Casa Real de Bucay
1st Capital of Abra
4. Bucay: a planned town of the 1840s

Bucay's maps
Land use
Bucay’s public buildings: municipal hall, the town’s market
Bucay’s public buildings: the church, schools and cemetery

The first major task Tajonera took as a governor was the making of the town of Bucay to convert it into the first capital of Abra. At the time he took possession of his post, Bucay was a small settlement or ranchería near a settled village to its north called Labon. That Bucay was chosen as the capital town and not Labon was due obviously to the fact that for some decades already, Bucay was the ranchería where Fort General Martinez was established, the cuartel or military headquarters in the area. As events would prove later, the prospects of having adequate and independent physical facilities to house the new government were at best dim due to the scarcity of funds, so that from the beginning the fort had to double also as provincial Capitol or Casa Real. Meanwhile, Bucay was nothing resembling a town of the times and Tajonera had to design it from zero. His background in Architecture and Economics must have helped him in no small measure.

Tajonera designed the town in the cuadricula or grid pattern, building it a cordel, an expresion derived from the ropes (cordeles) used to draw rectangular lots with straight lines. To build a cordel means using ropes as guides for the straightness required by the town's blocks sides and streets. The cuadricula was a time-tested rational way of designing towns that regulated the urbanization of the Spanish colonies according to ordinances issued by Carlos V and Felipe II in the XVI Century. Such a planned town had a town center, more often than not (and literally) in the center of town, which housed the institutions: the Audiencia and Government houses, the Church, the school and the market. Streets would be drawn leading to the center and residents would build houses and businesses in rectangular blocks along four main roads and secondary streets in between the roads. The ordinances allowed for adaptation to geographical or topographical location (prevailing winds, etc.), included sanitary regulations and provided for defense, particularly where the town or city was bounded by a river or the sea.

The laws governing the building of cities, twenty-six all in all, are included in Recopilación de las Leyes de los Reynos de Indias (Compilation of the Laws of the Kingdoms of the Indies,) 1680,  Book 4, Title 7: De la Poblacion de las Ciudades, Villas y Pueblos (On the Settling of Cities, Towns and Villages). For a wider article on the norms governing the foundation and building of cities in Spanish times see Ciudades Hispanoamericanas.

The task of actually establishing and building the town began in earnest on September, 1847. Tajonera reports to the Government in Manila in letter of 19 September of the same year:

“I have the pleasure to report to Your Excellency that the time has come to form the new Christian town to the north and in the extension of the pagan village that gives name to our head town (cabecera). For the moment an empty space of land shall be maintained between the two villages (pueblecillos) without prejudice to the decision that both shall be made into one. This arrangement is deemed convenient for the moment so as not to expose these naturals to sudden changes in their life that would not bring very good results to the objective that Your Excellency set in selecting this point to become the Head Town of the Province you decided to place under my charge. It shall be my pleasure to forward the plan of this town to your office as soon as possible.”14
The project was completed “for the most part” according to plan by 3 December, 1848. In the cover document forwarding the map to Governor Claveria in Manila, Tajonera says:
“I have the honor to forward Your Excellency the attached map of the Township of this Head Town, whose project is already accomplished for the most part, for the only elements missing for now are the houses left and right of the Royal Highway (Calzada Real) in the plain and the Barrio indicated at its end, but all will be finished this year as shown in the (above-) referred sketch”.15

Bucay’s maps

I have found access to two beautifully-drawn maps of Bucay both signed by Tajonera and probably drawn by him, or perhaps a staff under his guidance. The map dated 1848, referred-to in his letter to Central Government, is in the National Archives. It is certain that Bucay was built exactly as shown in the map (Plate #3,) as Tajonera reports. The other is a copy in the possession of former Ambassador Rosario Cariño which for lack of a better term I will call the Cariño map. I do not have yet a good copy of this map to show here, hence I am constrained to work mainly from the scant notes I scribbled in the course of two visits to the Cariño home and museum in Tayum, Abra in 2005 and 2006.

The maps are very similar in contents and in the style in which they were rendered. Building elements in these maps are represented by symbols, almost iconic, and are of two kinds: one is used to represent the official buildings: Church, Fort, Tribunal or Townhall, Schools, etc. As represented, these buildings give the impression of some solidity, although, as happened at the beginning of all cities through the Philippines, and that includes Manila, the buildings for the most part could not be more substantial than light constructions made of wood, bamboo and thatched roofs. The exception is the arch giving entrance to the fort, which was constructed in stone, mortar and bricks and at least the officers’ quarters that was a brick building, but then these elements anteceded the town, they were installations of the fort that existed in the vicinity before Bucay became a township. In its stylized drawing, the arch gives an impression very close to what it was in reality as we can see from its site today.

