San Mateo Rizal

Living in San Mateo Rizal was beyond my thoughts. Before I got married, I preferred to have my future family make our home in Quezon City where I have lived since birth.  Then one day after twenty three years, I made a decision to become a full-time resident of San Mateo.

It’s true that I miss the many things about living near malls, gimmick places and other urban conveniences. But every time I go to work in Makati or visit my relatives and old friends in Quezon City there is always this excitement when I come home everyday to our humble abode in San Mateo.

So allow me to show you around my hometown.

General Luna Highway

In terms of geography, the town of  San Mateo is just a heartbeat away from Metro Manila. Barangay Banaba is its gateway, whether approaching it from either Nangka in Marikina City or Batasan Road in Quezon City. Upon driving through the arch above General Luna Highway marking the entry point to San Mateo, a marker can be seen by the side of the road saying something like you are now leaving the National Capital Region!

General Luna Highway is San Mateo’s main thoroughfare. It must be a historic road where Andres Bonifacio could have passed by on his way to Pamitinan Cave. The legendary General Licerio Geronimo and his band of tiradores could have marched this road on their way to the victorious Battle of San Mateo.

Several decades ago, old timers claim that the interlacing branches of enormous acacia trees rising from both sides of the road provide a living ceiling to passers-by. One that was said to be inhabited by a cafre or ogre was torn down recently to give way for a parking space of a newly constructed building next to San Jose de Ampid Parish. The poor cafre must have been satisfied of just being a housemate in one of the buildings in the area.

One of the largest surviving trees still stands along the highway in Barangay Ampid near the corner before entering Ciudad Christhia Resort.

Ciudad Christhia Resort

After Banaba is Barangay Ampid. Ampid is home to a popular summer destination -Ciudad Christhia Resort. But even during none-summer months, the resort seemed to be on peak season. I have seen from our balcon truck loads of  tourists making their way to the resort everyday (and every night). Perhaps they are drawn by its “nine-waves pool” and acrophobic double-loop water slide.

We have been to Ciudad Christhia several times. Big and brawny, it has three large pools (the main pool can simulate rippling waves), 66 air-conditioned cabanas,  complete sports facility, including a 12-lane Duckpin Bowling, billiards and tennis tables and basketball court, a butterfly farm and greenhouse for the kids and karaoke lounge for the adults.

Kakanin and Primablend

Exploring further into the town, urban icons continue to manifest their power. Sure one can have a Jollibee sundae or a Chowking halo-halo in the plaza, but San Mateo prefers the home-made kakanin or different varieties of delicious rice cakes sold in the Guitnang Bayan market or the delectable pastries and the mouthwatering butter-rich cakes whipped only by Primablend.

Primablend has a branch along General Luna, a few walks from the plaza. The bakeshop has become an institution in San Mateo. I’ve sampled their cakes once and since then I’ve developed a craving. Every September, Guitnang Bayan celebrates the Kakanin Festival in praise for this delicious delicacy where bilaos of kakanin are paraded and shared in a feast for everyone.

Although the town has rapidly developed into a first class municipality (whatever that means), local flavor and folk traditions that are nostalgically provincial managed to survive.

Spanish San Mateo

During Holy Week, Spanish San Mateo comes alive with its almost daily processions at San Jose de Ampid Parish and at the centuries-old Church of Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu.  The large crowd that march along with the Holy Wednesday and Good Friday processions of heirloom tableaus and images is a religious ritual from the past linking the history of the town to the Spanish colonial times.

Historical accounts suggests that two years before Miguel Lopez de Legazpi claimed the City of Manila for Spain, his nephew,  Juan de Salcedo came to present-day San Mateo with a force of 150 men and tag-along friars and established the first community in 1571. There is also another account describing the town was founded when the first chapel was built by the Augustinian along the riverbanks south of the present poblacion in 1596.

To finally put the issue to rest, it has been suggested that the town was established in 1571 by Salcedo while the first church was founded in 1596 by the Augustinians.

Church of Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu

The church of San Mateo has been dedicated to the Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu when the Jesuits took over the mission from the Augustinians in 1696. The Jesuit brought with them the image of Virgin Mary from the town of Aranzazu, Nueva Viscaya, Spain.

The Jesuits built the first stone church  in 1715 but was destroyed during the 1863 earthquake. In 1887, the church was rebuilt but was heavily damaged during the Japanese occupation in 1942. Major repairs took place in 1993 and the result is the church that we see today at the tip of the main road.

