A Photowalk Back in Time | Santa Ana Heritage Tour - Part 2

Santa Ana, Manila carries a mix of old provincial charm and progressive small town vibe. To be honest, I pass by the area on a regular basis, but never have I set foot inside its parish until this tour.

Inside the Santos heritage house

This oft-taken for granted Heritage Zone is slowly realizing its tourism potential through the efforts of non-profits Santa Ana Heritage Tourism Association (SAHTA) and Fundacion Santiago.

Mapalad Bakery

From the hallowed halls of Nuestra Senora de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Abandoned) church, we amble over to a street lined with charming old apartments that overlook Plaza Hugo. Our local tour guide, Boyet Magala of SAHTA, points out the oldest bakeshop in town and eagerly talks about his past tour groups – an odd variety, including Wikimedia contributors, fine arts majors, photography clubs and nursery students!

Opening the portal to the past

We turn a corner and find ourselves saying ‘tao po?’ (anybody home?) outside a two-storey ancestral house that could have easily been Lola Basyang’s abode. A middle-aged man gives us a warm welcome and invites us upstairs.

The 80-something year old Santos House, as it is called, is one of the many officially-recognized heritage structures in Santa Ana. SAHTA Tours offers exclusive inside looks into privately-owned heritage houses, including the affluent Lichauco house and the controversial Xavier house.

Beautiful details are in danger of falling apart

Present occupant and caretaker Gabriel Santos shows us around his humble dwelling which looks like a time capsule from 19-copong-copong (19-something-era). “A” monograms dominate door arches, as this home was built by the Santos patriarch for his wife, Amparo. I could spot quite a few fixtures inside that I’m sure The Pickers would drool on.

The pozo is open in the mornings

As with many old things, time has taken its toll on the structural upkeep of the place. Some areas, most noticeably the coffered ceiling, needs major repair. Maintenance can cost a lot and the family welcomes donations through SAHTA to help keep this site on the dwindling list of Manila’s heritage houses.

Water source behind the trap doors, for safety.

Back at the church perimeter, we make our way to the Virgen Del Pozo: a community well that is believed to have miraculous waters. It is said that the well has been serving Santa Ana people even before the church was erected.

Plain and unseeming

Next, we hop on across the street, over to the Taoist Temple. Interestingly, although a Chinese place of worship, one of the deities is also "Nuestra Senora Delos Desamparados". Stepping inside, my nose immediately recognizes the waft of incense. It smelled like the ghost of my Chinese School past.

Serving Tsinoys since the 1890s.

The structure is tiny, in contrast to the known Taoist place of worship found in Cebu. Anyone is welcome to light an incense or two but only a handful of people can come inside the main altar at a time. Much like the Santos residence, the place is also - unfortunately - slowly falling in disrepair. Its caretaker welcomes sponsors who could help with the ceiling repair and replacement of a broken glass door.

Old Santa Ana wall mural

Before we know it, noon is upon us. Our guide leads us to the busy Plaza Calderon, a characteristic island in the middle of Pedro Gil (Herran). The strip, as it turns out, was once a wider parcel of land dedicated for the church's social events. It's similar to what you'd usually find in provincial town plazas, except here, the church is facing Pasig River.

Kudos to this themed commercial establishment!

Today, the plaza is the center of commercial activities in town. A number of historically significant structures in the area have given way to the inevitable progress. As a Histo-Cultural Heritage Zone (declared by National Museum), it's important to keep the town's character in check, that's why some establishments have gone the extra mile to keep the look of their buildings in theme.

Who is Felipe Calderon?

A Christmas bazaar is in full swing at the plaza. We mazed through the booths and took a quick snapshot of Calderon's historical marker before crossing the street. We are now off to taste the famous Santa Ana Palabok!

*Click here to read Part 1 - Within the Hallowed Halls.
*Click here to read Part 3 - The Palabok Connection

To book/learn more about this tour, contact:
Boyet Magala (Head Tour Guide) 0933-4613676 | boymag.ilibertad[at]gmail[dot]com 
Cheska Lacson (Coordinator) 0936-9677660 | cheska[at]fundacionsantiago[dot]com


  1. Wasn't aware that Santa Ana had such beautiful heritage structures! Nice to know. :)


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