Three Free Museums In Manila, Philippines

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If there’s one place in the Philippines to learn about the country’s identity and heritage from the past until the present, that would be the museums in Manila at the National Museum Complex. Located within the vicinity of Rizal Park, the National Museum Complex is composed of the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Museum of Anthropology.

Museums In Manila with Free Entry You Must Visit

The best thing about all three museums in Manila is that entrance is free. Likewise, they are located close to each other. Take a peek into Philippine history, culture, and art scenes by walking through these free museums in Manila.

1. National Museum of Natural History

The neoclassical architecture of the National Museum of Natural History
The neoclassical architecture of the National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is the most recently built exhibition gallery among the attractions of the National Museum Complex. The museum was opened to the public last May 2018. Before then, the neoclassic building housed the Philippines’ Department of Tourism.

As the name implies, the museum takes visitors on a journey to the natural treasures of the Philippines. It consists of 12 galleries showcasing Philippine biodiversity, geological resources, rainforest, freshwater wetlands, mangroves, beaches, and underwater life. This museum is a good place for educating curious kids and adults on the natural resources of the country.

Must-See Pieces in the National Museum of Natural History

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life at center of the Ground level
The Tree of Life at the center of the Ground level

Although not a part of the museum’s gallery, the atrium’s centerpiece called the “Tree of Life” is an attraction in itself. The Tree of Life is composed of a trunk that doubles as an elevator. The trunk goes all the way up to the tree’s canopy, which is designed as the foyer’s skylight. Natural light casts interesting shadows on the floor, adding an element of mystery at this centerpiece.

The Marinduque Sperm Whale Skeleton

The 43.5-feet long sperm whale skeleton mounted at the museum’s entrance hall welcomes visitors after going through the entrance security. The sperm whale is the largest toothed whale in the world, popularly depicted in the novel, Moby Dick.

skeleton of the Marinduque sperm whale
Skeleton of the Marinduque sperm Whale

The sperm whale whose skeleton is displayed in the museum was found in the waters of Marinduque. Now sadly an endangered species, sperm whales were back then hunted for its oil. I hope that a visit to the museum would educate visitors on the importance of wildlife conservation.

Replica of Lolong

Lolong Replica
Lolong’s 6-meter long replica

Lolong is the world’s largest saltwater crocodile ever held in captivity, measuring 6.17 meters long. He was suspected of eating two locals living in the nearby town of Agusan Marsh. His captivity from his natural habitat was facilitated by the local government and had raised a conflict between animal rights advocates and the locals who felt that their safety was compromised by this animal.

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Unfortunately, he died of pneumonia and cardiac arrest 18 months after his captivity. His skeleton now hangs from the ceiling in one of the museum galleries. Lolong’s replica is also displayed at the museum for visitors to see how enormously large he is.

Address: National Museum of Natural History
Teodoro F. Valencia Circle
Ermita, Manila

Museum Opening Hours
Tuesday to Sunday: 10 AM to 5 PM
Monday: Closed

2. National Museum of Fine Arts

Art appreciation at the National Museum of Fine Arts
Art appreciation at the National Museum of Fine Arts

Art lovers and history buffs will definitely find the National Museum of Fine Arts as a treasure trove. Galleries at the museum cover a vast collection of Philippine paintings and sculptures from the classical 17th century to the 20th to 21st centuries contemporary arts. Witness how the artistic expression of Filipino artists evolved along with the unfolding of historical events in the Philippines.

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The neoclassical building that houses the art collection is a historical landmark in itself. The building was occupied by the Philippine Congress and Senate of the Philippines. It was bombed by the Japanese during World War II, was reconstructed and used again as Legislative Building until it was turned over to the National Museum of the Philippines.

Must-See Pieces in the National Museum of Fine Arts

Spoliarium by Juan Luna

The Spoliarium - Free Museums in Manila
The Spoliarium

The Spoliarium is the largest oil on canvas painting in the Philippines created by Juan Luna during the time of Spanish occupation in the country. The painting depicts the brutal dragging of gladiators after their fight to the death in the arena to be stripped off their helmet and armors. The combat, as many already know, was intended for the lewd entertainment of the Romans.

Read More – Must-See Things at the British Museum in London

Having a hand of a painter and sculptor and the heart of a political activist, Juan Luna used art to express his political views. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines and a contemporary of Juan Luna, had interpreted the painting as the essence of the Filipino people’s struggle for justice under the Spanish oppression. Some of Juan Luna’s works are also displayed at the Gabriela Cariño Silang Gallery of Fine Arts in Abra, northern Philippines.

Filipino Struggles Through History by Botong Francisco

Botong Francisco’s Masterpiece at the Old Senate Session Hall
Botong Francisco’s Masterpiece at the Old Senate Session Hall

The former Senate Session Hall is probably the second most photographed spot in the museum, after Spoliarium. You will find out why once you see how the series of murals by Carlos “Botong” Francisco accentuates the hall’s attractive architecture.

Walking through the mural from end to end will bring you the major historic events in Manila from the pre-Hispanic period up to post-World War II. Among the stories illustrated are the commercial trading with China, the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines, the galleon trade, and the blood compact by the revolutionary group, Katipunan.

Hocus

Hocus is a collection of peculiar dreamy paintings created by the tandem of lawyer-historian Saul Hofileña, Jr. and artist Guy Custodio, hence the name Hocus. Holifeña describes his eccentric visions of historical colonial events, while Custodio brings Holifeña’s surreal vision to life through his painting. Being a conservator of antique religious items, Custodio’s paintings also imbibe a certain antique look.

