April 7, 2022
Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz is the largest public square in the district of Binondo in the City of Manila, and at 1,200 square meters, it is also among the biggest in the whole city. Being a colonial plaza, it is a National Historical Site through a National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ declaration in 2018, thus bestowing it with national historical significance and protection.
Throughout its history, Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz has been given many titles, such as Plaza De Binondo and Plaza de Carlos III, although Binondo residents would widely refer to it as “Binondo Plaza” or simply “Plaza.” But its most prominent official name that marked in the city’s urban history is Plaza Calderon de la Barca, named after the notable Spanish literary giant, Pedro Calderon de la Barca. A minor jeepney route traversing the streets of Binondo and Tondo still carries the “A. Rivera-Plaza C. Dela Barca” name up to this day. Meanwhile, the official Chinese title for the Plaza literally translates to “Gateway to a Garden” (花園口 or Huāyuánkǒu).
Surrounding the plaza is the iconic Binondo Church whose structure has been in existence since the mid-1800s (and still remains as the oldest structure located by the public square), as an enduring testament of evangelizing the Filipino-Chinese community living in Manila and its arrabales, including Binondo, into the Catholic faith. During the pre-war days, there are at least three more important landmarks which can be found around or near it. These are the Hotel De Oriente, the La Insular Tobacco and Cigarette Factory, and the El 82 store of Filipino-Chinese personality Don Roman Ongpin (The first two, in September 1944, were destroyed by the bombings of the Japanese troops, along with Binondo Church saved for its facade and belfry, amidst World War II).
Several monuments can be found within the Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz today, many of which only populated the public space from the 1970s up to present. The only original features from the pre-war days of the plaza are the two Spanish-period circular fountains which are interestingly decorated by allegorical human figures bound onto its upper tier, and the monument to Don Joaquin Santa Marina, founder of the old La Insular Factory, erected in 1924. It is apparent that the Joaquin Santa Marina Monument has been decontextualized in terms of its historical and aesthetic importance since it is supposed to be strategically standing across from the now-gone La Insular building, while its details such as Don Joaquin’s bust and metal ornaments were stolen, now reducing it to a non-descript vertical post apart from its vaguely readable inscriptions.
With Binondo being ceremonially described as the “real commercial capital of the Philippines” and “the most important and most opulent pueblo” of the Islands, Plaza de Binondo is at the heart of its economic life both then and now, with numerous commercial and industrial edifices being built around it. Historian Teodoro Agoncillo even referred to it as “one of the most impressive open spaces of old Manila.” Also, Manila’s vast tranvia system and cobblestones adorned its busy roads. Meanwhile, it can be said that the pre-war features of the plaza which survived to this day are silent witnesses of some of the country’s important events. For one, its iconic fountains are considered as one of the lesser-known fountains that celebrated Manila’s waterworks system as a legacy of Spanish philanthropist Don Francisco Carriedo (the two Binondo fountains can then be referred to as the minor Carriedo fountains, following the original Carriedo Fountain now found at Plaza Santa Cruz). Lastly, the fact that Dr. Jose Rizal described the Binondo square and its vicinity in Chapter 4 of Noli Me Tangere means that the plaza served as a passing setting throughout his heroic lifetime (and even actually at his death, when his belated funeral procession also passed by the public space in 1911).
Sometime during the American occupation, the pavement of the Plaza Calderon de la Barca had been elevated so that there are few steps to reach the public space. In 1932, the city authorities planned to convert portions of the plaza as parking space through providing a five-meter setback around it due to the increasing number of vehicles in the city. By 1936, another recommendation was introduced to level the elevated plaza so it can be used for parking and to decongest the traffic flow of nearby streets of Juan Luna and Rosario (now Quintin Paredes Street).
Following World War II in the midst of exodus of commercial activities to emerging financial centers outside the downtown Manila, Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz was left in disrepair. In Arch. Paulo Alcazaren’s description of the plaza as he saw it in 2002: in an advanced state of neglect it might as well be called Plaza Lorenzo Ruins. It virtually became a graveyard of displaced landmarks from other parts of Binondo, such as the Tomas Pinpin Monument which was originally located in Plaza Cervantes and transferred to the Binondo square in the 1970s. There was also a circular deck structure to house certain offices.
In 1981, through Batas Pambansa Blg. 133, the Plaza Calderon de la Barca along with the nearby historic San Fernando Bridge, was renamed Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz and Lorenzo Ruiz Bridge respectively, in honor of Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino Catholic saint who was baptized in Binondo Church and who also served as sacristan and clerk in its parish office. A monument of San Lorenzo Ruiz is now located at the center of the plaza which was sculpted by the famous Eduardo Castrillo in the late 1980s.
In 1995, a memorial to anti-Japanese heroes who died during World War II was erected by the Confederation of Filipino Chinese Veterans during the first term of Mayor Alfredo Lim.
In April 2005, the plaza was extensively redeveloped under the leadership of Mayor Lito Atienza with the help of Metrobank Foundation, reconfiguring its overall layout including the restoration of the two pre-war fountains and levelling the elevated pathways.
In February 2019, a shrine in veneration of Mazu, the Chinese Goddess of Sea, was erected at the south-central section of the plaza. She is popularly worshipped in Fujian province of China where many of the ethnic Chinese in the Philippines have originated.
- NHCP Resolution No. 7, s. 2018 declaring Spanish and American colonial period plazas and public squares as National Historical Sites
- 3 Landmarks Reduced to Ashes By Vandalistic Bombing of Foe. The Tribune, 26 September 1944
- A Visit to the Philippine Islands, 1860, by Sir John Bowring, 4th Governor of Hong Kong
- Manila Day”. Megaworld Lifestyle Malls. Megaworld Corporation. June 24, 2013. Archived from the original on July 4, 2013.
- Engineering, Police Officials Join Forces to Solve Traffic Problems. The Tribune, 9 October 1932
- Street Crossing Rotondas Urged By Police Chief Torres Makes More Recommendations to Solve Traffic Problems in City. The Tribune, 10 September 1936.
- Alcazaren, Paulo (April 27, 2002). “Plaza Lorenzo ruins?: We need a miracle to save Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz”. The Philippine Star. PhilStar Daily, Inc.