How did San Mateo receive its name

If San Mateo is not the patron saint of the town, why is then the town was named after him? As with many places in the Philippines, there is a folk tale to explain nearly how the town received its name. The usual story tells of a Spanish friar or soldier asking a local where he is. Due to the language barrier, the local describes something else. But this is not the case in San Mateo.

According to one story, two Spanish scribes who came to the plains of  San Mateo were charmed by the beautiful landscape  that they have decided to establish a settlement. One of the scribes was standing on a mound with a book on one hand and a quill on the other. His posed caught the attention of his companion who described him to resemble the statue of Saint Matthew.  In the midst of teasing and laughter, they decided to named the place San Mateo.

Visitors to San Mateo have two options which road to take upon  reaching the Church of Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu. First, they could turn left and drive back to the National Capital Region. Second, they could turn right and continue the tour in Montalban, an equally remarkable town worth exploring.

Eulogio Rodriguez Ancestral House

San Mateo is one of the oldest settlements in the province of Rizal, to which at one time, the northern barangays of Balite, Burgos, Marang, and Calipahan belonged until 1871 when Governor General Rafael de Izquierdo separated the said barrios to form the town of Montalban.

The town of Montalban was renamed recently after its most illustrious resident, Senate President Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez. Amang as he is fondly called, has a life-long career as a public servant both for his hometown and as senate president.

Although he has become an important political figure in local government and the Senate, Amang had humble beginnings as a farmer. As a famer, he built a house for his family near his farm.

The huge track of land behind his old home has become part of a cemetery. The Rodriguez Ancestral House has been turned into a private museum showcasing the mementoes and collections of the longest serving senate president.

Quartered in the ancestral house are vintage photographs, personal effects, commissioned  furniture sets and paintings. We like that one particular painting near the staircase which depicts Amang as a young farmer.

The stately bahay-na-bato has a cavernous silong that served as storage for the season’s harvest. Amang’s official vehicle while serving as Senate President, still bearing the plate number 3 is displayed in the silong near the zaguan.

Battle of San Mateo

A few walks across the Rodriguez Ancestral House is a statue dedicated to the hero of the victorious Battle of San Mateo. During the Philippine-American War, General Licerio Geronimo led a band of guerilla that defeated the Americans and killed the proud General Henry Lawton -the highest ranking American officer to have fallen in battle in either Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars.

General Lawton  was the same officer who captured the elusive Indian rebel Geronimo. It was ironic that in the middle of his battles he met his death in the hands of a Filipino general bearing the same name of his former captive. But it is more ironic for Filipinos to have named a plaza and street in Manila and in Fort Bonifacio to the defeated American general while the heroic General Geronimo is remembered only with a single statue in an obscure location unnoticed, and overshadowed by a monstrous covered court. We feel that a lot needs to be arranged here.

Montalban Gorge

The colonial period was uneasy. Clashes with the Spanish colonial government were innumerable. During these tumultuous years, the townspeople would usually retreat to the mountains of Montalban which were relatively accessible from the lowlands.

A year before the start of the 1896 Revolution, Andres Binofacio with eight men fled to the mountains of Montalban, to Pamitinan Cave on a Good Friday. Bonifacio inscribed on the cave wall what could have been the first cry of Philippine Independence. The cave wall still bears the inscription Viva la Independencia Filipinas!

The Pamitinan cave is just one of the several cave systems in the Montalban gorge. Other caves are said to be where Japanese soldiers have retreated and spent their last defense during the final days of World War II. A marker by the cave entrance is visible from the trail. Guided tours to these historic sites are arranged at the Montalban Tourism Office.

While Bonifacio and the Japanese who took refuge in caves found a sanctuary in the Montalban Gorge, the legendary Bernardo Carpio have to use his great strength in dealing with the curse of being trapped in two great rocks locally called as the naguumpugang bato to keep the mountains from crashing him down.

Wawa Dam

One version of the legend revealed that the giant Bernardo was able to brake free by successfully pushing the mountains apart. Water gushed out from the other side of the mountain creating the river path known by this generation as the Marikina River. Below the narrow gap between the majestic limestone walls at foot of the mountains, Wawa Dam was constructed by the Americans in 1909 as the primary water source for Manila. The dam ceased operation in the 1960’s when the Ipo-La Mesa-Angat watershed was established.

Since its decommissioning,  the dam’s lower river and upper lake were frequented by local tourists and campers for its breathtaking scenery and ethereal beauty. The volume of water pouring from the reservoir in the upper lake to the dam wall and the gurgling water around the primordial rock boulders sitting on the river provide a refreshing treat to the senses and to the spirit.

