Large iron gates enclose Paco Park, a secret place where today’s world is shut out. The park is circular, surrounded by tall ancient walls so filled with history you feel like you are transported back in time as you enter. Sadly these days that sense of nostalgia is diluted with speakers booming music throughout the park. However on the day I visited, Nat King Coles ‘What a Wonderful World’ started to play as I walked through the gates and it kind of felt like it was part of the show. As you walk deeper in the sound softens, becoming distant, forgettable.
It is a double wall that surrounds the park, these walls are thick and you can climb up and walk around the tops of them taking in the tranquil view hidden inside. If you look outwards, you see life as we see it today. Litter, filth, pollution, rotting, broken buildings and broken people. If you look the other way, if you look to the inside you find this hidden world that time seems to have forgotten. Ancient buildings made of stone tell stories of times past. Running your hands along the walls, you can just imagine the conversations that happened here.
Paco Park has a long history, built in the 1800’s as a cemetery, it was built by the Dominicans (a Roman Catholic religious order founded by a Spanish Priest) to house the affluent Spanish residents of Manila. Shortly after being built it was used as the primary place of rest for victims of the Cholera outbreak of 1820. Through the years the cemetery was used as the temporary resting place for a range of people including being the final resting place for three famous Catholic Priests, who were executed in 1872 by the Spanish for alleged conspiracy. The Priests were fighting for freedom. They were martyred and their remains are still in Paco Park. The other well known Filipino figure who was for a time hidden here, is Jose Rizal, who ironically at age 10 witnessed the tortured deaths of the Priests. Rizal was executed for his fight for peaceful reform. His death made him the face of the Nationalist Movement and to this day he is celebrated as a hero to this country.
Burials in Paco Park ceased in 1912 and most niches are now empty and sealed. There are still the remains of deceased here though, and there is a whole section for babies and children, hidden away behind St Pancratius Cathedral which sits as a central feature within the walls. Like a secret garden.
In 1966 the park was converted into a National Park and restoration was undertaken to repair damage from the war. Today this park is a popular venue for weddings, photographers and tourists. The evenings provide a water and light show at the central water feature as an added attraction.
As we walked around the park we noticed the ancient frangipanis that provide shelter, and the patterns in the pathways. Memorials are dotted around the perimeter, serving to remind people of its history. The men who are represented here were fighting for peace, freedom and a world that was fair. I found it eerie that within these walls where these men of peace lay, that white doves had found a home. I also felt saddened that after centuries, we are still fighting for the same things.
We sat on the grass under a giant tree and had a picnic, I watched my children run around exploring and playing freely. I felt the cool damp grass in my fingers, the mottled sunlight on my face and closed my eyes to take in the sounds. Amazingly all I could hear was the rustle of the wind in the ancient trees and the tweeting of the Maya’s, a small local bird. Today’s world was shut out. As I got ready to leave, I met a lovely couple from Canada. With a generous chat I was reminded that kindness is everywhere. We walked out to catch a taxi home, waiting amongst the street vendors we were once again transported back to this life here.
Location: Paco Park is located in Belen, Paco, Metro Manila
Open daily from 8am – 5pm
Entrance Fee: P10
A version of this post was originally published on SaltyBug on 22nd March 2015 in the post titled Our Busy Week