The other kind of symbols is used to represent the townsfolk’s houses and granaries. These are the most stylized of symbols in the maps but, like the arch, they bear a striking similarity to the typical structures of the Tinguian as seen in photos from the beginning of the XX Century (Plate 4.) Houses and granaries were of native construction. The photos show that houses were elevated from the ground and seem to have been built within a set of six arigues or haligi, solid outer posts that bear the load of the house and protect it from the swaying of earthquakes. The outer walls were simple affairs of woven buho (a kind of thick reed) and thatched by cogon or elephant grass. The granaries were built on posts of very distinctively curved shapes flaring towards the top, have also woven outer walls and were thatched with cogon.16

Of the two maps, Cariño’s shows a more ambitious plan for the town, featuring a more developed town center than the definite map submitted by Tajonera. Evidence from the maps alone does not allow deciding which was drawn first or whether the Cariño map was an abandoned plan or a plan to further develop the town in a near future. However, the fact that the map dated 1848 kept in the National Archives has a cover letter by Governor Tajonera indicating that he was almost complete in the building of the town indicates that it is the true plan of the town.  But a look at the Cariño map illustrates a good deal of what Tajonera’s dream was for the town and the province, a dream that probably the scarcity of resources forced him to tone down to the more modest amenities of the 1848 map.

Both maps include a given that anteceded the town: the General Martinez Fort. Besides supplying names for the town streets, both maps call for a town center situated north of the fort in slightly different locations and a central plaza with the buildings of the main institutions around it. The Plaza in the 1848 definite map of Bucay includes besides the fort, the Church with a separate bell tower, and the Tribunal or Town Hall. The map fetures also a cemetery and the town granaries.

Cariño’s map was drawn with a more developed plaza concept, open to the east and surrounded on the south by the fort; on the east by the Church, the Tribunal and the Jail; and on the north by the Casa Real with one school on each side of it, one for boys and one for girls. Notable in this plan is the flavor of the old town plazas of central Spain, where the plaza is surrounded by the town’s buildings and Church, and access to it is from axial street/s leading to it through arches in the surrounding buildings. This typical design of Spanish town squares, which originates in medieval times, creates plazas closed on their four sides. A beautiful example is Madrid's Plaza Mayor, one of the town's main tourist attractions. In Cariño’s map, Tajonera places the Casa Real astride Calle Real, the main axial road leading to the plaza, a street cutting north through the town and one of Abra’s main arteries connecting Bucay with Tayum, Bangued, Pidigan and San Quintin. Likewise, he also places the Tribunal astride Calle Isabel la Catolica, a street name not existing in the map submitted by Tajonera. For center-of-town details of both maps, refer to Plates # 5 (map submitted by Tajonera) and # 14 (Cariño’s map.) But as mentioned earlier, this plan never reached fruition. 

With the exception of a few new streets in the northern side of the town along the road to Manabo, Bucay today still has very much the same looks as the town represented in the map forwarded by Tajonera to Claveria in 1848 (see Plate #20). Other than the fact that Bucay is not Abra’s Capital anymore, only three things in town are not the same as in the 1840s: a monumental entrance gate is all that remains of the fort, the church was moved across the street in late 1800s or early 1900s, and the cemetery was rebuilt a little farther to the north.

A good look at the town's topography gives strong hints as to the reasons for the town’s physical layout. It lies on a long strip of alluvial terrain bounded by the hills of the Ilocos range on the west and by the river on the east. As the river approaches the town from the south, it makes a pronounced hairpin-shaped curve bending first to the west and then to the east, carving a steep cliff some 30 m high, around which it flows north again. The position of the cliff gives it a unique strategic value that no doubt influenced the military decision to build the fort atop it. Built on its edge, the fort commanded an imposing look for marauding mountain pagan bands approaching from the south following the river or surging from the western hills of the Cordilleras across it. Its elevated position makes for a prominent watch point from which to monitor kilometers of river valley to the south and to the east toward the Cordillera foothills.

