When someone mentions the name "Taal" the images I associate it with were those of the volcano and the scenic lake. That changed when I visited the heritage town of Taal in Batangas last weekend. For me, "Taal" is now a sleepy town of colonial houses and the facade of St. Martin de Tours Basilica, glowing in the golden light of the sunset.
I did not realize there was a town called Taal before last weekend. I don't know why I haven't heard of it before and I was glad to tag along with a group of friends on a day trip there.
What will catch your eye, and its hard not to since its the biggest of its kind in the Philippines and in South East Asia, is the basilica on a hill in the center town.
The original St. Martin de Tours Basilica was built in 1575 in the present day San Nicolas town (the original location of Taal town) near the shores of Taal Lake. The town (and church) was abandoned when Taal volcano wreaked havoc in 1754. The town was relocated near Balayan Bay (that explains why the town of Taal is miles away from Taal lake and Taal volcano) and the church was rebuilt in 1755, only to be reduced to rubble by an earthquake in 1849.
The church's present form, save for the bell tower that was destroyed by the Japanese during WWII, is how it looked like when Architect Luciano Olivero finished building it in 1878.
The basilica's facade, made to resemble that of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, features Doric and Corinthian columns. The original windows, made of capiz shells, were now replaced with glass ones.
The interior of the church was designed to form a cross, with aisle on decorated with paintings and stained glass windows.
The interior may not be as grand as it used to be but the intricate altars, retablos, and painted ceilings still inspire awe.
Some of the original paintings on the ceilings and murals were lost due to renovations, but one could still easily spend a couple of hours marveling various artworks inside the church.
The real treat was coming back to the basilica on sunset, when the facade was lighted golden.
More photos of this church here.