Baroque Architecture of the Philippines: Characteristics & Examples

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, learn about the most important characteristics of Baroque architecture in the Philippines. Explore some examples of interesting churches built during this period and that are now considered World Heritage sites. Updated: 04/29/2021

Filipino Baroque Architecture

For a long time, the Philippines were a Spanish colony, and the ideas brought by the Spanish conquerors combined with local tradition, influences from China, Muslim invasions, and a very seismic land. All that helped developed a Baroque architecture like no other in the world. Let's find out more.

The Baroque started in the early 17th century in Italy as a new artistic style after the Renaissance. It was promoted by the Catholic Church to show its power, in response to the Protestant Reformation, and it became known for its abundance of ornaments and the combination of different arts. From Italy, the new style quickly reached Spain, and from there it spread through Spain's colonies, reaching the Americas and the Asian nation of the Philippines.

Baroque architecture was brought to the Philippines archipelago by the Spanish, during the first years of the 16th century. This style developed there during the 17th century and most of the 18th century. It was a colonial architecture, so it took many references from Spanish Baroque architecture, and therefore, we see some similarities between the Philippine style and Baroque architecture of the Spanish colonies in the Americas.

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  • 0:04 Filipino Baroque Architecture
  • 1:15 Architectural Characteristics
  • 4:27 Some Examples
  • 6:43 Lesson Summary
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Architectural Characteristics

Spanish influences started to arrive at the Philippines as soon as the territories were conquered during the 16th century. However, the colonial process was not peaceful, so the defense of the territories and the evangelization of the population were top priorities for the Spanish crown. Being far away from Europe and constantly under attacks, architecture in the Philippines adapted to the local situation and served the objective of promoting Spanish culture, mainly through Catholicism. The theme for architecture during this period was religion. Civic buildings followed the rules of the Spanish Crown for colonial constructions and were not very influenced by the Baroque style.

That distance from Europe also gave origin to a unique style. Although there are similarities with Spanish Baroque, the architecture of Philippine churches was an interpretation of the European style, influenced by the local and Chinese artisans and constructors. In Philippine Baroque, we see elements that are foreign to European styles and even the colonial style in the Americas, like pagoda-shaped bell towers.

The churches were fortified buildings, created to stand the constant attacks and invasions from Muslim troops coming from the south. During moments of turmoil, the churches served as protection, and the bell towers were also constructed with the purpose of allowing military defensive responses.

After a strong earthquake in 1707, many buildings were damaged, so new constructions were reinforced to withstand future seismic events. The new structures had robust proportions, were strengthened by massive buttresses, and were not as high— following a style similar to that adopted in seismic zones in the Americas. The resulting style is often referred to as earthquake Baroque.

The architectural composition of the churches was based on symmetry. The main axis was defined from the entrance to the altar. The plan layout often consisted of a Latin cross, with the shorter ends being almost imperceptible from the outside due to buttresses and other structural elements. Bell towers are located on the corners, as they also served for defensive actions.

In Philippine Baroque, we see the use of humble materials for the exterior. Brick was used for most of the construction, and better materials like stone were reserved for ornaments on the main entrance facade and for the defensive towers.

Churches had austere exteriors, with low ornateness. Some arches, columns, and sculptures were used as decoration and were often concentrated on the main entrance facade. As the style evolved both in Europe and locally, we see that the main entrance became a volumetric piece, with elements like sculptures and arches coming in and out, giving this part of the building a timid sense of dynamism.

It is in the interior where we see the most ornaments and works of art. Baroque architecture had highly ornamented interiors, with moldings, paintings, and sculptures being commonly used as decoration. A few noble materials were used for the sculptures, the altars, and columns.

Examples of Baroque Architecture in the Philippines

Let's now take a closer look at some examples of Baroque architecture in the Philippines.

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