A bit of a history lesson…
March 16, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, sighted the island of Samar Island, a large island located in the Visayas. Then in 1565 European colonization began and they formed the first European settlements in Cebu. Colonization of course spread all over the archipelago. Today, many of these Spanish colonial are gone due to wars, revolution, and age. However, one still stands and that historical town is called Vigan City.
In 2007, Vigan City was listed by UNESCO as the best preserved example of Spanish colonial towns in Asia. Its architecture is the conglomeration of cultural elements from the Philippines, China, and Spain, making it unique to the rest of the world.
I hope to go back there someday and really experience it. We missed out on eating Empanadas and riding a kalesa which are both a must! We did go shopping in the little shops and bought some souvenirs and even some antiques. We also went to Vigan Cathedral and listen to mass.
There are four Baroque Churches of the Philippines. These are UNESCO World Heritage sites, this means they are protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization. One of my goals in live is to visit as many as these sites as I can.
Three out of four churches in one vacation isn’t bad!
Why are these church important and protected? According to UNESCO’s website:
This group of churches established a style of building and design that was adapted to the physical conditions in the Philippines and had an important influence on later church architecture in the region. The four churches are outstanding examples of the Philippine interpretation of the Baroque style, and represent the fusion of European church design and construction with local materials and decorative motifs to form a new church-building tradition.
To read more about these Baroque Churches visit their website.
The first one we went to was The Church of San Agustín in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. This church is know as “Earthquake Baroque” because it was build to withstand earthquakes. Construction on the present church began in 1694 and it was completed in 1710.
The second church was Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur also located in the northern part of the island of Luzon. It’s unusual because it’s build on the top of a hill and surrounded by walls. The mission at Santa Maria was founded in 1765.
The third was close to our family’s home, only an hour drive into the heart of Manila’s old city, Intramuros. The Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustín was the first church built on the island of Luzon in 1571, immediately after the Spanish conquest of Manila.
The only one I’m missing is The Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva at Miag-ao, Iloilo in the Western Visayas region.
Gyeongju is the former capital of the kingdom of Silla Dynasty that lasted for almost a thousand years. The city is rich with history and ancient treasures. One of the biggest and most famous spots is Bulguksa or Bulguk Temple.
The temple, along with Seokguram Grotto, was added to UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995. It’s also the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The temple is classified as Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the South Korean government. With all that, you can see why it’s a big deal and a major tourist site in Gyeongju.
The most highly recommended thing to see at Bulguksa are the two stone pagodas. These pagodas were build in 751 and are prime works from the Silla Dynasty, which is considered the golden age of Buddhist art. One pagoda Dabotap (pagoda of many treasures) is elaborate, full of details and unique sculpting. In contrast, Seokgatap (pagoda of Sakyamuni) is a simple and basic design. Both compliment each other nicely in the courtyard of Bulguksa.
You see a lot of rock stacking in Korea, at temples and on hiking trails. Someone once told me that you add a rock to a stack and make a wish. If the stack stays the wish will come true, but if it falls then all the wish won’t come true. Some rock stack as a family, each rock for each member. Some use it as prayers. I have even seen rock stacking in the current video game I’m playing Skyrim. It’s a bit of an enchanting sight to see so many little stacks of rocks, it’s a peaceful feeling to gaze at all of the mementos of prayers and wishes of hundreds of people and families.
Day 6: Toured the Five Grand Palaces and the Secret Garden of Changdeok Palace today. The Secret Garden was so beautiful. It’s a giant rear garden that was a relaxing place for the king and queen. They would partake in several outdoor activities such as military exercises and archery. The king would even raise grain and the queen would engage in sericulture, the rearing of silkworms for raw silk. It was a little bit of a up and downhill walk at times but completely worth it. I’d love to go again in autumn and spring. Tickets were 8,000 won per person that was to go around Changdeok Palace and The Secret Garden guided tour. You can only enter the Secret Garden with a tour group. They have tours in Korean, English and Japanese.
Buddha’s Birthday is a national holiday here in Korea. So we have to go to work on Monday but we get Tuesday off, go figure….
Buddha’s birthday is the birthday of the Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who founded Buddhism and is considered Buddha because “Buddha” meaning “awakened one” or “the enlightened one” found enlightenment. It’s held on the 8th day of the 4th month in the Chinese lunar calendar.
This year makes it May 10th.
We took the hotel manager’s advice and head towards Biseondael Rock. Once there we figured let’s go to Geumganggul Cave and drink from the spring how hard can it be. Well turns out it’s one of the hardest paths in the area!! And here we are, no hiking gear, lugging our overnight bags the whole way and unprepared as ever. We have never hiked like that before. But we made it. And what a sight.
Geumganggul Cave was inhabited by a Buddhist monk who wanted seclusion. His shine is still there. It’s a holy place and it was so surreal being there, it was out of a kung-fu movie. You look out from the cave and all you can see are clouds. There is a mountain spring there and it’s said that if you drink from it you’ll have a long life. There was even a monk living there in this tiny shack no bigger than a car build on the opening of the cave. They had pile rocks to the opening of the cave and built this little shack on it.
Once back down you could look up at what you accomplished. There are 3 peaks: Mirukbong, Hyungiaebong and Sunnyobong. According to a legend, a nymph cam down from heaven and was facinated by its scenic beauty. She had a good time and went back to her home. We had a good time and went back home too.