Have you wondered how the houses of the landed Filipino gentry looked like
during the Spanish era?
I was leafing through my photo archives and found some valuable pics of my visit to Negros Occidental in 2003, including Bacolod. Next to Vigan in Ilocos Sur, Silay City is the best place in the Philippines to view Spanish-era ancestral houses in their full-splendor. It is laudable that the city has tried its best to preserve the houses which were built between 1880 and 1930. Most have been turned into museums for public viewing so you really get to see how people in the 19th century lived.
Our first stop was the Hofilena ancestral house where the lively descendant Ramon Hofilena gave us a tour of their place complete with anecdotes and historical tidbits. I remember this house for displaying precious works of art by Amorsolo, Manansala and other great artists which were prominently displayed in every corner, including the stair case. It wasn’t only an antique house, it was a fascinating gallery in itself.
This was the inside of the Hofilena ancestral house. It really looked like everything was in tiptop condition. Visitors would have a good idea about the kind of furniture, houseware and interiors they used during the 18th to 19th centuries. Some of the items we saw included precious china, platera (dish cabinet) made from expensive hardwood like narra, embroidered tablecloth, ceramic wash basin and even the gowns the ladies wore during the era.
In its heyday, Silay was known as the “Paris of Negros” because the haciendero families who owned vast sugar plantations in the region would hie off to Europe to shop and take a break and brought home the same sophisticated lifestyle when they returned.
If I remember right, this was the Balay Negrense Museum. For a while it was believed to be “haunted” but is now also open to the public. A book, “The Rough Guide to the Philippines” describes it as “once the home of Don Victor Gaston, eldest son of Yves Germaine Leopold Gaston, a Frenchman who settled in Silay during the latter part of the 19th century. It’s probably safe to say that it was Gaston and his descendants who imbued Silay with its unmistakable French flavor.”
Anyway, I remember Balay Negrense for having two grand staircases on each side. Apparently, the Gaston couple had more than a dozen children and the boys were separated from the girls, even in the rooms.
And when you’ve had enough of Silay’s historical immersion, cap your trip with a visit to the El Ideal Bakery & Refreshment which was opened way back in 1920. Some of the goodies you can get here include piaya, panara, empanada, cassava cake and coconut pie, among others.
(Next: More of our Bacolod/Negros travels)