Sunday, September 10, 2006

Solved! The Mystery of the Palace of the Viceroy of Manila, Molina de Aragón, Spain

On a very hot spring day this year my friends Carlos, Jaime and Marius took a daytrip to Molina de Aragón, a delightful small town in the province of Guadalajara. An English student of Jaime's had been nagging us about visiting the town which he claimed had a direct relation to the history of the Philippines.

When we got to the town we discovered that everyone seemed to know where the Palacio del Virrey de Manila is. Yes, they said, go to the corner of Calle Quiñones and you will see a stone facade with the heraldic insignia of the Viceroy. When we arrived we discovered a 3-storey stone palace with an imposing principal entrace surmounted by a seal decorated with 2 putti holding aloft a royal crown, and with decorations of armaments, musical instruments, flags, castles and a tree.

What was more exciting was discovering that the facade had once been covered with extensive murals; we were told by the locals that the expanse of blue green color once represented beautiful images of Manila from the seaside and that there were several allusions to the sciences, painting and the navy, of which the Viceroy had been very fond of.

Carlos and Jaime were approached by several very friendly natives, but unfortunately the Palacio had passed from the original owners to a new one who now maintained it as a private home. The local history museum was closed and we were resigned to the fact that the Palacio del Virrey de Manila would remain a tantalizing enigma.

Serendipity to the rescue! While working for, I began tracking down an important historical account by the 32nd Philippine Governor General Fernando Valdés y Tamón. On googling his name I saw out of the corner of my eye a search result with the words Virey de Manila and I knew in an instant that I had now solved the mystery...

Don Fernando Valdés Tamón was the governor general of Islas Filipinas from 1729 to 1739 and unsuccessfully tried to colonize the Palaus from 1730 to 1733. Don Fernando did sign a treaty of peace with the Sultan of Jolo Muhammad Alimuddin. After ten years of grappling with the vexing problems of the Spanish Orient, he returned to Madrid remaining in favor with the court of the Bourbons. In Madrid he met a young noblewoman from the town of Aragon de Molina. Marriage followed soon after with the palace being erected in 1740. The couple filled the palacio with murals, paintings, tapestries and other sumptuous furniture that it was said that they spent a "thousand and one happy nights" there. The noble house passed on to their descendants of Brigadier Vigil de Quiñones until their family sold it recently to the new owners who are busy renovating it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A landmark Hispanic Philippines study: Colonias para después de un imperio

I recently finished reading Josep M. Fradera's landmark cross-colonial study, Colonias para después de un imperio. In contrast to most other historians who base their colonial narratives on documents and studies from their particular countries, Señor Fradera crosses the oceans to compare the experiences of the three colonies left behind with the metropolí after the 1820s: Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

Through this exhaustive 750-page book, Sr. Fradera examines the economic structures that were established to continue the fiscal maintenance of each colony, going into a comparative detailed study of their nascent sugar and tobacco industries, as well as the social systems built around them, in particular slavery. He also examines very carefully the political systems in each colony, which were a marked contrast from the liberal tendencies in Madrid.

He exposes the systematic exclusion of the American and Philippine colonies from the constitutional processes resurgent in 19th century Spain, leaving them under an authoritarian rule in sharp contrast to that of the Peninsula. This book is a landmark study not only in the Philippines but also in Spain, because it establishes definitively the authentic global dimensions of Spanish history from the 18th to late 19th century.

Sr. Pradera is a Ph.D. in contemporary history of Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and currently teaches at Universidad Pompeu Fabra. He was a visiting professor at Harvard and New York University. He has published several titles on comparative colonialism, including the brilliant book Filipinas, la colonia más peculiar (CSIC: Madrid, 1999).