Rizal Park

Rizal Park, the Philippines’s premier park

At any given time, from early morning to late at night, Rizal Park, the Philippines’s premier and Asia’s largest urban park is teeming with visitors. From joggers to foreign guests, from students to senior citizens or the occasional first timer who’s there to pay homage to the National Hero Jose  Rizal flock to this oasis of trees, gardens, memorials and sculptures with pockets of entertainment and recreation.

The area where the Rizal Park now stands used to be an inhabited marshy patch of land. Although overlooked by the Spaniards at first, it proved to be a valuable buffer zone for the walled city during an incursion of the notorious Chinese pirate, Limahong in 1574. A town was established in 1601 and the Spaniards called it Nuevo Barrio, literally, New Town, or in Tagalog, Bagumbayan. Unfortunately, what worked in the piratical raid became beneficial to the invading British that after their short rule (1762-1764), the town, including its church were demolished.

Rizal Monument with the controversial DMCI building

Rizal Monument with the controversial DMCI building

The precursor of the Rizal Park came to life when the Paseo de Luneta, in reference to the part of the Intramuros fortification near it was established in 1820. It was rectangular in form with semicircular ends and a wide drive, the La Calzada. The promenade had a bandstand and fountains and it was a place to see and be seen for the city’s elite. While the Paseo de Luneta became a popular recreation park, it was also where patriotic blood was shed as a total of 158 enemies of Spain, including the Gomburza and Jose Rizal were executed.

One of three government buildings that were built out of the 11 structures that American Daniel Burnham planned for his City Beautiful project for Manila.

One of three government buildings that were built out of the 11 structures that American Daniel Burnham planned for his City Beautiful project for Manila.

During the American colonial period, architect and city planner, Daniel Burnham in 1902 chose this part of Manila as the new location of the seat of Government. Where a total of 11 government buildings in neoclassic design was planned, only three were built: Congress (now the National Museum), Agriculture (now  the Museum of the Filipino People) and Finance (now the Department of Tourism that will soon become the Museum of Natural History). In the same period, the Paseo de Luneta was renamed the Rizal Park when, after 17 years of the execution of the national hero, a monument, Motto Stella by the Swiss artist, Richard Kissling was built.

One of the pavilions at the Chinese Garden

One of the pavilions at the Chinese Garden

In the succeeding years, Rizal Park was forgotten and fell into disrepair. It was only at the time of Eva Macapagal, as first lady in the 1950s that steps were taken to revive the park but only after 1961 that, through a fund drive, the revival of Rizal Park happened, including the posting of honor guards by the Philippine Army.  Rehabilitation and beautification works were initiated in 2011.

Rizal Monument as seen from the side

Rizal Monument as seen from the side

The Rizal Park has never been better than today. From its beginnings as a three hectare Paseo de Luneta, it is now a sprawling 16 hectare urban park stretching from Taft Avenue to Manila Bay. It’s divided in three sections: first dominated by the the Lapulapu monument and where the flanking neoclassic Finance and Agriculture Buildings as well as the Relief Map of the Philippines are found.

Under the shade of trees people spend lazy afternoons

Under the shade of trees people spend lazy afternoons

The geographic center, the biggest piece is where the hallowed Rizal Monument is situated. Here are several gardens, monuments and markers, sculptures, recreation facilities and attractions. It’s where Rizal was executed (now the Martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal tableau) and a short obelisk marks where the GomBurZa were garroted.

At the light and sound tableau and actual site where National Hero Jose Rizal was executed

At the light and sound tableau and actual site where National Hero Jose Rizal was executed

The beautiful Chinese and Japanese Gardens provide a welcome respite from the concrete and grey of the city. The Noli Me Tangere Garden, is a cool refuge with its canopy of trees and cement seats encircling the Heidelberg fountain that Rizal used to drink from in Germany.

Clockwise from top right: The GomBurZa marker where the three priests were martyred; artworks in one of the gardens and Kilometer 0 where all kilometer distances across the country starts

Clockwise from top right: The GomBurZa marker where the three priests were martyred; artworks in one of the gardens and Kilometer 0 where all kilometer distances across the country starts

The last section is where the Quirino Grandstand is, venue of several political, religious and civic events and activities. The Burnham Green is a favorite place for picnics on lazy Sunday afternoons and for children to fly a kite. The Kilometer Zero marker stands beside Roxas Boulevard.

Clockwise from top right: The Heidelberg Fountain that Jose Rizal used to drink water from in Germany at the Noli Me Tangere Garden; at the fringe of Rizal Park along TM Kalaw where these men looking for maritime work gather; the massive Lapulapu bust and the popular dancing fountain

Clockwise from top right: The Heidelberg Fountain that Jose Rizal used to drink water from in Germany at the Noli Me Tangere Garden; at the fringe of Rizal Park along TM Kalaw where these men looking for maritime work gather; the massive Lapulapu bust and the popular dancing fountain

But there are present challenges. Right now, the issue of ‘visual dominance’ for declared historic monuments outlined in the guidelines of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) has been highlighted to the fore with the building of a 46 storey condominium building that mars the background of the Rizal Monument. Although it’s a very contentious issue, the case has now been brought to the Supreme Court.

Weekend afternoons at the wide green patch fronting Quirino Grandstand is a great place for visitors to fly a kite or just relax

Weekend afternoons at the wide green patch fronting Quirino Grandstand is a great place for visitors to fly a kite or just relax

The Rizal Park has come a long way. It has witnessed the changing face of Manila and its people, suffered under the bombings that destroyed the city, felt the pulse of the country as well as continue to provide enjoyment, history and pride to countless Filipinos and visitors in the present and in the generations to come.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

3 Comments

  1. Estan Cabigas (@EstanCabigas)
    June 12, 2016 @ 8:26

    Rizal Park, the Philippines’s premier park: At any given time, from early morning to late at night, Rizal Par… https://t.co/G3XKH8GQVa

  2. Estan Cabigas (@EstanCabigas)
    June 12, 2016 @ 8:41

    Happy Independence Day! Have u viaited Rizal Park?

    https://t.co/jR0hcenoao https://t.co/edNNBHFLv0

  3. Estan, Ang Langyaw (@LangyawMedia)
    June 12, 2016 @ 8:41

    Happy Independence Day! Have u viaited Rizal Park?

    https://t.co/08eDwiqhnr https://t.co/q3r5TeTWsM

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