I guess that many Filipinos know that José Rizal was once banished by the Spanish colonial government to Dapitan, Zamboanga in 1892. In fact, I think Dapitan is probably the best-known town associated with Rizal, even more so than Rizal’s hometown of Calamba. What I think most people don’t know is what Rizal did with his time in Dapitan. Well, the National Hero started a school and taught young pupils and used his medical knowledge to treat patients in this town. Rizal also read, wrote, and pursued other creative endeavors. He led a relatively peaceful life in Mindanao.
As a map geek, what interested me most about Rizal’s accomplishments in Dapitan is the relief map of Mindanao he built at the plaza in front of St. James Church, also known as Dapitan Church. Shown below is an inscription written at the site explaining the history of the map:
This artisic manifestation of a well-lived exile was made by Dr. Jose P. Rizal in August 1892 based on the map done by Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, a French Jesuit, in 1752. He was assisted by Fr. Francisco Paula de Sanchez S.J., his favorite teacher at the Ateneo de Manila where he studied in 1872-1877.
Rizal used this map as a motivating device in teaching geography and history to his pupils during his lonely but productive banishment here in Dapitan from July 17, 1892 to July 31, 1896.
According to one travel blogger, Rizal’s original plan was to make a map of the whole archipelago. However only Mindanao was completed since his mentor Fr. Sanchez had to leave Dapitan. This was quite unfortunate because if completed, this map would have been the largest relief map of the Philippines, surpassing the one at Rizal Park in Manila. Still, this map is quite an impressive project and on June 20, 2005, the National Museum declared the map as one of the National Cultural Treasures of the country.
Supposedly, the map of Mindanao was based by Rizal on the famous Pedro Murillo Velarde map of the Philippines. But if you look at Murillo’s map, its depiction of Mindanao is a far cry from Rizal’s Mindanao. It’s actually quite remarkable that Rizal’s Mindanao is pretty much accurate in its shape. I am guessing that Rizal did not actually base his map from Murillo but from the same source that his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt used to create an ethnographic map of the Philippines in 1890.
If you are lucky to visit Dapitan and access to the Dapitan Church belfry is allowed, you can climb it and see a better view of Rizal’s relief map of Mindanao.