracks, Bagumbayan became known as a killing field of sorts, especially during the late 19th century where the colonial government’s enemies, from criminals to political prisoners were being executed. Notable among those who died here were the Filipino priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora in February 17, 1872 for their alleged involvement in the 1872 Cavite Mutiny, the so-called Thirteen Martyrs (Trece Martires) of Cavite in September 11, 1896 for their participation in the Philippine Revolution, and perhaps the most famous among the martyrs, Jose Rizal on December 30 that same year.

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memorial marking the execution site of Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora (AKA GomBurZa) in 1872, considered to be the watershed event for the eventual Philippine enlightenment and revolution against Spanish rule by the late 19th century

to be continued…

© The Urban Roamer

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