Vigan’s Syquia Mansion leaps to its old glory

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Vigan�s Syquia Mansion leaps to its old glory
The 19th-century Syquia Mansion in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.
The Syquia mansion.

Mitos Pacis Belofsky has jumped from horses to houses.

A former equestrienne who used to manage the training program of riders for competitions abroad, she is now firmly in the saddle as administrator of the Syquia Mansion, her ancestral home,  in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

“My grandmother Petronila Syquia Mendoza, who was born in Vigan, would take her whole brood there for long holidays.  She would tell us stories about life there, and about her Lolo Gregorio who was the patriarch of the house.  I built my own memories from our trip there with my cousins and the Vigan house has become a special place,” Mitos says when asked why she made the leap from horses to heritage houses.

“I represented my Mom at the family meetings and in 2018, they asked me to be the administrator, which I gladly accepted.   My ambition is to put the house back to its former glory and fix the renovations (not restoration) done by the National Historic Institute (NHI) in 2000,” she shares.

The Cuarto Principal.

On the road to Vigan, Mitos, who is my batchmate from the Assumption Convent, rediscovered the city’s culinary heritage: Vigan longganisa, bagnet, pinakbet, tapa.

“Going to the market and walking down Crisologo Street, I saw the charm and elegance of Ilocano heritage arts and crafts,” she reminisces.   Her return to Vigan made her want to engage with  the community and showcase the produce and products of the region.

“All of our products have their own stories to tell,” says Mitos.

The Antesala.

But just as Mitos and her cousins were preparing the brick and mortar  store at the Syquia Mansion, COVID struck.

“This meant we would have no customers for our store.   My daughters encouraged me to open an online store.  Andrea and her husband Charles assisted with the technical part and Sabine did the website design,” she adds.

Being in Vigan has been life-altering for her.

The Comedor.

“I am learning so much— family history, Vigan conservation and restoration, cooking, the craft of weaving and pot making and many more.  The restoration project is very exciting for me because I am hoping that we can bring the Syquia Mansion back to its glory.  The collection of furniture, art and artifacts is also being professionally curated, and we will display them so the pieces will be appreciated.   The goal is to show the significance of the Syquia Mansion as it represents the three cultures of Vigan in the 19th century: Spanish, Chinese and Ilocano.  It is a microcosm of Vigan.”

The Syquia Mansion is the quintessential bahay na bato, prevalent during the later Spanish colonial era. The typical structure consisted of a ground floor of stone or brick and mortar, with the upper floors of wood. No cement, no hollow blocks, no steel bars.

“No blueprints either,” reveals Mitos. “This mansion was built using a craftsman’s expert eye and traditional building materials.”

The Sala.

The original structure was built in 1830 by the Ang Co family and was given as dowry by Justo Angco on his daughter Estefania’s marriage to Gregorio Syquiain 1875. Over time, Gregorio and Estefania added to and altered the mansion to fit their growing family, and so also did their descendants.

At present, the Syquia Mansion operates as a museum, displaying the architecture and significant family heirlooms and artifacts of the family in the 19th-century Philippines. The government recognized the heritage home as one of the oldest bahay na bato in the city of Vigan, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The mansion is accessed through the caida, the landing just before the grand staircase.  From the zaguan, it is reached by four steps that follow the superstition “oro, plata, mata, oro” or “gold, silver, death, gold”.  It is preferable that one lands on gold rather than on death.

In the grand sala of the Syquia Mansion hangs a life-size portrait of Gregorio Syquia. It is a formal portrait with the barest of background and where the focus is entirely on Don Gregorio in his formal suit.

Does Mitos have ghost stories of the old house?

“I have never encountered a ghost, but the children of the caretaker have seen a lady sitting in the Sala Mayor a couple of times,” she says.  “The staff today always ask Lolo Gregorio not to haunt them or else nobody will take care of his house.  There have been no incidents lately.”

Bravo, Mitos, for making this mansion — its heritage, its stories, its art —jump back to life. *

(The online store may be reached at www.syquiamansion.com.)

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