A view of Luneta from an old postcard, circa 1915
(SPOT.ph) Whether or not you've ever been to Luneta or Rizal Park and its nearby landmarks, you should know by now that it's witnessed more than just a handful of historic moments. Every year, official ceremonies are held at the foot of the Rizal Monument and the president lays a wreath to commemorate our national hero's bravery, and yet do we really know all the important events and places that once stood on its grounds? Here's a closer look at Luneta from years past—once a venue for lively gatherings and significant events in history.
These Spanish cannons placed along the Bagumbayan perimeter fronting Manila Bay fired upon Dewey’s fleet on May 1, 1898.
Bagumbayan: A new town is born
Historic Luneta Park arose from Bagumbayan (“new town”), which, as early as 1591, was already well known to Spaniards as a suburb of the city. It was different from old Manila and Intramuros in that it was originally occupied by natives. Bagumbayan must have enchanted Governor General Pedro Bravo de Acuña (he served from 1602 to 1606) that he built a large summer house with gardens and ponds in that town. He died without even enjoying it. The Recollects, however, bought the property and turned the house into a center of their missionary activities. The convent and buildings they put up there, however, were demolished by Governor General Sebastian Corcuera in 1642 because of the threat of Dutch invasion. The Recollects sued, and a new convent, a church (which used to house the Nazarene now associated with Quiapo), and a hospital (under the order of San Juan de Dios), were built on the spacious Bagumbayan grounds. Bagumbayan also became known for its recreation drives, parade ground (the site of a victory march in 1640 to celebrate the end of Chinese Revolt), and its fortifications, which were erected as the Spanish military thought that all attacks on the city had to pass through that location.
Bagumbayan, the sacred ground where the blood of Filipino heroes and martyrs flowed
The Killing Field
While Bagumbayan was the usual venue for parades, battles, religious processions, and the display of wealth and power by Manila’s elite, it was also a place of execution for the enemies of Spain. Many of those martyred in Bagumbayan were freedom-loving Filipinos who voiced their grievances against injustice and fought for their rights. These early heroes include the members of the confraternity of San Jose under Hermano Pule, led by their commander, Sergeant Samaniego, who were executed on January 20, 1843; the Gomburza fathers, sentenced to death on the garrote on February 15, 1872; Katipuneros Sancho Valenzuela and his men who fought in the first big battle of the Revolution in San Juan del Monte (death by firing squad, August 30, 1896), and of course, our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, executed on December 30, 1896.
Rizal's march to Bagumbayan
On December 26, 1896, Jose Rizal was sentenced to die by firing squad after being found guilty of rebellion and sedition. It was only on the eve of his execution that he was informed of his fate, and on December 30, at 6:30 a.m., his death march to Bagumbayan began. With elbows bound, Rizal was dressed in black, except for his white shirt. He also wore a bowler hat. The morning was clear when he walked from Fort Santiago to Paseo Maria Cristina (Bonifacio Drive today), giving him one last view of Manila Bay’s beautiful sunrise and old Intramuros. Six Remington-rifle bearing Filipinos comprised the firing squad, backed up by a line of Spanish shooters. The hero uttered “Consumatum est” (“It is finished”), as bullets pierced his body, the same last words spoken by Christ. Today, bronze footprints embedded on the pavement from his Fort Santiago prison cell to Luneta trace Rizal’s final walk. A concrete slab once marked the exact spot where he fell, which was landscaped in the '50s. It can be found some 100 meters on the west side of the Rizal Monument. This has since been replaced by a bronze marker and a statue showing the still-standing patriot at the precise moment he was shot. Bagumbayan finally ceased to be a place of execution with the establishment of American sovereignty in the Philippines.
Social life in 19th-century Manila included late afternoon to evening promenades, concerts, and carriage rides on the Paseo de Luneta.
