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Laoag City, Philippines

The Sinking Bell Tower

It is believed that the historic tower is sinking at a rate of an inch a year, though no one is completely sure why. 

The mysterious bell tower of Laoag City continues to capture the curiosities of people visiting Ilocos Norte, a northern province of the Philippines. Its tale traces a long story of occupation, struggle, and survival—much like the tale of the country’s rise and wane under Imperial Spain.

The  coastal Ilocos Region of northwestern Philippines was home the prehistoric native Negritos, and served as a trading port for the nearby Malaysian and Indonesian tribal peoples. Being over a thousand kilometers from the Visayan Islands, the first point of entry for the Spaniards in 1521, this northern region was a rather peculiar place for Spain to establish a stronghold.

Yet after 333 years of Spanish rule over the archipelago, the cultural and religious traditions of Spain are still practiced in the region and many other parts of the Philippines today. Along with these intangible transformations are the indestructible structures that withstood the test of time. Structures like the famed Sinking Bell Tower,  the tallest historic building in Laoag City, the capital of Northern Ilocos. 

One of the first impressions a visitor may notice is the tower’s distance from the city’s main cathedral, St. William’s. Bell towers are commonly built “attached” to cathedrals or a few meters away, but for reasons unknown, St. William’s bell tower was built about 80 meters from its doors.

The bell tower was presumably built after the 1707 earthquake. It withstood several minor earthquakes since completion, hence earning membership to the “Earthquake Baroque” styles architecture scholars label, along with several churched across the Philippines and Guatemala. It was locally constructed by Ilocano artisans who used bricks joined by molasses and leaves from a local plant named sablot. With a foundation of 90 meters and a height of 45 meters, it was a solid structure that towered over Ilocanos for centuries.

Maybe not for too long.

It is believed that the tower is sinking at a rate of an inch every year. There aren’t any conclusive scientific explanations to this, but one accepted theory is that because the tower was built on sandy land and considering its heavy and massive structure, this causes the whole tower to slowly bury itself into the ground. 

Stories from the past tell of people mounted on horses being able to pass through the tower’s gates. However, if one visits the bell tower today, they would realize they would have to almost crawl through its gates to enter the bell tower. (Unfortunately, the city council strictly prohibits unauthorized entry into its prized history.)

Today, the bell tower also sinks in a figurative way. The booming city of Laoag continues to undergo tremendous structural changes. The cathedral itself was recently repainted beige and yellow (much to the locals’ dismay), but the old, gray sinking bell tower still stands, tarnished only by the passing of time.

Know Before You Go

You can get to the Sinking Bell Tower easily from anywhere in the city by hailing for a tricycle.