Gaston Mansion Ancestral House
Manapla, Negros Occidental
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It is a given that Negros Occidental is known not only for their delicious regional cuisine, but also remains one of the bastions of the country's collection of beautifully preserved ancestral mansions. Known to be the dwellings of the families of sugar barons of a bygone era, the province boasts of cities and towns dotted with these lovely and grand historical structures.
Perhaps what makes these old homes distinct are the mixed influences in architecture brought about by the strong influences of foreign culture (ranging from European- such as Spanish, French, German ; American; and Chinese) that intermarried with the Negrense. This mix of culture perhaps can be traced in the strong sugar trade that the region involved itself with plus the fact that the children of affluent families of that time were sent abroad to study in the best schools and universities some of which have intermarried with affluent foreign families as well.
It is documented in history that during the heyday of the Sugar Barons, expense was never an issue and extravagance was then the norm, thus, meticulously ornate and elegant structures were erected in the area to match their opulent lifestyles.
An hour's drive from Bacolod City is a hacienda owned by one of the families of the region's former sugar barons. Located in a huge estate/hacienda in Manapla, stands an old yet well preserved stately mansion. This is the Gaston Ancestral Mansion in Hacienda Rosalia.
The ancestral mansion is just one of the many old mansions owned by the Gaston clan. The clan's more "popular" mansion, The Balay Negrense in Silay City, had been converted into a museum. The Gaston Ancestral Mansion in Manapla, serves both as a tourist spot and residence to one of the clan's living descendants.
The mansion was built in the 1930's and is located in the middle of a vast sugar plantation. It once served as the country home for the family of one of the Gaston children and became their living quarters during World War 2. Perhaps, the structure's rise to modern fame was when the place was used as a movie set and served as the residence of one of the affluent characters in the classic 1980's period film by Peque Gallaga called Oro, Plata, Mata.
From the main road, a long gravel driveway winds through the sugar fields towards the residence. Stately looking from the outside, the white mansion had a huge pond with huge palm fronds and nymph statues in front. The main receiving area was elevated from the gravel path. A side entrance with huge old doors was once used for horse drawn carriages to enter.
The facade of the structure was typical of grand old homes with pillars, huge windows, and balconies hugging the structure. Being a structure located in a hacienda, the mansion even had a watchtower.
The interior of the huge abode is well maintained and decorated with antique furnitures , vintage family photographs, paintings, accessories, and other family heirlooms collected through the years. Heavy wood dominates the interiors from their floors and walls. Intricate callados (lace like wooden carvings) dot the ceiling. Old mosaic Spanish floor tiles were used along the balconies. A dark heavy wooden stairway led to the second floor. Typical of old mansions, the formal dining room holds a long heavy wood dining table that can easily seat some 20 people all at one time. Formal antique dining wares are displayed. We were shown an interesting genealogy wheel of the Gaston family showing the spokes tracing the roots of their family tree. We were also shown a plaque of the Gaston family crest ( we were told that the different sugar baron families each had their own family crest made).
The second floor holds the sleeping quarters. Since the mansion was initially constructed as a country home, the rooms were smaller. But the current owner managed to keep the heirloom bedroom pieces that were actually used by the first occupants. The beds were all made of heavy wood and covered by the original lace covers hand crocheted by the original lady of the house.
To keep watch over the estate, the mansion had a watchtower. The watchtower once served to see the daily plantation activities, daily security manning of the hacienda, and at the same time was also used as a security outpost specially during World War 2. We navigated through a long narrow hidden flight of stairs that led us to a balcony-like watchtower. The long climb awarded us with a sweeping 360 degree view of the estate. I am not sure of how many hectares their land covers but the sight afforded an unobstructed view of the grounds, the former sugar fields and rolling orchards, the distant mountains, and the nearby sea. From the watchtower, we also got our first glimpse of another of the estate's popular structure-- the Chapel of Cartwheels.
Our visit to the hacienda and ancestral home was upon the invitation of a family friend who resides in the ancestral house , Monsignor Gigi Gaston. He hosted our private tour and an afternoon tea for our family. After touring the mansion and part of the estate, we were treated to a spread of afternoon tea in one of structure's covered balconies. Our host served delicious local specialties such as their popular Manapla Puto (mini puto steamed in banana leaves -so good with margarine and a cup of their local hot Tsokolate ), the deliciously delicate and flakey kaliskis Empanadas from Lacson (to my mind one of the best tasting Empanadas there is), thin crispy and delicate Bailon's Piaya (personally, I love this more than Bongbong's of Bacolod).
Hacienda Rosalia is also open for public tours (there is a tourism agency that can arrange for such). Moreover, the Hacienda also hosts heritage lunch tours (again booked through the local tourism agency). For a fee, guests are brought back in time and get to feast on a typical Haciendero's meal (showcasing regional cuisine from heirloom recipes of the Gaston family) while being waited on by the hacienda's staff. For groups who want to avail of these thematic meals, the tour of the hacienda estate is also inclusive (prices range from Php 1500-2000 per head depending on the menu selection).
To my mind, a visit to the Gaston Ancestral Mansion in Hacienda Rosalia is a "must" for both local and foreign tourists while visiting the province. It affords guests a glimpse of actually living and experiencing the life once enjoyed by the sugar barons in an actual hacienda setting, even for a few hours. More so, a visit to the historical estate is quite educational in appreciating a vital part of the country's diverse history and culture.
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