More than a century ago, on December 30, 1896, Dr. Jose Rizal was executed on this killing field located south of the walls of Intramuros. In 1913, a bronze and granite monument was unveiled near the ground where he was shot. Since then, visiting foreign dignitaries come to pay tribute in wreath-laying ceremonies at this site.
Rizal Park is a 60-hectare city plaza of sprawling green space, bounded by Roxas Boulevard in the west and Taft Avenue in the east. At one time, it was called Bagumbayan. But after the British invasion, the Spanish colonial government decided to clear this area from obstruction in order to prevent sneak attacks from enemies.
Shaped like a crescent moon or lunnette (hence it was the named Luneta), this extramuros became a popular promenade area for the residents of Intramuros. During the American period, city-planner Daniel Burnham, laid out the park neatly on an east-west axis. The park was renamed Wallace Field before it finally became Rizal Park, in honor of the Filipino national hero.
We entered the park from Taft Avenue where nearby is a topographic map of the Philippines sitting on a lagoon. From the lagoon, we can hear the muffled sound of the traffic and mumbling noise of the LRT passing above the busy avenue below.
Opposite to the lagoon is the Rizal Park Children’s Playground. Here, the kids can enjoy the swings and slides while adults can feel like a kid and play like a kid -climbing up and down Jurassic creatures cast in cement, or clambering in and out the mouth of a hippopotamus, or scamper under the shade of the tall trees inside the playground.
Across the playground is the Agrifina Circle. Dominating the area is the towering statue of Lapu-lapu, which from a distance seems to dwarf the two imposing buildings of the old Department of Agriculture to the left and Department of Finance to the right.
The twin buildings have magnificent Greek columns guarding the front doors atop the enormous steps. Both buildings were destroyed during World War II and were rebuilt with the aid from the United States. The old Finance houses the Department of Tourism, while the old Agriculture is home to the Museum of the Filipino People.
At the northwest section of the Agrifina Circle is the Manila Orchidarium. Within this enclosure are flowering vines clinging on trellises, wild and ornamental plants, and different species of orchids endemic to the Philippines.
Following the pathway across Maria Orosa Street, we were led to the park’s central section, where the feature attraction is lagoon with its dancing fountains. From the central lagoon, we walked towards the side of the Japanese Garden and the Chinese Garden. For a minimal entrance fee, we experienced walking through pagodas and crossing bridges over lagoons of fish.
There is a chess plaza beside the Japanese where afficionados of this strategy game play on cement tables under the shade of trees. The area was built in 1976 to mark the match between Kasparov and Karpov. Also on the same side is the Open-Air Auditorium where live performances are held.
Near the entrance of the Chinese Garden is a squat obelisk marking the location of the martyrdom of Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora in February of 1872. The three Filipino priests also known as GOMBURZA were unjustly implicated in the Cavite Mutiny.
Directly opposite to the GOMBURZA oblelisk, towards the south side of the central section of the park is the sculpture of the La Madre Filipina, which was given to the Philippines by the German government in the 1920s.
From the sculpture, we walked through a nearby gate that opens to a picnic area. This is a shortcut to reach T.M. Kalaw Street. Along this road are the buildings of the National Library and the National Historical Institute. During our tour, we entered the parking area of the National Historical Institute to view the relief on the building‘s facade. The artworks depict Filipino pursuits for freedom from the Battle of Mactan to the martyrdom of Jose Rizal and the Revolution.
From NHI building, we walked back to T. M. Kalaw Street then crossed Roxas Boulevard to visit Museo Pambata. The first interactive museum in the Philippines is housed in the old Elks Club Building designed by William Parson in 1907, following the Burnham Plan of Manila.
Leaving Museo Pambata, we turned left on Roxas Boulevard and crossed Kalaw Street then walked up the flight of steps leading to grassy expanse where we could see the Quirino Grandstand just beyond the esplanade and the historic Manila Hotel at a distance.
We walked down the flight of steps flanked by a pair of tamaraw statues. From there, we walked pass the Kilometer O post, which marks the point of reference for land travel in the country, crossed Roxas Boulevard to the Rizal Monument.
The Rizal Monument stands in the central section of the park. Beneath the tall pylon erected on a massive podium are the remains of Dr. Jose Rizal. Surrounded by Philippine flags and guarded by sentries, the monument is a fitting tribute to the national hero after whom the park was named.
But contrary to what most people know, the monument was not the actual execution site. The area where Rizal fell in front of a firing squad is located a few meter from the monument, at northwestern side of the park.
To get there, we entered a landscaped garden designed by national artist for architecture Ildefonso P. Santos. Here, a light and sound theater was constructed consisting of statues created by sculptor Eduardo Castrillo showing characters at the scene of the execution, including that curious dog captured in the famous photo of Rizal’s execution taken by Manuel Arias Rodriguez.
Through the tableau surrounded by tall trees and earth walls, the event that took place on that fateful morning of December 30, 1896 come to play on the same grounds where they had once transpired.
30 December 2010