Named Fuerte General Martinez, the fort was built years before the foundation of Bucay: its troops' barracks or cuartel are already mentioned in Fr. Lago’s letter of 1837 stating his opposition to send a missionary to lodge there. I have tried to find documents which would shed light onto the origins and character of the cuartel in Bucay. So far I have not been successful. From its location, appointments and extension, and the fact that Bucay was chosen as the first capital of Abra with nothing better to show than being a rancheria other than the site of the cuartel, it can be said that the fort was substantial and that it quartered a good number of troops before the province of Abra was erected with Bucay as the capital. The report on the Tajonera expedition of 1849 mentions, other than Tajonera, five officers and 150 troops.

Indeed, the fort was the focus around which Tajonera designed the town.

Bucay was then laid around a south-to-north axis from the edge of the cliff above the river in the south to the plains of Labon and Pagala in the north and northeast. It is traversed south to north by the old Calle or Calzada Real that from the vicinity of the plaza and fort leads through and beyond the poblacion to the towns of Tayum and Bangued. The location of the existing fort made of its vicinity the ideal place for the town’s plaza in the north of the town. It is a favored location since laying on higher terrain than the rest of the town and overlooking the river, makes this area a noticeably cooler place than lower locations north of town. Resident’s homes are neatly set on a grid both sides of Calle Real, houses that then were made of wood or bamboo topped by a cogon thatch, and now of bricks roofed by galvanized iron sheets but still along very much the same streets.

Land use

The map (Plate # 3) also shows a rational land distribution according to uses: Institutions on higher ground, followed by residences on the slope down towards the north. The lower areas of the town near the river and the streams on the northwest would be for sementeras and hortalizas or rice fields and vegetable orchards. It is worth noting that the map indicates several working irrigation dams across those streams. The granaries would be placed in a row west of the town and the cemetery farther to the west, nested against the foothills of the Ilocos Range

When Tajonera took possession of his post in early 1847, Bucay was no more than a ranchería, a few huts near a fort. By virtue of its function as the brand-new capital of a new province it was but natural that people would be attracted to live in the town, including the coterie of provincial and town officers. The new governor had to address the task of land allocation along the master plan for the town.

His plan included the assignment of lots ample enough for the needs of the farmers who comprised the bulk of the population and whose lots had to conform to the grid or cuadricula system mandated by the old norms. It is relevant to note that Tajonera called for a meeting with Tinguian elders to this effect and explained to them the reasons why they had to change the location of their homes within the general plan for the assignment and organization of lots in the town. The Tinguians agreed to work the changes to accommodate the new town organization. These are Tajonera’s words in a communication to Governor General Claveria in 1847:

(the assignment is done) to give them larger lots sufficient to keep their seed stores and working animals always within sight. (I informed them) also that, arranging the houses in a grid (“a cordel”) they would have better protection against fires which in an hour could dispossess them of many years of continuous labors. They all were unanimous, agreeing to be ready to comply with my orders since they knew my good wishes to improve their lot.”17

Bucay’s public buildings: municipal hall, the town’s market

The map also places a Tribunal or Municipal Hall in the plaza. It still exists today as a single story building in the same place and with the same function. Originally it was a building done in the same style as the officers’ quarters, in masonry covered by bricks with slightly ornate bay heads and a rather pleasant finish. The original Tribunal building was a two-storey structure, just as were the officers’ quarters and Casa Real. The Tribunal building became crumbly after the earthquake that ravaged Cabanatuan and Baguio in the early nineties and had to undergo extensive repair work. It was partly repaired as a single story building and its front was remodeled in concrete. However, some portions of the upper wall under the eaves and the back of the building are still preserved giving a good idea of what it would have looked like (Plate # 19).

The town market, surprisingly, was not included in the Tajonera’s map for Bucay. It was surprising because Governor Claveria had issued an order to establish market places and days some months before Tajonera forwarded the finished map of Bucay to Central Government. The first market was probably made of perishable materials, bamboo, buho and cogon, but so were most of the town’s homes and they were featured in it. All indications are that when built, the market place was located on the town square’s west side where it remained till not many years ago. Today’s modern market is very recent and it was moved southwest near the main road from Bangued as it enters the town.

