Manila’s Luneta Park, one of the largest urban spaces in Asia, has been a popular place of recreation for the past two centuries. But since being renamed in honour of Dr José Rizal, the freedom fighter who was controversially executed in 1896, the historic park has extra significance for Filipinos and visitors alike.
Rizal was a writer, reformer and pacifist who stood up for independence from the colonial oppressors. Incarcerated for his revolutionary views, he was executed in Luneta Park at the spot which is now commemorated by an impressive monument. The bronze and granite memorial containing his remains stands nearly 13 metres high, towering over the soldiers standing guard. Look out for the nearby median marker from which all distances in the Philippines are measured – an appropriate metaphor for the central position which Rizal occupies in the affections of all Filipinos.
Visitors can learn more about Rizal’s final hours in The Martyrdom of Dr José Rizal, an open-air sound and light presentation featuring dramatic projections and life-size sculptures. Performances take place in English and Filipino every evening from Wednesday to Sunday.
There are plenty of other reasons to visit Rizal Park. The Japanese and Chinese ornamental gardens offer an ever-changing natural work of art, while Reflection Point features a harmonious blend of plants and waterfalls. The Orchidarium contains wonderful displays of exotic orchids, tropical trees and ferns, as well as a charming pavilion filled with rainbow-coloured free-flying butterflies. Go barefoot on the healing stones that pave the Reflexology Walk, or burn off some energy on the Rocky Trail’s climbing wall. The children’s playground has animal sculptures and plenty of activities to keep the little ones amused.
Rizal Park is beside the walled city of Intramuros and can be reached either by taxi or by light rail to United Nations Station. The park is open daily and there is no general admission fee, although the children’s playground has a small charge. Performance times and prices for the sound and light presentations are published on the National Parks Development Committee website.