Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson was living a sweet life, the youngest child of 8. He was the young, dashing and bachelor baron of a 440-hectare plantation in Spanish colonial-era Talisay City. As much as he worked hard, he was enjoying his young life to the hilt. One of his passions was seeing the world, and he often did so in the company of an equally wealthy friend.
In one of his meanderings abroad, Mariano caught sight of Maria Braga – a beautiful, young Portuguese lady from Macau – in old Hong Kong. It was love at first sight. He did not hesitate meeting her and her father, a captain of his own ship. He thought, “Mariano and Maria – a match made in heaven!” He offered her marriage and brought her back home and raised a family in Talisay.
Mariano and Maria’s married life was blissful. They were blessed with ten children – Victoria, Rafael, Mercedes (who later married a Javellana), Natividad, Sofia, Felipe, Consolacion, Angelina, Ramon and Eduardo. But i
Suddenly… the cruel hand of fate dealt a tragic blow. In some nasty twist of events, the pregnant Maria slipped in the bathroom and began to bleed. Her condition was so precarious that she wouldn’t even be able to take the rigors of travel to the nearest available full-fledged physician in the next town, now Silay City (site of today’s international airport). So Mariano had no choice; he frantically summoned his horseman to take what at the time was the fastest mode of transportation, a horse-drawn carriage, for fetching the physician who can attend to Maria.
At the time, a horse-drawn carriage took two days to reach Silay. So Mariano had to suffer the four-day wait for the arrival of the carriage as he tended his wife. Sadly, both Maria and the baby passed on even before the doctor arrived. Mariano was devastated and heartbroken – the love of his life gone, taken by a freak accident. No mortal would have been able to fathom the depths of his grief.
But he had to move on for the sake of his children. In one of those healing moments, he thought of a way to immortalize Maria in his memory for the rest of his life: build a mansion adjacent to his ancestral home. He wanted to dedicate it to Maria’s love, especially to their 10 children. He touched base with Maria’s father and told him of his plan to erect a grand palace in honor of Maria, where he and the kids would live as well as desert the scene of Maria’s tragic mishap. Mariano’s intentions was well-received by his father-in-law, who not only provided some finances but might also have given Mariano the design of his very own mansion.
Construction of the Don Mariano Lacson Mansion went in earnest. Mariano entrusted the design and building specifications to a local engineer, Luis Puentevella, and asked one of his sons to supervise the construction and make certain that the A-grade mixture of concrete was precisely poured. It was finished to perfection, upon which the Don told his children the mansion was theirs to live in for as long as they are unmarried. The family cherished in the new mansion the loving memory of Maria. And life went on beautifully for them all from then on…
The two-story mansion was of Italianate architecture as evidenced by its neo-Romanesque columns all around. Since the engineer was a Filipino, it is believed the design came from that of Maria’s ancestral mansion which was given by her father to Mariano as sample. The imprimatur of Maria’s father, a ship captain, is now clear from the shell-inspired décor all around the top edges of the mansion – the same ones that identified the homes of ship captains in New England at the time.
Tell-tale signs of Mariano’s adoration for Maria abound. There’s the two “M” letters molded in reclined positions onto each and every post around the mansion’s exterior – symbols that stand for Mariano and Maria. The final touches to the concrete walls and posts were made with egg whites mixed into the cement for a fine, marble-like touch, representing Maria’s alabaster skin characteristic of Mediterranean women. And the load-bearing pillars were reinforced, not with ordinary metal rods, but with the thick, dense metal columns used to build railways for long-lasting ability – an edifice for Maria that can last “forever.”
In this magnificent mansion, three of Mariano’s daughters lived to the max and never married. On Mariano’s arrangements, the daughters stayed on the upper floor while the sons occupied the ground level. Victoria, Consolacion and Angelina stayed single and enjoyed every moment in the mansion. It is surmised that, because the females stayed on the upper floor, their suitors were not lucky or brave enough to get past the brothers on the lower level, thus failing to court their lady loves and win them over to married life.
But all good things must come to an end. During the early part of World War II, the guerilla forces under American command were constrained to raze the mansion to the ground so as to keep the occupying Japanese forces from using it as headquarters. The resulting 3-day inferno brought down the roof and the two-inch wooden floors, but the entire skeletal frame remains intact to this day.
Now, the remains of the burnt mansion is a majestic sight to behold. Its huge, ornately designed fountain reminiscent of those in piazzas around Italy stands proud by the front entrance of the mansion, back-dropped by the Simborio – the smokestack outside where the ancestral home used to be, which actually was the vent used for milling fine mascovado sugar at the plantation.
The RUINS, as it is popularly known today, has been acclaimed as “one of the 12 most fascinating ruins of the world”, “one of the best landmarks in the Philippines”, “the Taj Mahal of Negros”, and “the Best Heritage Site of the Philippines awardee for 2016”.