The town markets and the institution of market days in Abra were born of an issue raised by Gervasio Gironella, Head of the Treasury in the Manila government who had also jurisdiction over tobacco matters nationwide. He observed that there were losses to the Treasury from the practice of Christian natives who would go to the Igorot villages to trade cheap goods (“hogs, blankets, clothes and other articles”) for tobacco outside the control of the government’s monopoly. The practice was considered to be contraband and to stop it, Gironella addressed a memorandum to Governor Claveria on 12 December 1846 requesting him to instruct the mountain authorities to ban the travel of Christians to the non-assimilated villages for purposes of trade.18

This time the bureaucracy came to the right conclusion that it is not feasible nor right to prohibit free travel for legitimate purposes and that the best way to regulate and promote internal commerce would be to establish market days and market places in the towns. On 20 November 1847 Claveria orders it and instructs the governors of the north to draft the rules regulating the markets or, borrowing from the local language, tiangues or tianguis. Tajonera had some misgivings about the timing for in his estimation, as he writes Manila on January 1848, the towns were not yet ready, there was not a good road infrastructure and thought that markets would be useless if you can’t reach them. These scruples did not stay long with him, for less than three months later, on 11 March 1848, he issued a circular19  establishing general markets on certain dates as well as regular daily markets within the towns, together with the rules governing the operations of both. Originally, he established general markets only in the main towns of Bucay, La Paz, Bangued, Talamey (today’s San Quintin) and Tiagan (today’s San Emilio in Ilocos Sur) and daily markets in all Christian towns plus one in the Fort of Tiagan. Bucay’s market day was on Monday of every week, while the others would be once a month, different days in different towns. Claveria approved this circular on 5 May 1848.20

Later, Tajonera would report with elation the success of the market days. How busy were all of them, particularly that of Bucay, noting

…the groups of Tinguian women bringing down from their settlements near the “alzados” various merchandise to exchange for salt, pigs, cattle and others. The increase in collections due to the tiangues proves how much good their establishment has brought to the Province and the Treasury.”21
Bucay’s public buildings: the church, schools and cemetery

A good summary of the vicissitudes of the Church building in Bucay is found in Angel Perez’ Igorrotes:

The first church, parish house and schools were built of mixed materials in 1848 by Father Fray Lorenzo Juan, the dimensions of the first being 60, 24 and 9 meters in length, width and height, respectively.

The second church, of wood, was completed by Father Saturnino Pinto (1851). Being destroyed by a fire a short time later, and another of temporary nature was built by the same priest, which was used for worship several years. Finally others, also temporary, existed thanks to the zeal of its priests.

In 1864 the real church was begun by the secular priest Father Juan de Mata, of excessive and poorly planned size, having been continued by Father Fray Rufino Redondo until he left it at some two meters high, and then by some other religious, Father Cecilio Guames being the one who did most leaving it almost finished in 1898. Its dimensions are 65 by 15 meters.

The temporary cemetery was replaced by the present one of stone 4,800 square meters, constructed by Father Guames in 1897.
After three parish houses had been built and destroyed one after the other, the present one of masonry was undertaken by Father Bernardo Gonzales (1882 1887) and completed by his successors.22

In Tajonera’s town map, the church was on the inner side of the street bordering the plaza besides the Tribunal building. Today it is across the street and further to the north. The final church was intended to be longer by about 15 meters and there still exist the unfinished masonry walls covered by bricks to prove it, between one and two meters in height. There is an oral tradition conveyed to me by an aunt-in-law according to which the unfinished area at the back of the church had become unstable and was abandoned. She also recalls from her grandfather that the Church was built in the early 1900s in a different site across the street from the old one.

Perez’ account mentions “schools”. In accordance with the uses of those times –and in some instances down to ours– there would be segregated schools for boys and girls. The public school in Bucay today, reconstructed in wood and capiz as a “Gabaldon” school in American times (Plate #21), is where Cariño’s map had the two schools and the Casa Real. The parish school until it burmed in the first decade of the 21st Century was established, as is the case with many other towns of our times, in the ample parish house of old habilitated for the purpose (Plate #22). A new school was built on the lot immediately North of the church.

The cemetery also changed places. Tajonera had executed an order from Central Government dated 13 January 1848 mandating the relocation of cemeteries to the outskirts of towns. Bucay complied as per affidavit signed by Tomas Guzman, government officer and the town’s third lieutenant (principal y teniente tercero), on 30 December of the same year. The new cemetery was located in a sitio called Gaco, some 200 brazas (one third of a km) to the west of town and had a reed fence. It was completed in April when all new burials from that date were conducted in it.23  Today the cemetery constructed in stone by Fr. Guames in 1897 replacing “a temporary one” is farther to the southwest, to the left as you enter Bucay on the road from Bangued. Evidently the second transfer was done for the same sanitary reasons as the first as the town kept growing.

The changes in the location of the church, public pchool, and cemetery can be traced comparing the two maps of Bucay (1868 and 2013) shown in Plate #20.