4 historic sites of the 400-year-old university will be formally named today as ?National Cultural Treasures?
IN 2011, A BELOVED INSTITUTION will be celebrating 400 years of continued existence.

Serving the nation and the Church for which it has produced leaders and trailblazers, movers and builders, humanists and saints, the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas was founded in 1611 through a donation of his personal library and a bequest by Fray Miguel de Benavides, OP, the third archbishop of Manila. Across four centuries, UST has evolved into a world-class academic community that strives to inspire not only through quality education, but also through its physical form?through its built heritage, architecture and campus setting.

Sited in a 24-hectare square lot in the heart of Sampaloc, Manila, UST has become an important landmark and landscape in Manila. Though historically, the University was first located within the walls of Intramuros, its transfer to a then undeveloped swampland in what was then referred to as Loocan would eventually transform a notorious section of Manila, more famous for its prison, to a respectable community of religious, academics, and students.

As Manila in the 1910?s was expanding southwards, the migration of families and schools to the posh suburbs of Ermita and Malate was an obvious choice. Going against better judgment, the glorious Dominican friars instead decided upon expanding in an undeveloped track of wasteland east of the city in what would eventually become the Sampaloc campus of the venerable institution.

By 1911, coinciding with the 300th year anniversary of the University, the foundations for the new campus outside Intramuros were laid. With this, the master plan of expanding the services of learning and faith was set in motion.

The UST Main Building, designed and built by the Spanish Dominican engineer, Fray Roque Ruaño, was the first building erected in the vast compound. A hallmark of engineering and construction, the UST Main Building was the first earthquake-proof structure in the country. So sturdy was its foundations that no earthquake or calamity has been able to shake or even ruffle the building during its more than 80 years of history.

The campus as well is home to other notable structures. The UST Central Seminary houses the Parish of Nuestra Señora de Santisimo Rosario, Interdiocesan Seminary, UST Ecclesiastical Faculties of Philosophy, Theology and Canon Law, and the Priory of St. Thomas Aquinas (more familiarly known as Fathers? Residence, or the convent of the Dominicans assigned in the Pontifical University).

The Arch of the Centuries at the España entrance of the campus is a relic of the old UST campus in Intramuros. It serves as the link of the campus with its Intramuros roots and its Spanish heritage. It has become a symbol of learning?the portal to greatness under which students and alumni (such as Rizal, Mabini, Quezon and Osmeña) have passed.

Historic events

The campus grounds are noteworthy for here on various occasions, historic events took place, such as the interment of American and other nationals during the World War II, the Battle of Manila, and the three papal visits.

The grounds have been transformed from the original swamp with a creek crossing over it to a well-kept green field that has become the single biggest open green area in a Manila swimming amid a sea of concrete and tin-sheet roofing and pollution.

In the run-up to the University?s 400th anniversary next year, the National Museum of the Philippines will name today four sites in UST as ?National Cultural Treasures?: the open campus grounds, the Main Building, the Central Seminary and the historic Arch of the Centuries.

As heritage sites, they will be accorded protection and recognition, giving importance to their witness of 400 years of tumultuous Philippine history.

Contrasted with other notable institutions which within the last century alone have one way or another abandoned or obliterated their historic sites, UST continues to preserve its heritage sites while coping with changes.

For quality education cannot be delivered solely through solid pedagogy, but also through built heritage and other cultural artefacts that embody an institution?s vision, mission, identity, and history.

Truly, the University of Santo Tomas is one such institution whose historic identity is immediately evident to everyone who takes a glimpse of its campus. It is in the mind of everyone who commutes along the busy thoroughfare of España.

It is in the heart of every Filipino who ponders on the statue of Miguel de Benavides whose finge, in a teacher?s gesture of authoritative instruction, is pointed up into the heavens, as if motioning that all learning is a humble striving toward the wisdom of God.

And it is seen, above all, in the UST Cross atop the UST Main Building, a symbol of faith thrust up into the skies, the symbol of the hopes and aspirations of a people and a nation -- for prosperity and progress, for service of God and man.

The tribute bestowed by the National Museum upon the University for its magnificent structures and grounds is a recognition of UST?s heritage and of the value of the past in a nation?s quest for a brighter future.

Manuel Noche is an architect, architecture historian, professor at the UST College of Architecture. He is a member of the Heritage Conservation Society.