Last week I visited Bataan, here in the Philippines, for the first time. I was amazed by the scenery, which is remarkable; beautiful mountains, beaches and sea views, amongst everything else. What a richness this country has! Anyway, the highlight of the tour was when an old friend suggested going to Las Casas de Acuzar at Bagac.
Bagac is south of Olongapo on Subic Bay and is accessible by bus. Once again, the scenery en route is spectacular.
I was expecting a beach and maybe a nice old village — my friend and guide, Belgie, said ‘There are old houses’. I wasn’t even slightly prepared for what I saw.
Las Casas de Acuzar is incredible.
Very rarely can one genuinely say that the concept behind a project is truly awesome, but this one is.
Old houses, all of them great buildings, colonial mansions, traditional Filipino manors and others, have been rescued from destruction and lovingly rebuilt at the site. The result is a walk-in museum of Filipino architectural history. The buildings were all either derelict, abandoned or scheduled for demolition. There are houses from provinces across the nation and the wealth pof Filipino architectural diversity is clear to see; perhaps even more dramatically than originally, due to the juxtaposition of buildings from hundreds of miles apart.
The project was begun in 2001 and what has been achieved in fifteen years is really remarkable. And this is no dusty relic; the houses continue to serve, as the whole of Las Casas de Acuzar is a luxury hotel.
The site is laid out along a one-mile strip of beach, and new work continues at the northern end. There are workshops and fabrication yards; in the distance, one hears the clatter of hammers and the sound of saws. Real work is being done here.
You want an installation? This is an installation, baby.
New art is everywhere, with public sculpture, incredible architectural ceramics and paintings everywhere. It is, literally, a work of art, a living, breathing, relevant one, that makes the pissy contents of contemporary art galleries look like the self-absorbed intellectual masturbation that they are.
The houses all have panels describing where they came from and the site is laid out as an easy but fascinating stroll.
If you get tired, there is a jeepney and a tramcar that travel from end to end of Las Casas de Acuzar. There is even a barge on the canal — how cool is that?
And best of all, this is not just for the super-rich, although the rooms are, as you’d expect from the standard of appointment, not cheap. But you can buy a day pass for 1000 pesos or 20 Euros which gives access to all the buildings, free rides on the jeepney and tram, and the use of the swimming pools, for as long as you like. Quite frankly, that is a tiny amount for the experience. There are cafés and restaurants on site , although the prices are higher than the usual. However, there are also shops where you can buy food and drink. There is no restriction on taking provisions into the site either, so you can just bring a picnic.
Las Casas de Acuzar — an international standard for convervation
Las Casas de Acuzar should be much better known and recognised internationally as a standard of architectural and cultural conservation. It is a work of art that even out-does the legendary Cristo in sheer scale. In conception and execution, too, it knocks him into a cocked hat. Everything here speaks of the love of Filipinos for their heritage, and everything is done with a care and attention to detail that is really humbling. The standard of workmanship has to be seen to be believed.
And remember, each and every one of these was carefully photographed, drawn, catalogued, dismantled, transported here and rebuilt exactly as it once was. Reflect on that, if you will.
And this is in what they call a ‘third-world’ country!
Every time I come to the Philippines, something just totally amazes me and leaves even an old windbag at a loss for words. Las Casas de Acuzar is one of these.