“The Shadow of Your Smile”, performed by an amazing group of Filipino musicians, sets the tone for my first visit to The Ruins of Negros. The song lyrics and images stuck in my head for days. Sometimes referred to as “The Taj Mahal of Negros”, the Ruins of Negros are a must-see when touring this Philippine island.
I completely understand why The Ruins of Negros were named one of
The Ruins began as an elaborate and elegant mansion built by Filipino sugar baron, Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson, as a token of his eternal love for his wife Maria.
On a trip to Macau, Don meets the beautiful, young Maria and falls madly in love with her. They have ten children and are excited about the arrival of their 11th. Sadly, shortly before the birth of number eleven, Maria slips in the bathroom and begins to bleed. It’s 1911 and travel is very difficult in the area. Sadly, it takes the doctor two days to get to Maria and by the time he arrives, both Maria and the baby are gone.
Don slips into a deep depression after the death of his beloved Maria and begins plans to construct an elaborate mansion for his children and future generations of grandchildren. The project becomes his therapy, a token of his undying love for Maria, and he puts his heart and soul into the mansion’s design. Maria’s father, a sea captain, supports his efforts and helps in the shipment of beautiful furnishings from Europe and construction workers from China.
Three years later, construction of the mansion is finally complete. The frame is thick concrete covered by beautiful, very thick hardwood. Inscribed into the concrete are two “M’s” facing each other – a symbol of everlasting love between Mariano and Maria.
The Bachelor and the Spinster flee
And then WWII breaks out and the Japanese gain control of the island of Negros. US forces are instructed to destroy any structures that may house the enemy, including the mansion. At the time, only two of the couple’s ten children still remain in the house. Our amusing tour guide, Artie, describes them as “…a bachelor and a spinster“. Don and his children flee the mansion as it burns, leaving everything behind.
Built with hardwood, it burns slowly and takes three days to burn down, leaving the thick concrete structure still standing. A week later the smoldering finally stops and the ruins are abandoned and forgotten for decades. Plants and animals take over.
Years later, descendants of the family hold a lottery to divide the 440-hectare sugar cane plantation. Raymund Javellana “wins” the section of land with the ruins of the old house. Unfortunately, this piece of land is basically useless in this sugar cane growing area where farmland is valued.
We had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Javellana and hear his personal stories of restoring the mansion and his visions for the future.
Mr. Javellana recounts the beginning of his love-hate relationship with the mansion ruins. He says he initially planted sugar cane up to the edges of the house which had been overtaken by the jungle and “resembled Cambodia’s Angkor Wat“. After that, he evicts the goats who live there, rents a power washer and sets to cleaning and restoring this relic.
In January 2008, he opens The Ruins of Negros to the public. Business is initially slow since travel on the narrow, unpaved country roads is difficult. Unfortunately, there are no street lights so he closes at 6 pm. Then a local movie producer comes calling and uses the house as a film location. With the profits from the movie shoot, he outfits the house with lighting, manicures the lawn, and restores the old fountain.
Allegedly, many happy couples have met at that old fountain and later married. According to Mr. Javellana, one couple met by the fountain three years ago and are set to be married soon…on the manicured grounds of The Ruins of Negros. Also, Mr. Javellana’s son met his wife near the magical old fountain.
In the future, Mr. Javellana plans to add a small wedding chapel and a bed and breakfast, playing into the romantic air of The Ruins of Negros. Plans are also underway to cover the house with a roof, allowing him to create a museum to display the artifacts of this romantic and intriguing family history…
And the music plays on, serenading visitors and encouraging people to linger near the fountain while listening to the hauntingly beautiful sounds of “The Shadow of Your Smile”. Searching for their soul mate maybe?
Taxi From Bacolod: 15-20 minute taxi ride
Love Cab From Bacolod: Love Cab Shuttle departs regularly from Go Hotel in Bacolod City
Silay Airport: 10-15 minute taxi ride
(Tour provided compliments of Tourism Promotions Board Philippines and It’s More Fun in the Philippines. All thoughts, opinions, and memories are strictly my own.)