Aka Casas Consitoriales or Cabildo, the building was roughly equivalent to city hall. Its northern wing housed the cabildo or city council composed of alcalde and the regidores (mayor and councilor). It also had other offices including that of the governor general. A jail was part of the structure.
Although Legazpi had mapped out a site for the casas consistoriales no structure was built until the incumbency of Gov. Gen. Francisco Tello, who begun construction around 1599. In Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las islas Filipinas (1607) the building is described as made of cut stones, monumental and pleasing. The first floor housed the courts and jail; the second the administrative offices, a chapel, and archives. The building, probably just a single wing, may have been damaged by the earthquakes of 1645 and 1658 because a document of 1684 requests for funds to rebuild. Meanwhile, the city council met in a house rented from the Jesuits’ Colegio de Manila.
On 31 January 1735, the corner stone for a second building was laid. Completed in 1738, this building survived well into the 19th century when the 3 June 1863 earthquake damaged it heavily. This 18th century building is documented by a painting by Karuth, an engraving, an elevation plan, and a photograph of it in ruins. The second Ayuntamiento had a central clock tower above its façade and two symmeterical wings. Bulbous wrought iron balconies decorated the second story and a covered arcade characterized the first floor.
The architect Eduardo Lopez Navarro was commissioned to design the third Ayuntamiento. Construction begun on 29 April 1879 but had to stop because of an earthquake in 1880. Navarro’s plans were revised to make them more structurally sound and in 4 April 1881 work continued. Another stoppage occurred on 21 March 1885. The building may have been completed not much later because by the turn of the century, Juan Hervas was commissioned to redesign the vestibule.
Navarro planned the third Ayuntamiento in the Neoclassical idiom, opting for severity and well proportioned members. The quadrilateral structure was built around an atrium. Hervas’s renovated vestibule had a harlequin floor of black and white marble, an elegant staircase decorated with a wrought iron balustrade.
The staircase lead to the upper floor where mayor’s office was located. There was a waiting room for men and another for women who had business to transact with city hall. The rooms were furnished in the overstuffed Victorian manner with paintings by Spanish and Filipinos, bentwood Vienna chairs, and bric a brac. The city chapter’s session hall had a ceiling painted with allegorical figures and glass chandeliers imported from Europe. The most famous feature of the building was its ceremonial “Marble Hall.” This rectangular room, with a white marble floor, had a coffered ceiling from which hung glass and brass chandeliers. It was an elegant hall for the social events of Manila’s elite.
In the 20th century, the Ayuntamiento earned the sobriquet “Marble Palace,” because of its generous use of this material. The Ayuntamiento was used as the meeting place for the Philippine Assembly convened in 1907.
Ruined by the bombardment of Manila in 1945 it has never been restored. The ruins of the Ayuntamiento stands on the eastern side of Plaza Roma. The ruin is temporarily used for parking.
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- February 18, 2007 / 5:10 pm