But the dam is far from amusing. It has a grim history. The locals believe that its nangunguha, it summarily takes a human life. Its victims were usually first born males. Survivors claimed that a strong force was pulling them down while swimming even on shallow parts of the river.  A local television documentary named the supernatural force as Pandora, a river fairy who has been raped by a mortal and has sought revenge by drowning her unsuspecting victims.

Avilon Zoo

When in Montalban, one is close to nature. Where else can wildlife feel like they are at their natural habitat but in a place embraced by the mountains and surrounded by lush greenery. Perhaps this what inspired a hobbyist to put up the Avilon Montalban Zoological Park.  So far, the zoo is the largest and the best maintained in the country.

In Avilon’s 7.5 hectares, wild animals share sheltered space with rare fauna, including the short-snout tapir, Calamian deer, giant tortoise, Palawan mousedeer, the endangered civet cat and some hundred species of birds, hence the zoo has been named Avilon.

We have been to Avilon Zoo several times and left fascinated with information about the animal kingdom. Our eyes have grown wide upon seeing a certain type of animal for the first time. We have burst into laughter when one of us imitates the peculiar wailing of a certain beast.

In all these, we have been thankful for trips that taught us that What is man without beast? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliss of spirit…all things are connected (Chief Seathl).

-Feast Day of St. Matthew and 439th foundation of San Mateo Rizal,  September 21, 2010

Related posts: San Mateo Holy Wednesday Procession | San Mateo Holy Week Processions | Kakanin Festival | Grand Sto. Nino Procession in San Mateo | San Mateo Ati-atihan

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24 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for your interesting blog. I should really visit San Mateo & Montalban one of these days… my lolo on my father’s side (who never lived to enjoy his grandchildren) hails from this town. He was a katipunero…a wanderlust too I suppose…who ended up in Antique where he settled down after marrying a local lass, my lola, who also died young. I was reading accounts of the katipunan when I chanced upon your blog.

  2. nice blog! this helps me a lot for me to decide if I will reside in san mateo. Im planning to invest a house and lot in villa san mateo at guitnang bayan 2. I just like to ask if this area was affected by Ondoy?
    I’ve seen the place and it seems a quite and nice place to start with my new family. However I am just curious if this is a flooded area and how traffic it is if Im going to East Evenue, QC (my job location) during 8am or 6pm? Hope you or anyone can give me ideas. Thanks a lot.

  3. I was born in the nearby city of Marikina, I used to visit San Mateo and Montalban during my chilhood days, then moved to my Family moved to San Mateo when I was 13, never had regrets moving, since San Mateo is very near and still has that feeling of living in a province.

  4. will you be my guide when i gatecrash to your place. I am praying for time and enough resources for next time’s vacation in Luzon :)

  5. SM Supermarket lang? Mukhang impossible ng magkaron tlg ng mall dito sa San Mateo. Nakakahinayang dahil ang layo layo ng mga malls at di na rin mawawala ang matinding traffic dito sa San Mateo.

    • Ayon sa SM Management, SM City San Mateo ang magbubukas sa 2014:

      From SM Investments Corporation Annual Report 2011

      http://sminvestments.com/uploads/DownloadableForms/SMIC%20AR11_web.pdf

      Trends & Expectations Section

      Interviewee: Mr Jorge T. Mendiola – President, SM Department Stores

      “How do you plan to stay ahead of competition?”

      We intend to gain market share by improved customer reach through
      store openings in city neighborhoods and fast growing provincial
      cities, addressing the continued greater demand for convenience and
      accessibility by our customers. SM Department Stores will open in
      tandem with SM Malls.
      We have already lined up our new store openings in the next three
      years. There will be five in 2012, Olongapo, General Santos, San
      Fernando, Consolacion, and Lanang in Davao; three in 2013, namely
      Aura, Cebu Seaside City, and BF Sucat; and five in 2014, which are in
      San Mateo, Dagupan, Tacloban, Tagbilaran, and Caloocan.

  6. Hi! We’re planning to buy a lot in Greenland Newtown. They say it was not affected by the Ondoy floods. I just worry about the traffic. Is there an alternate road that passes through Bayan -bayanan ave? Nice blog. :)

    • Greenland Newton in Ampid II? This was also affected by Ondoy.

  7. Im an employee of the Sy’s and yes its true that there will be a SM in Ampid, but it will be a SM Supermarket only.

    • we have a house in ampid near the rumored future site of SM. kung sana may determinasyon ang mayor na laparan ang daan ng san mateo lalo na yung sa ampid area, pwede itong gawing mall talaga. kaso, keso may acacia trees raw na tatamaan. at yung side ng eastern star academy, mga bakanteng lote naman ang nandyan, bakit di nagagawan ng paraan na laparan ang daan? hintayin pa bang mapupuno ng mga concrete structures yan?

