Around Manila: The Culture and Arts Stay-cation

This post we did some months ago, a few weeks after we arrived from post. We were supposed to go Sagada in the North, but because of a looming typhoon in that area, our trip got cancelled last-minute leaving us with some days with nothing to do.

However, JG is not one to stay put and decided that instead of an outdoor adventure, we now had time for some local high-culture field trip. And this was something I much preferred, I think I have always mentioned that all the mountain climbing that we do is an activity I do, to make JG happy. But is not something I personally prefer. Again it isn’t so bad, it’s just the contemplative, and yet challenging theme of it all isn’t one that I truly like as far as recreational activities go. I’d much rather focus my energy in something more productive, and assign recreation as something more relaxing and carefree. Anyway…

The day trip around the main museums in Metro Manila has long been overdue. And it has been a source of guilt, since I was first able to visits foreign Museums in our travels. I felt that it wasn’t right that I got to see, famous and historical paintings and artifacts from other countries and not my own.

The urge to be able to visit our museums became even more apparent when I got the chance to see original Amorsolo portraits of Philippine Presidents in our Embassy in Washington D.C. While it was great to be able to see them, I found it a bit ironic that I had to fly to another continent to get to do so.

And so despite the strong winds and dark clouds, the cultural stay-cation was afoot.

The first place we visited was of course the National Museum. Over the course of my life, I probably passed by this place a thousand times, but never got to visit. Life in the city can be hectic and stressful, and growing up, it was the least of my priorities. Nevertheless, I have always believed that it is a shame to visit other countries and not to at least try to know your own, thus my guilt for having visited other museums first.

The museum is located in Manila, a few minutes away from the Rizal Shrine and Kilometer Zero. Two main facts, and reasons to visit, is that one, it was once the home of the Congress. And two, it is where you can find, The Spoliarium, arguably the most infamous work of art in the Philippines, by a Filipino, Juan Luna. It is sort of like our Monalisa (in the Louvre) or our Guernica (at the Reina Sofia), as far as iconic art-works are concerned. Most Filipinos are not much into Fine Arts, but most of us know of The Spoliarium, as its historical value and message is taught in our schools.


The Spoliarium of Juan Luna


Displayed across the Spoliarium is another mural by Luna’s friend Felix Hidalgo                        “The assassination of Gobernador Bustamante” 

The museum, as I have mentioned, also houses, not only works by our most famous National painters, but collections in Anthropology, Ethnography, and Natural History.

I also got a kick at seeing our National heroe’s Dr. Jose Rizal little sculptures. I found it fascinating, something he actually touched and made.


A sculpture made by Dr. Jose Rizal about the mother dog who killed the crocodile who ate her puppy. 

The next place we visited is the tiny, Metropolitan Museum along Roxas Blvd. You have to pay an entrance fee to get inside. This particular museum, is where you can find a bit of the Filipino Avant-Garde. Modern and/or contemporary art as you would call it, where, like most modern takes, the message is often abstract and subject for interpretation.



Interestingly though, there are also murals there by Felix Hidalgo, who also drew internationally acclaimed art-works in their day. But aside from that, the place has 3 floors, the basement was closed the day we visited.  I am not big fan of contemporary art, or what they’d call Social Realist themes. I get that it does convey deeper messages, and that art is all about seeing that, but I am more interested in the painters, the history, and context behind the paintings themselves. Then again what do I know?

I did like the participatory art they had displayed during our visit. A french artists (I think) started a big doily project and had it travel and displayed all over the world where anyone could come in and contribute, so I did. Not sure where it is now, but its nice to know that there is a piece of art somewhere with my help in it.


That’s me, adding my little doily contribution. 

Finally, we took a bus to Makati, and visited the Ayala Museum. This museum is strategically placed in the heart of the Central Business District of Metro Manila. Connected to the malls, this unlike the Met and the National Museum, is privately owned by as the name implies the Ayalas, a prominently rich clan of Meztisos in the Philippines.


Technically this isn’t part of Manila anymore, but still technically in the capital, and technically I’m not very anal with my posts so there…

Unlike the other two, this one is a bit more modern and posh in its theme and feel. But it definitely has a must-see collection including the Diorama Experience .I highly recommend that parents take their children here, as it is a great way to get a clip-notes, chronological, take of the important points and events in the history of our country. In case kids nowadays can no longer grasp the idea of a diorama, tell them it’s like a drawing but in 3-D.

Another favorite part of mine is of course is the Gold of Ancestors that showcases gold objects from pre-colonized cultures. For obvious reasons, photos were not allowed in that part of the museum, but it was truly interesting to see how our ancestors used gold for almost all parts of their lives from births even to their graves. Personally, I thought jewelry designs then were much better than today, considering we have technology to shape any way we want.

We also tried to visit the museum of the National Historical Commission, but we were sadly informed that the museum was moved to Laguna, I think? Somewhere near the ancestral home and museum of Dr. Rizal. It was a bummer, but a great excuse to add on our do list, in visiting the Rizal hometown.


There is still a library in the building for researchers, but the museum has been unfortunately moved. 

For lunch we visited to Binondo which Manila’s chinatown. Established in the late 1500’s, it is the oldest Chinatown in the world. Lots of other things to do there but on that particular day we went for the food.


I wish I could talk about the experience in detail, and that was actually the original plan. But as I think about it, one post is enough if at least to encourage others to go do the same and find out what you could like yourselves.

I always find it sad that most Pinoys today, are definitely capable of travelling abroad, and are more inclined to visit Universal Studios in Singapore, or Hong Kong Disneyland, or languishing at the malls, than visiting these museums.  Take note that I’m not saying those aren’t great places to visit, super fun too! Also I am not one to preach, considering it took me until I got to a ripe old age of 31 to go myself, but my circumstances then were different, plus the main message here is not be like me and take it for granted. And if you guys could make the effort of going as far as ridding a plane, then it wouldn’t be so hard to hop on a jeepney and go one weekend, and make it a culturally enriching experience as well.


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