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.
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.
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.
1. San Agustin Church of Manila (built in Manila, 1607)
This church is an example of early Baroque, which has the closest resemblance to Spanish architecture. We see austere exteriors with only a few ornaments on the entrance. The composition is symmetric and has a Latin cross plan. Initially, the building had two bell towers, but one of them was lost during an earthquake. There is an abundance of ornaments in the interior. Plenty of moldings are used to decorate the ceiling and columns. There are also paintings on the ceilings and walls. Some noble materials were used in the interior, like stone for columns and brass for the altar.
2. San Agustin Church of Paoay (built in Paoay, 1710)
Earthquake Baroque style is evident here. The construction is robust and reinforced with massive walls and buttresses. There's a bell tower on the corner that served for defensive purposes. The exterior facades are austere with few ornaments—just a few arches and columns are used to decorate the main facade.
3. Saint John of Sahagun Parish Church (built in Candon, 1713)
This church was also designed to resist seismic events, so it has a robust construction. The building is austere, and it's made out of brick and stucco. Some columns, arches, and sculptures were used for decoration on the main facade, but we see few ornaments on the bell tower and no decoration on the other facades. The bell tower is located on the corner.
4. Saint Thomas of Villanueva Parish Church (built in Maigao, 1797)
An example of late Baroque, the exteriors are still austere but the entrance facade is much more decorated with ornaments like columns, sculptures, and carvings. The proportions of the building respond to the seismic nature of its location—it isn't high, but rather horizontal in structure. Buttresses became more stylized. The defensive bell towers are located on both sides, giving the church the look of a fortress.
Okay, let's take a moment to review what we've learned. As we learned, the Baroque movement started in the early 17th century in Italy as a new artistic style after the Renaissance. The Baroque architecture was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish and developed there during the 17th and 18th century. Churches were the focus of architecture during this period. The distance from Europe and the local influences gave origin to a unique style, adapted to local conditions.
Churches were fortified buildings, which were created to stand the constant attacks and invasions from Muslim troops coming from the south. After a strong earthquake, churches adopted an earthquake Baroque style, in which they became more robust and were reinforced with buttresses.
The design for churches was symmetric and adopted a Latin cross plan layout. Humble materials, mostly brick, were used for the exteriors, and better materials were reserved for the interior and the few decorative elements and low ornateness of the austere exteriors. The interiors were highly ornamented and concentrated most of the decorative elements with moldings, paintings, and sculptures being commonly used as decoration.
Some examples of Baroque architecture in the Philippines are:
- The San Agustin Church of Manila
- The San Agustin Church of Paoay
- The Saint John of Sahagun Parish Church, and finally
- The Saint Thomas of Villanueva Parish Church
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