When I first arrived to the Philippines last year, I was just beginning my plan to settle down and live there, totally green (as well as pale from a U.S. winter) and unaware of how much works here. Once I got settled into an apartment in Cebu City, one of the very first things I wanted to do was take an excursion to somewhere – anywhere! – I hadn’t been before.
I didn’t know many people but had met a few people through friends of friends, including a nice lady who ran a travel club in the city of Bacolod. So, I booked a flight there (which took less than 40 minutes) although I didn’t know anything about her city, either.
I did spend three days in Bacolod, the capital city of the green island of Negros in the central Visayas region, known as the Sugar Bowl of the Philippines because of its historically prominent sugar cane farming and processing. We saw many things that weekend – historic towns, lush waterfalls, and even an unforgettable white-beach island called Lakawon.
But one of the most remarkable – and one that keeps growing on me in hindsight – was The Ruins.
Located in a well-to-do historic town called Talisay outside of Bacolod, the grounds are like a well-manicured park, with meandering walkways, fountains, pruned hedges, and plenty of smaller trees. But the highlight is, in fact, the actual ruin, which looks like someone built an ancient Roman mansion that was never fully completed.
It’s a memorable feat of architecture in so much that it’s completely out of place, and took on new significance once I heard the story behind it.
Back in the 1700s, there was a very wealthy sugar plantation family that owned huge parcels of land around there. Their son, Don Mariano Ledesma, was also interested about the outside world, and so when he met the regal daughter of a Portuguese ship’s captain, Maria Braga, it was love at first sight for both of them.
They got married and moved into their family home there in Talisay outside Bacolod, settling into domestic bliss with ten children, including the third, Mercedes.
But when Maria was pregnant with her 11th child she had a bad accident, slipping an falling in their bathroom and suffering a wound that bled profusely. The nearest physician was in the next town, Silay, which is only 30 minutes or so away these days and home to the Bacolod Airport. But Maria was too fragile to be moved, so a horse-drawn carriage was sent to go collect the physician.
It took two days for the driver to get there and two more days for him to come back with the doctor. Don Mariano stayed with his bride and tried to keep her alive the whole time, but the time the returned, Maria and her unborn baby were dead.
Heartbroken that he’d lost the love of his life, Don Mariano pledged to build her a home for her to live in in the afterlife, as an epic monument of their love. He coordinated with Maria’s father and together, they built The Ruins in all of its glory.
Once it was finished, Don Mariano told his ten children that they could live in The Ruins as long as they wanted – while they were still unmarried.
I didn’t know at the time that the name, The Ruins, refers to the ruins of his broken heart for his deceased bride, not the structure. It’s also called “The TajMahal of the Philippines not because it’s on par with the wonderous temple in India, but because it has a similar tragic love story behind it.
To this day, the family of their third daughter, Mercedes) owns and manages the Ruins.