Paseo de la Luneta
Bagumbayan’s location provided a perfect cover for the city against attacks from foreign forces like the British and the Dutch. The Spaniards built their line of defense there which included fortifications to shield bastions from a direct battery. One such type of minor fortification was a moat-protected outwork of Manila’s walled city that had the shape of a half-moon. This particular fort design was called “lunette” or Luneta. Structures around it were named after this outwork—like the Luneta Barracks (Cuartel la Luneta) and the Paseo de la Luneta (Lunette Drive), west of Bagumbayan. This plaza was oblong in shape, similar to today’s athletic oval. It measured 100 meters by 300 meters, and became a popular venue for evening promenades, entertainment, and socializing. The Paseo de la Luneta featured landscaping, well-defined paths, and an expansive driveway around the perimeter where the rich could ramble on in their flashing horse-drawn
The new Luneta, as it appeared in the early 20th century
The New Luneta
When Americans first came to visit and experience Luneta, they were met by the sound of waves from Manila Bay and the waters lapping at their feet. The park was so close to the water that extension projects were undertaken through land reclamation from the bay that began in the first decade of the 1900s. The filled-in land later became the site of the Army and Navy Club and the Elks Club. The famed Manila Hotel was erected on a 35,000-square-meter reclaimed lot at the northwestern end of Luneta along Bonifacio Drive in 1913. The U.S. Embassy grounds were also expanded by land reclamation, which gave Luneta more space for subsequent beautification programs through the next decades.
Philippine Exposition at Wallace Field: East of Luneta is an athletic field, where events like the Manila Carnival (later, Philippine Exposition) were held. Here, an open auditorium was erected with Manila school children performing folk dances for the crowd.
The annual Manila Carnival, dubbed as the greatest event in the
Wallace Field was the name of an area bounded by Calle San Luis (now T.M. Kalaw Street), Nozaleda (General Luna Street), and Bagumbayan Drive (P. Burgos Street). In 1908, it had tennis courts and a ballpark. It was best known for being the site of the fabled Manila Carnivals, an annual national fair that was held from 1908 to 1938 to celebrate Philippine-American goodwill, as well as to mark the commercial, industrial, and agricultural strides made by the country. The Carnival site was walled with
The Luneta Bandstand was the venue for the afternoon and evening concerts of the famous Philippine Constabulary Band by the turn of the 20th century.
One favorite landmark of the park is the wooden Luneta Bandstand, which was situated on an esplanade within the Paseo de la Luneta and flanked by two fountains. There were actually two bandstands—one on each end of the oval—but one structure was blown off by a typhoon in 1908. The gazebo-like bandstand was the venue for entertaining shows for people who gathered to walk or promenade along the Paseo. The Sunday afternoon concerts of the famous Philippine Constabulary Band were one of the regular musical events held there, along with performances from well-known zarzuela stars, including soprano star Maria Carpena, the first Filipino recording artist who was hailed as the "Nightingale of the Zarzuela." The bandstand was later demolished in favor of the Rizal Monument which was installed in 1913.
Since 1949, the Quirino Grandstand became the traditional venue for presidential inaugurations, and now, also for non-political events like musical concerts, religious prayer meetings, and races.
Contrary to popular belief, the Philippine Independence Day grandstand used in 1946 was not constructed on the grounds of the present-day Quirino Grandstand. It actually stood across the Rizal Monument, which was later demolished. A few years after, a plan was conceived to put up a new grandstand—in a new, more spacious location near the breakwaters of the bay. The result was an open-air grandstand, designed by Architect Federico Ilustre, who retained the simpler elements of the old grandstand and incorporated them in an imposing, concrete structure with a commanding view of the bay. It was inaugurated in 1949, in time for the oath-taking ceremonies of the Republic’s sixth president, Elpidio Quirino, and after his death in 1956, became known as Quirino Grandstand, with a present seating capacity of up to 10,000 people. It is also used for concerts, religious assemblies, and the annual Independence Day celebration.
Significant events in Luneta
The Pontifical mass at Luneta highlighted the 1937 International Eucharistic Congress, held for the first time in Asia.
