Playing Tourist in Manila on Independence Day

Every Independence Day, for the last couple of years, we try to make our way to some historical sites around the city. We’ve been to Manila a couple of times, of course, but we never made it to the National Museum. This time, we made a conscious effort to go.

It was a breeze getting there; taking only about 30 minutes to get from Pasig to Manila. I was a bit wary of the parking situation, but we were able to get a slot at the driveway to the museum without too much trouble. I was quite happy to have made it here finally. The last time I was here, I was probably in Grade School!

Entrance of the National Museum (the old Congress building)

Entrance of the National Museum (the old Congress building)

The big draw at the museum is found in the old House of Representatives session hall on the first floor, right after the entrance foyer. This is none other than Juan Luna’s masterpiece, the Spoliarium which won a gold medal at the Expocision Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1884.

Spoliarium by Juan Luna

Spoliarium by Juan Luna

As every Filipino child knows this painting, it somewhat overshadows the no less imposing painting in the same hall by Luna’s contemporary, Felix R. Hidalgo, called the Assassination of Governor-General Bustamante. I find Hidalgo’s painting more interesting as it depicts the murder of the Governor-General by the Spanish friars.

The Assassination of Governor General Bustamante by Felix R. Hidalgo

The Assassination of Governor General Bustamante by Felix R. Hidalgo

The first floor of the Museum is dedicated to religious paintings and old Filipino masters. Of course I had to take a picture of my saint, San Isidro Labrador.

San Isidro Labrador

San Isidro Labrador

There is one hall dedicated to portraits of famous Filipinos where one of my relatives has a portrait – President Ramon Magsaysay.

Portrait of Ramon Magsaysay by Pedro Coniconde

Portrait of Ramon Magsaysay by Pedro Coniconde

Nearby is a portrait of Jose B. Laurel, Jr. as Speaker of the House, painted by Fernando Amorsolo. I had to take this as well as my cousin is married to Laurel’s granddaughter.

Jose B. Laurel, Jr. as Speaker of the House by Fernando Amorsolo

Jose B. Laurel, Jr. as Speaker of the House by Fernando Amorsolo

Another hall is dedicated to one of the country’s foremost sculptors, Guillermo Tolentino. A bust of President Magsaysay was also among the exhibits here.

Bust of Ramon Magsaysay by  Guillermo Tolentino

Bust of Ramon Magsaysay by Guillermo Tolentino

Perhaps the most impressive room is the one dedicated to works by Luna and Hidalgo. One of my favorite paintings, La Barca de Aqueronte (The Boat of Charon) by Hidalgo is on exhibit here. It depicts the sinister boatman Charon ferrying the souls of the damned across the river Acheron to Hades. This work won numerous awards at expositions in Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona.

La Barca de Aqueronte by Felix R. Hidalgo

La Barca de Aqueronte by Felix R. Hidalgo

Also of note are studies by Luna done as preparation for the massive painting “The Battle of Lepanto” which was commissioned by the Spanish Senate. The original still hangs in the Spanish Senate. The central figure for this painting is Don Juan de Austria, bastard son of King Carlos I of Spain (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V)  who commanded the victorious Catholic fleet against the Turks.

Study of Don Juan de Austria for the painting Lepanto by Juan Luna

Study of Don Juan de Austria for the painting Lepanto by Juan Luna

It took nearly 2 hours to go through the first floor so we only did a quick tour of the second floor which housed paintings by Modern Masters. The old Senate Session Hall is also on the second floor.

The old Senate Session Hall

The old Senate Session Hall

We finished around 1 PM and headed for lunch. Our go-to place in Manila is My Kitchen by Chef Chris located at the Oasis Hotel right beside Paco Park. If you are so inclined, you could also take a quick tour (30 minutes) of Paco Park. Chef Chris Locher does wonderful, hearty, Italian food. We ordered a couple of our favorites like the roll-up pizza that he started, but which is now copied by many others. To make sure you know who started it, he simply calls it The Original.

The Original

The Original

We also got a spicy Spaghetti Puttanesca.

Spaghetti Puttanesca

Spaghetti Puttanesca

And for mains, lamb ribs with polenta.

Lamb ribs with Polenta

Lamb ribs with Polenta

One thing I must have when I come here is the cannoli. I order cannoli whenever I can, and I can testify that My Kitchen has the best cannoli in Manila!

Cannoli

Cannoli

We finished lunch just before 3 PM and decided to check out the Planetarium which is very near the museum. We had heard that it was refurbished and worth a trip. We just missed the 3 PM show so we had to wait for the 4 PM. In the meantime, we took a look at the exhibits on space exploration and astronomy that surround the theater. Some of the exhibits definitely need some work, but the theater itself is nearly as good as any of the new cinemas in the malls. Unfortunately, the show we watched wasn’t that great (Hayabusa – about a Japanese space mission to an asteroid). It would be worth a trip to try to catch the other shows that, hopefully, will be more interesting.

Manila Planetarium

Manila Planetarium

The show finished just before 5 PM so we decided to call it a day and head back home. It was a full day, starting at 10 AM and ending at 5 PM, but we were able to do quite a lot. It was certainly a lot of fun visiting places we hadn’t been to in over 40 years!

The National Museum is at P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM. Admission is free.

The National Planetarium is at P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila. Please see their Facebook Page for show schedules. 

My Kitchen by Chef Chris is located at the Ground Floor, Oasis Hotel, 1032-1034 Belen St., Paco, Manila. Tel 5212371