The small town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur has always been known as the door to our past. From the cobblestones of Calle Crisologo that thumps as the carriages and calesas pass by, down to the pinagburnayan that celebrates the pottery of the region, Vigan has been home to the country’s preserved bygone era.
A UNESCO heritage site, Vigan is a bold statement of our rich history and culture. But down the road of this quaint town lies a silent witness to our past: the Syquia Mansion.
Built in 1830, during the Spanish colonial period, the Syquia Mansion served as the home of the late President Elpidio Quirino and his family. Now a museum, President Quirino also used to hold government functions in this ancestral home, making it known as the original Malacañang of the North.
If you’re wondering why the mansion is named after the Syquia family instead of the Quirino family, it is because the house was owned by President Quirino’s wife, Doña Alicia Syquia-Quirino. It was given to her as dowry, a wedding gift from the bride’s family to her husband.
The Syquia Mansion is one of the finest examples of the Bahay na Bato. With its first level made up of stones and the second level of wood, the mansion is one of the perfect examples of the arquitecture mestiza, a hybrid of Spanish and Filipino architecture.
Upon entering its doors, one will be greeted by a carriage. The high ceiling was a predominant feature of such architectural class because the first level also serves as the garage for the carriage or calesa.
On the second floor, one will see a lot of paintings including a replica of the Spoliarium by Juan Luna. (READ: 5 Reasons Why More Filipinos Should Visit The National Museum Of The Philippines)
There are also three paintings done by Fernando Amorsolo, the first National Artist for Painting. The living area’s flooring is made up of thick hardwood planks with the ceiling adorned with glass chandeliers. You can also notice the drapes by the windows adorned with Capiz shells.
One prominent feature of the bahay na bato is the use of ventanillas, a small opening located between the window and floor that’s usually protected by balusters.
During the Spanish era, electricity was not yet available and houses were designed to make sure that there is enough air flow to cool down the rooms. This is also the reason why there are woven cloths that hang from the ceiling. These are manual operated fans that maids use.
In the bedroom, one will see the Kama ni Ah-tay, a popular four-poster signature bed designed by Eduardo Ah-tay, a Chinese furniture maker. The bed is considered as a status symbol — if you own one, it means you are a prominent person in society.
Social discrimination was rampant during the Spanish era thus the birth of the terms Illustrados and Indios. There was a wide gap between the poor and the rich and this can be clearly seen all throughout the Syquia Mansion.
In the living room on the second floor, there are multiple holes that allow the homeowners to view the guests below. They can then determine whether to let the guests in or not. While this may be defined as social discrimination, the holes were also designed to protect the family. These were used for their security, a classic version of the now CCTV.
Along the sides of the house, there’s also a narrow corridor between the inner and outer walls. These corridors were used by maids and servants to prevent them from going inside various rooms and from being seen by house guests.
The second floor also features a central courtyard called azotea which also served as a workspace.
The Syquia Mansion is truly a door to our past. Its rich history is embedded on its stone walls and shell windows. While its grand architecture is something that is perfect for Instagram, one must not forget to look at how this mansion once defined social class during the bygone era. More than the house of the late president Elipidio Quirino, the Syquia Mansion serves as the passageway to understanding how our ancestors live during those years.
The mansion can be easily accessed as it is located along Quirino Boulevard, one the main roads of Vigan. It’s just a 10-minute walk away from Calle Crisologo and Plaza Salcedo. Entrance fee is around ₱30 and there are tour guides available.
History and heritage geeks as well as architecture fanatics will definitely fall in love with this place. The best time to go here is during weekdays to avoid the crowd so you can have the whole mansion all to yourself.