Bantay’s Enduring Watchtower
Bantay Bell Tower was built in 1591 and serves as the belfry of the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Caridad, St. Augustine Parish (one of the oldest surviving churches in Ilocos region established in 1590).
It also served as a watchtower for the people of Bantay Municipality in Ilocos Sur, part of the city’s defense that helps in alerting them against invading enemies such as pirates – during the Spanish era, hence the term bantay. The belfry itself was built in 1591-1592. It is where the name of the Municipality of Bantay Ilocos Sur was derived. Bantay Tower is located on top of a hill some meters from the church, adjacent to Bantay Municipal compound.
It is guarded by a small gate which the caretakers lock when there are no visitors that request for a tour of it. During such times, birds take advantage of the absence of people to rest in the nooks and crannies of the belfry. To ensure that you can enter the tower, it is best to register at the Tourist Center along Calle Crisologo and ask for a tour of the belfry from there. Although there is no fee to visit the tower, one has to register before entering the premises, and a donation is solicited (without any pressure though).
It was an easy climb, from the wooden flights of stairs that can be accessed from the entrance in the tower’s base and ends at the top (third level) which houses one main and four smaller bells.
At the end of the climb we were greeted by a huge, old bell. Once we were inside, we noticed the structure of the tower. It was made of old bricks and lime stone, the original structure remains with some concrete reinforcement and few restorative modifications. The view and wind up the tower is amazing. Beside it, we stopped and endlessly gazed upon the city, surrounding towns and mountains that reach Abra. Most of Bantay and the surrounding land can be viewed from the top. We were able to enjoy the panoramic view of the towns surrounding the area that was set upon the background of white and blue skies
The bell tower is also popular among local tourists because of the scenes of a well-known Filipino film “Panday” were apparently shot within and around it (Bantay Watchtower. Bantay, Ilocos Sur)
After a few meters’ walk from the belfry, we were also able to enter the St. Augustine Church which was built in 1590. The Church has a deep brown, neo-gothic façade. Like the Saint Paul Cathedral, one can see that it also incorporates the distinctively Vigan earthquake baroque in its architecture to save the structure from the destructive force of earthquakes that visit the land.
It is amongst the oldest surviving churches in Ilocos Sur and is under the care of the Augustine Order, first of who was Father Montoya Osa. We also saw within St. Augustine Church the statue of Our Lady of Charity, who is Nueva Segovia’s patroness. From the church, she is said to have watched over the city over many generations. The church suffered damages from World War II and so it underwent reconstruction in 1950. The surroundings of the church and belfry are quite historic as well. We walked upon the same grounds where Diego Silang and his troops were said to have fought with the Spaniards in 1763.
- Free (but donation is highly appreciated)
Take the road going to Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Before reaching Vigan you will be passing by the Bantay Church by the highway. There are free parking spaces available in the vicinity.
Take a bus going to Vigan or Laoag, and tell the driver you will be getting off just before Vigan. If within Vigan, take the tricycle and tell the driver to drop you off here.