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6 Things You Need To Know About The Aguinaldo Shrine

What else is there to know about one of the most famous houses in the country than the balcony where Filipinos marked their independence?

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Photography: Real Living Team

Who hasn’t seen that iconic photo of the Philippine flag being waved for the first time in 1898 to celebrate our country’s freedom from Spanish colonial rule? In fact, the famous house appeared twice on our Philippine peso bill—it was illustrated on the two-peso and five-peso-bills.

The venue for this historic moment was the home of Emilio Aguinaldo, the first—and youngest—president of the Philippine republic. Today, 119 years after that monumental event in our nation’s history, we bring you back to where it happened: the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite. Here’s what you should know about this storied architectural beauty:

1. It was first and foremost an ancestral home.

Built in 1845, this is where Aguinaldo was born. It used to be a simple structure made of nipa and wood before it was renovated and extended several times, especially in the 1920s. Aguinaldo himself designed the mansion featuring Hispanic and American Colonial design elements. The multi-level structure includes a mezzanine and tower, and spans 14,000 square feet. Today, the ground floor serves as a museum, which houses historical artifacts. The tomb of Aguinaldo lies in a garden behind the house. 

2. The home reflects a luxurious lifestyle and a patriotic spirit.

If one is to judge by the kind of wood used (Philippine hardwood) and the presence of a bowling alley in a secret room, it can be said that Aguinaldo lived a life of comfort. In fact, he belonged to the ruling class and his parents were of Chinese and Tagalog descent. Love for country was also evident in the symbols that adorn the ceilings: the eight-rayed sun which stands for the revolt of the eight provinces (as seen in the Philippine flag), a relief map of the Philippines, and the rolled up flags and dove (said to represent Aguinaldo’s desire for the Philippines to be recognized as a member of the League of Nations).

3. Its most famous feature is the balcony.

But first, a bit of trivia: There was actually no balcony in 1898. The flag was waved from a window in the living room as a lawyer named Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista read the Act of the Declaration of Independence and the national anthem was played. The balcony was added only in 1919 to mark the site of the declaration of independence.

4. It is a house of many secrets.

Secret compartments and passageways, that is. Some attribute it to Aguinaldo’s military training, hence the fixation on always having a plan B should enemies attack. Some chairs and cabinets have secret compartments, which must have been used to hide documents and even weapons. A hat rack leads to a secret passageway when turned around. In the middle of the mansion is a bomb shelter, accessible from a passage underneath a table in the dining area. Although there is no documentary evidence to prove it, it is believed that the bomb shelter leads outside and into the nearby church. 

5. Its main hall served as the presidential office.

Located on the west side of the building, the main hall in the house was where Aguinaldo made important decisions as president. It is separated from the family building on the east by a turret or tower at the center. The watchtower was said to be a favorite viewing spot of the young president.

6. The house is now part of the Freedom Park.

The Freedom Park was created in time for the centennial celebration in 1988. It used to be a busy street that fronted the mansion, but it has been closed off and transformed into a walkway leading to the park (the closing-off of the street also protects the century-old house from pollution and vibrations from oncoming vehicles).

Displayed in the park is a bronze statue of Aguinaldo on a marble platform. The Freedom Park was also upgraded for the townspeople’s modern lifestyle, with an area delegated for Zumba sessions, public gatherings, and concerts (the Magdalo Marching Band—which has been in existence since 1896—performs here during Christmas and special occasions). There is also Las Tiendas, a food bazaar that opens daily in the late afternoon until the evening, and a beautiful light show that highlights the Shrine’s façade at night.

MUSEO NI EMILIO AGUINALDO, KAWIT, CAVITE

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