33rd International Eucharistic Congress, 1937
The greatest spiritual event in the Orient—the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress—was held from February 3 to 7, 1937 in Manila, Philippines—the first ever in Asia. Major Vatican officials, high-ranking church officials, cardinals, and clerics the world over came to Manila for the Congress, and the event attracted over 1.5 million people. The religious procession alone was attended by 600,000 people. It took two years to plan the event. A major venue was the Luneta, where the centerpiece Tower of Ivory was constructed beginning in December 1936. The P50,000 tower housed the Altar of Altars where the Eucharist was displayed. Pontifical masses were held in Rizal Park, attended by the highest officials of the land with thousands of devotees in attendance—the same spot where Pope John Paul II held his papal mass when he visited the Philippines in 1981. A religious art exposition was also mounted on the Luneta grounds, which exhibited ecclesiastical arts and antiques.
The Philippine Flag flies high after being hoisted by President Manuel A. Roxas. In 1946, the flagpole was planted on the spot where Rizal was executed by the Spaniards 50 years prior.
Floats from public and private agencies participated in a grand parade that was witnessed by over 300,000 freedom-loving Filipinos (1946)
Philippine Independence Day, 1946
On the drizzly morning of July 4, 1946, history unfolded with the inauguration of the Philippine Republic in Luneta. This epic event was witnessed by 300,000 people, graced by delegates from 29 nations and greeted with the salvos of pealing bells, music, and cheers. At exactly 9:16 a.m., the American flag was lowered from the grandstand flagpole by High Commissioner Paul V. McNutt, as President Manuel Roxas raised the Philippine tri-color, to the tune of "Lupang Hinirang" played by the Philippine Army Band. Thus was born the first Christian Republic of Asia.
The Philippine International Fair Grounds featured the landmark "Gateway to the East." Over 100 local and international pavilions and booths were set up on the old Wallace Field.
The Philippine International Fair, 1953
From the 1930s to the 1960s, the world was caught up in the excitement of international fairs and expositions. In 1953, the Philippines joined the bandwagon, and not even the brewing war in Korea could dampen the country’s spirit as it launched its first Philippine International Fair. As in the Manila Carnivals of old, Luneta was chosen as the venue of the Fair that featured over 100 local and international pavilions and booths laid out by Architect Otilio Arellano on the old Wallace Field. Arellano also designed the fair’s landmark—the Gateway of the East. The fair opened on February 1,
Luneta Chinese Garden, a gift of the Chinese community to the Philippines
Luneta Chinese Garden
The beautiful Chinese Garden, done in the style of the splendid Summer Palace of Beijing, China, was a gift of the Chinese community of the Philippines in the 1960s to celebrate the harmonious relationship between China and the Philippines. Visited by thousands daily, the exotic gardens with a corridor of viewing "temples" on a man-made lagoon, provide a relaxing respite from the city’s noisy bustle. The Chinese Gardens has all the trappings of Orientalia—from the welcome arch complete with dragon, pagodas, and a statue of the Chinese sage, Confucius.
A 1972 photo showing the unusual Flower Clock with a dial made from flowering shrubs of various colors. The clock mechanism was provided by Rado, a Swiss timepiece manufacturer.
One of the novel attractions of Luneta in the 1960s was the giant Flower Clock fashioned from flowering plants pruned to look like a clock dial. It was outfitted with
Fountains and falls
Luneta was also famed for its beautiful landscaping that included artificial pools, waterfalls, and lit dancing fountains that moved with
Luneta’s Globe Fountain located in a rotunda of the Agrifina Circle provides a striking backdrop to the skating rink often jam-packed with local skaters (circa 1975)
Luneta's Globe Fountain
One of the most memorable sights in Luneta in the '70s was the free-spirited skaters who skated on a rink built around a Globe Fountain centerpiece. It was located east of the park, in an area within the Agrifina Circle. It was always filled with people during weekends to watch the skaters, both amateurs