Since the dawn of man, volcanoes have wrought their destruction upon settlements. The most famous ancient example is of course Pompeii of the Roman Empire. An even older ash-covered city is that of the ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri an island in Greece. The British Caribbean territory of Montserrat was half destroyed and evacuated by another powerful volcanic eruption, today visitors can see their ash-covered former capital of Plymouth.

The Philippines have their own eerily ruins from a devastating volcanic eruption too. The Cagsawa Ruins are a reminder of both the Spanish colonial history of the islands and the destructive power of nature. Visiting the Cagsawa Ruins is one of the most surreal things to do in the country.

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Background And History Of Cagsawa

The Cagsawa Ruins (also spelled Kagsawa) are the remains of a 16th-century Franciscan church that had been built in 1587.

The first Europeans to arrive in the Philippines was the Spanish, but soon there was competition in the region between the Spanish and the Dutch. In 1636 Dutch pirates burned down and destroyed the Spanish town. In time the Spanish would be left with the Philippines (until the Spanish and American War) and the Dutch would have the southern Indonesian islands.

Much later in 1724 the church was rebuilt by Fr. Francisco Blanco but would this time be destroyed by the forces of nature. In 1814 the volcano Mayon erupted and destroyed the church together with the town.

  • 1587: First Built
  • 1636: Dutch Destroyed And Burnt The Church
  • 1724: The Church Was Rebuilt
  • 1814: Eruption of Mayon Volcano

Related: Meet Akrotiri: An Ash-Buried City Much Older Than Pompeii

The Eruption of Mayon

The eruption of Mayon killed an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people. Hundreds of people in the region sought refuge in the church but succumbed to pyroclastic flows and lahar. It was the most violent eruption of that volcano in recorded history - the whole town of Cagsawa was destroyed.

As one wanders around the Cagsawa Ruins, one will be able to see the massive 8-foot wide boulders that rained down on the unfortunate settlement.

  • National Park: Today The Volcano Is Park of the Mayon Volcano National Park

Today the volcano and the surrounding landscape are part of the Mayon Volcano National Park and is the centerpiece of the UNESCO declared Albay Biosphere Reserve. The volcano is an active stratovolcano and is now a popular tourist destination being famous for its "perfect cone."

In Philippine mythology the volcano is considered very sacred. It is the Philippines' most active volcano and have erupted over 47 times in the last 500 years.

  • Height: 2,463 meters (8,081 ft)
  • Active: The Most Active Volcano In The Philippines

Related: Montserrat: The Caribbean Island That's Over Half Evacuated

Visiting The Cagsawa Park Today

"A visit to Albay is not complete without dropping by the iconic Cagsawa Ruins with the majestic Mayon Volcano in the horizon. The park charges an entrance fee of P35 per person, and visitors will be greeted by stalls selling souvenir items as well as official photographers hired by the local government."

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The belfry and parts of the facade of the church are all that remained after the powerful eruption. In time the facade also collapsed (possibly due to earthquakes in the 1950s) and today only the old bell tower remains as a testament to the colonial Spanish settlement that was. It is now one of the most popular attractions in the area. Today there is a wooden cross where the church altar once was.

  • Location: Park Of The Cagsawa Park In Daraga In The Philippine
  • Protected: It Is Protected by The National Museum of the Philippines and The Municipal Government of Daraga

After photographing the timeless ruins, take one of the all-terrain-vehicle tours offered at the park and explore the lava front in Barangay Mabinit. There is plenty of food, souvenirs, and other activities offered at the park. There is a small entry fee of P35 ($1) per person at the park.

The Cagsawa Park is also the home of the Cagsawa Branch of the National Museum of the Philippines. Here one will find an impressive collection of photographs of the volcanic eruptions of Mount Mayon and various artifacts that have been recovered from the site. Today the Cagsawa Ruins are considered a national treasure.

The Philippines is full of stunning beaches and tropical paradises with friendly people and delicious food. While there, don't forget it has a rich history too!