Hocus paintings ManilaEach painting tells historical events depicting the oppressive rule of Spanish church officials. The pieces look complex and bizarre, the very reason why viewers are drawn to the artwork. The use of luminous colors also makes the paintings stand out and look like glow-in-the-dark ornaments.

Below is an example of their work called La Pesadilla or The Nightmare. This painting is a triptych but so much detail is going on in this painting, so I zoomed in to some of the horrific scenes that caught my eye.

The exhibit will be available for viewing at the National Museum for a limited time only but six of the paintings will be permanently displayed at the museum.

The Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase - Museum of Fine Arts, ManilaIf ever you get exhausted viewing the vast collection of fine arts displayed at the museums in Manila, take a breather and get to the topmost level for a view of the spiral staircase. Get down to the bottom of the stairs and look-up for a different vantage point of this photogenic corner of the museum.

Address: National Museum of Fine Arts
Padre Burgos Avenue, Manila

Museum Opening Hours
Tuesday to Sunday: 10 AM to 5 PM
Monday: Closed

3. National Museum of Anthropology

Visiting the National Museum of Anthropology is a must if you are interested in cultural heritage, ancient artifacts, ethnic arts, customs and traditions, and languages. The rich information contained in the museum will help Filipinos and foreigners alike to appreciate the uniqueness of the Filipino culture. Even a Philippine native, like me, learned so much about my own heritage from this 4-level museum.

Must-See Pieces in the National Museum of Anthropology

Excavated Treasures of the San Diego

San Diego is a 16th-century Spanish galleon that was converted into a battleship. In 1600, it fought with the Dutch ship Mauritius off the coast of Fortune Island in Batangas, Philippines. Because San Diego was on full board with people, weapons, and artifacts, it could not handle the extra weight of the cannons and sank without firing a single shot.

Japanese katana found in the San Diego shipwreck
Japanese katana found in the San Diego shipwreck

The shipwreck was discovered and excavated in 1991. Some of the recovered items included white and blue Chinese porcelain, Thai, Burmese, Spanish, and Mexican stoneware jars. These signify that trading through Southeast Asia was already prevalent even before the pre-Hispanic period. Being also a battleship, cannons, armors, metal helmets and Japanese katana were found.

Burial jars

Anthropomorphic burial jar covers found in Ayub Cave, Maitum, Sarangani
Anthropomorphic burial jar covers found in Ayub Cave, Maitum, Sarangani

Earthenware had played an important role in the burial practices of the people in Maitum, Sarangani in the southern part of the Philippines. The Maitum people buried their dead in jars. This is a practice that is common in some parts of Southeast Asia. However, the anthropomorphic characteristics of the Maitum jars, that is, features suggesting human figures, were not found elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Burial jar of Maitum, Sarangani, Museums in Manila
Burial jar of Maitum, Sarangani

The secondary burial jars used to store bones of the dead depict the physical features of the deceased person whose remains they contain. The cover is shaped like a head representing the emotional states and facial features of the deceased. On the other hand, the body of the jars had arms and hands and sometimes, breasts.

Bangsamoro Art

Bangsamoro is an autonomous region in Southern Philippines. As a separate territory and being at the southern tip of the Philippines, Bangsamoro had developed a unique culture and identity. The region is home to mainly traditional Muslim Filipinos, the Lumads, a group of Austronesian indigenous people, and other ethnic groups who are neither Muslims nor Christians.

Sarimanok, the legendary bird of the Maranao people
Sarimanok, the legendary bird of the Maranao people

One of the distinguishing features of Bangsamoro art is the Okir, a prominent design element involving elaborate patterns of flowing plant-based motifs. Okir can be found in boat prows, traditional houses, textiles, musical instruments, containers, and so on. My favorites are the borak or borraq, a mythical winged creature, Sarimanok, the iconic symbol of Maranao art, and Kokora, a seemingly winged comodo that also doubles as a coconut grater.

Baybayin

Did you know that the Philippines has its own writing system called Baybayin before the Spanish colonization? Sad to say, the Filipinos eventually ceased using Baybayin after the Spaniards introduced their own alphabet and script. However, there is a bill to revive the Baybayin as the national writing system but this is yet to be passed into law.

Baybayin Characters Inscribed on a Window, Museums in Manila
Baybayin Characters Inscribed on a Window

The centerpiece in the Baybayin gallery shows a slab of stone where Baybayin is inscribed, as discovered by young students in Masbate, an island in the eastern part of the Philippines. Likewise, don’t forget to get a glimpse of the Baybayin characters inscribed at one of the windows. It is easy to overlook especially when there is no ample sunlight from the outside.

Address: National Museum of Anthropology
Padre Burgos Avenue, Manila

Museum Opening Hours
Tuesday to Sunday: 10 AM to 5 PM
Monday: Closed

If you have visited any of these Museums in Manila, do share your thoughts.

Free Museums in Manila to visit is a guest post by Jing Calonge.


Jim Calonge Travel BloggerJing Calonge is an environmental consultant from the Philippines who happens to love travel and photography. She considers traveling as the best way to discover not just the world but to learn of oneself. Jing hopes to steer traveler’s awareness of the need for environmental protection and responsible tourism. She recognizes that traveling green isn’t easy but by developing the right mindset, it can be done.


 

6 COMMENTS

  1. I would love to go to the Philippines sometime. I’ve heard the conversion rate is favorable for foreigners. Is this true?

  2. I loved your article and it’s, simple yet thorough writing style was amazing. I too have a blog and will try to write an article in you writing style.

  3. I really like these three museums in Manila Philippines which you have described and also the entrance fee is free. Covered in natural history, fine arts, and anthropology, the museum has a strong desire to visit these three museums. Thanks for this post.

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