The Sta. Ana Heritage Tourism Association (SAHTA) relives earlier eras in a walking tour of the preserved churches and Spanish houses
Time seems to stand still in Sta. Ana, Manila, a quiet, small district that acted as the center point where travelers to the busier, larger cities of Mandaluyong, Makati, the greater Manila, and Pasig pass through and escaped the approach of modernity. Though it has always been characterized by a serene, languid pace alien to those who are used to the adrenalinefused timetable of modern living, it is hard to describe Sta. Ana, a place where I grew up and lived since the day I was born.
Sta. Ana is like time that suddenly decided to stand still. Many old friends and relatives had already departed for bigger cities or greener pastures abroad, yet they always speak of our hometown with fondness, a place that can never be replaced or replicated anywhere else.
It was only until year 2000 that the famous franchises came to the area. Before, Sta. Ana was a homey composition of neighborhoods powered by mom-and-pop stores, and yet had its place in history because of its historical attractions such as the Sta. Ana Church (Our Lady of the Abandoned Church), one of the oldest churches in the country, or old-style yet remarkably preserved Spanish houses.
A heritage town
But modernity quickly caught up, with popular brand names taking over some of the older family- owned groceries and led to the demolition of residential houses. Condominiums sprouted in the area, which the community leaders and many longtime residents fear might affect the place’s history and legacy.
The entire district has been classified as a heritage site by the government, because underlying its roads and excavations are ancient settlements, forgotten digs, and even buried dwellings that narrate the stories of earlier eras. Its modesty and simplicity belie its more upscale roots. Prior to the coming of the Spaniards, this was Namayan, the ancient site ruled by tribal kings. Then, from the Spanish era to the American Commonwealth, many prominent Spaniards, Europeans, and Americans, who were moneyed but wanted a more sedate life than the ones they can experience in the more stylish Escolta or Mendiola, settled in Sta. Ana.
Visitors from other areas also stayed during the summer months since Sta. Ana was considered like Tagaytay during the Commonwealth era - cooler, comfortable, and yet nearer to the capital than Baguio. Many elegant resort houses were built along the banks of the Pasig River to welcome these predominantly Western visitors.
Relics of these eras are continually being discovered in the excavation sites or even in unlikeliest places in some neighborhoods. Right under the Sta. Ana Church, graveyards of the ancient datus dating back to 900 A.D. were discovered, their bones had since been transported to another museum. If stories were to be believed, artifacts that can be traced to the 14th Century A.D. or even earlier were also found in the area.
The Sta. Ana Heritage Tourism Association (SAHTA) shows how much of the community's legacy is still alive via a walking tour that takes roughly half a day. Some of these historical sites that are still very much active in the present include:
The Sta. Ana Church, the site where the first Franciscans established their mission in the 16th Century; the church itself was built during the 18th Century and is included in the list of the Cultural Properties of the Philippines. Its convent's patio museum and the image of the Lady of the Abandoned have been declared National Cultural Treasures.
The Manila Boat Club, a yachting club founded by the Americans during the Commonwealth
Iglesia ni Cristo Museum in Punta, which honors the establishment of the first INC church in Punta in the early 20th Century
Then there are the 20 ancestral houses owned by residents and declared historical sites by the government because of their preservation, most of which were owned by prominent personalities and wealthy families during the colonial era. The preservation was made easier by one uncanny development during World War II; when the Japanese razed Manila while on the retreat from the Americans, Sta. Ana was the only district in Manila that was spared of destruction. Many war victims from the other districts like Paco and Intramuros flocked to Sta. Ana and sought shelter in these houses.
Touring all these would take a day. Because of my own time constraints, Ernesto Panis of the SAHTA could only bring the Experience and Travel Living team to the inner sanctuary of the church and a couple of ancestral houses.
What they showed me - and captured in these pictures - were enough.
In these pages are the photo-story of our journey. Welcome to my hometown.
For more information about SAHTA, click https://www facebook.com/ Santa-Ana-Heritage-Tours-Manila-144004169093646/