  8. Pwede ngang magkaroon ng SM City San Mateo dyan sa Ampid. Malaki rin yung space at swak para sa isang mall. Sana nga magkaroon dyan ng SM.

  9. Really, magkakaroon ng SM City mall sa San Mateo! Baka doon yan itatayo sa sa eastern star sa ampid, diba lumipat na sila.

  10. Confirmed na bang bumili ang SM ng property sa San Mateo, anong itatayo nila mall , hypermarket, save more? Kailan nila sisimulan ung construction?

  11. Recently, I was informed by my wife that SM, giant mall developer, has already acquired a site to be developed as a mall (perhaps an SM City) in Barangay Ampid 1 few steps from my home. I cannot believe this as San Mateo was once regarded as a town without progress because of its narrow national road. But nothing is impossible. This town I believe will bloom into a very progressive city. Just watch out what miracles can do and miracles still happen.

    • We want progress for San Mateo Roger. Given that San Mateo have narrow roads, I just hope that proper zoning and planning takes place. Also I am hoping that San Mateo keeps that provincial feel despite being near to major cities. That itself is an attraction.

  12. Seems that this place is very historical and nice to live.Were planning to buy a property in Modesta Village San Mateo Rizal,and i’m looking information about this place and lucky that this site give me information that i needed and now i think we decide to have a nice place on this city.Can i have more information preferably in Modesta Village?Thank you.

  13. Hi!you have a very nice website..I never realize that San Mateo, Rizal is such a nice place to live in..I am also a resident since birth and I feel ashamed of myself that other people seem to appreciate the place more than I do until I saw this site.
    No wonder my boss is asking me to research on facts and history of san mateo(this is the reason why I came to open your site) Please help me find old pictures of San Mateo way back when it is not yet developed until it is commercialized. I would deeply appreciate your help..

  14. wew what a beautiful place…i would like to know more about that pandoras cave ..sabi nila habang papasok ka daw pabigat ng pabigat ang mararamdaman mo at nag paparamdam si pandora…then bawal ka kumuha ng mga bato or kahit ano sa loob ng cave nya..and some say sha ang may pinaka malakas na spectral force at sha ang pinaka nakakatakot sa ghost sa lahat..sana makasama ako sa mga people na may super natural ability tapos sasama ako sa kanila sa loob ng cave ^_^

    • Thank you for sharing, you have a beautiful website, the pictures are also very beautiful. We have an awesome priest here, his name is Fr. Manny and he is from the Philippines.If you could please help me. Any information you could give me would be very much appreciated, as I am not able to find much information. I am trying to find information on “Our Lady of the Thorns. Info. found said on the night of March 24,1400, shepherds tending their flocks,they saw a light, a thornbush engulfed in flames,but the thornbush was unaffected,in the midst of the flames was a statue of the Blessed Virgin. That is all the information that I could find. I would love to know more!!! Thank you for any information you would share with me. May Our Loving God Bless you always!!! I will keep you in my prayers. Peace and Love, Christine

  15. i am also a resident of san mateo its my birthplace.
    but sad to say the town has detoriated a lot.people
    from different places have migrated here and you can
    see garbage everywhere.i wonder what the municipality
    has been doing about it.also the traffic its getting
    worst everyday and its very irritating.tricycles have
    come in droves and i wonder why the municipality granted
    so many lincense for these tricycles to operate adding
    to the worsening traffic situation in san mateo….
    there are efficient barangays and there are also
    lazy barangays.many roads are in bad shape as well.
    but i agree thaT PRIMABLEND BAKESHOP has the best sans rival and halo-halo as well….thanks

    • Thank you for visiting our site martin. I don’t think the problem is population. Many people have chosen to migrate in San Mateo because of its provincial charm yet it’s still near urban areas. traffic and tricycles are all parts of progress and we want our town to be progressive, right? I think the problem is with some people who lack the malasakit to get involve and just plainly complain and not acting up to make the change or at least making suggestion to the local government on how things can be better for us residents. San Mateo has strong tourism potentials- I think it should be promoted.

  16. Hi. Do you know any nature park, camp site, or seminar house in Montalban or San Mateo? I’m planning to hold a student seminar this December. Thanks.

    • Hi Tony. I suggest Nine Waves resort in Barangay Ampid San Mateo Rizal. It’s a resort. If you plan to camp out, I suggest for you to have an advance party inquire at the Montalban tourism office near Wawa Dam and make an ocular inspection of the place. There are a number of camp sites around Wawa Dam.

  17. Seems you found a nice place to settle down with your family !


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