University of Santo Tomas, The Oldest Existing University in Asia

Text and Photography: Kaycie Gayle

In the modern day, it is a university that is popular in the field of medicine and known to have educated some of the good doctors in the country. Having been founded centuries ago it has a long history of practicing and educating students in medicine and other fields as well, hence has earned and been known for its credibility.  Being built in 1611 it is considered as the oldest existing university in Asia. Wherefore, throughout its more than 400 years of existence, it has become the alma mater of some of the heroes, presidents and other prominent personalities in the history of its home country.

UST name banner structure

Slice of History

The original campus is located in Intramuros, the Walled City of Manila, however, in 1927 the university campus was transferred from Intramuros to its present site in Sampaloc district to have bigger campus due to its growing needs. Only the classes in Civil Law and Medicine would remain in Intramuros campus, however, it only continued to operate until its destruction during the Second World War. Hence the famous old building which is designed in Renaissance Revival architectural style in Sampaloc campus that we see now has become the hallmark of UST and has also been renowned for being the first earthquake-resistant building in the Philippines. And until now it is considered as the Main Building of the university.

Main Building

The Main Building and the Museum of Arts and Sciences

Looking from the outside of the Main building would not be complete without looking the inside of it where you would see its interior design. The building has two courtyards and once you get inside, you would see its wide old wooden stairs which would lead you to its museum. Considered as the oldest museum in the Philippines, the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences has been a repository for all kinds of artistic and scientific objects. Ergo, has a collection of relics and remains of the country’s past where you would see the simultaneous existence of art and science.

Main Building courtyard

Main Building Wooden Stairs

Main Building Entrance Wooden Stairs

Second Level of UST Museum 

Hall of Visual Arts

Arch of the Centuries

Walking around the school grounds of the university is like walking on a vibrant old place. With its long history, it definitely has witnessed many events and beholds lots of stories. Thereupon, as one walks on the monumental structures and parks it somehow tells the story and milestones of the university. One of the most significant structures is the Arch of the Centuries which just stands meters away from the institution’s Millennium Gate along España Boulevard. It is the same triumphal arch which served as a doorway of the university when it was still in Intramuros. The arch side that faces España Boulevard is a replica while the side facing the University’s Main Building is the ruins of the original Intramuros arch.

Arch of the Centuries

The university grounds

If you are fond of parks it is definitely worth walking on the landscaped open space the campus. You can first walk around the Benavides Garden which starts from the Benavides Monument and ends at the Arch of the Centuries, then the Plaza Mayor fronting the Main Building which somehow gives you a European ‘feel’ and the Quadricentennial Square which is found between the Main Building and the Benavides Library. You can also walk around the campus to see its other structures like Botanical Garden, Carillon, Grandstand and Parade Ground

Benavides Monument overlooking the Main Building

Benavides Monument overlooking skyscrapers along Espana Boulevard

Plaza Mayor

Quadricentennial Square

Botanical Garden


Grandstand and Parade Ground

Leisurely walking around the university’s park on a late afternoon mellows you out. Though the open spaces are teeming with students you can still feel its laid-back mood. If you have gone tired then it has many park benches where you can sit while observing the surroundings. Watching around inspires you to scribble your thoughts while seeing couples staying on park benches, carefree students sitting on the grass while laughing and chatting or taking pictures. Whereas others are playing football on its athletic field, whilst some are busy organizing their booths for a school fair, some however are professionals looking so serious. While others are just like me a curious visitor who just want to appreciate what it has to offer.

Group of students sitting on the grass

Clean pavement in the park

Fountain Entrance

Looking at the students reminded me that some notable people of the country’s history studied here. Maybe at one point, they were the same as just like them, they were once a student walking on the same grounds. It was also where they have started to be inspired to dream more. And though some of these dreamers have gone the university still continues to educate budding and new generation.

The university tour has made me realize the importance of adaptation. Learning how to adjust to adapt makes you appreciate and handle simultaneous presence and this is what the institution has been continually doing as it welcomes ironic simultaneous existence. Look around and you’ll see how it embraces bipolar existence. Different people from walks of life are in the same grounds from professional, students, passersby, locals tourists and few foreigners. It doesnt matter what their profile is, they are all welcomed for they are here for a reason. It is a university that recognizes both arts and sciences. It entertains the idea of working and fun as they have provided recreational spaces and parks for people who are studying and working. It appreciates old and new structures wherein you will see Classic meets Modern architecture. A place where you will both feel rustic on some parts yet being transported to contemporary on the other sides.

With its long history, it embraces modernity without forgetting and neglecting the past. It adapts and adjusts with time which may be the reason why it has existed this long. Old structures are being restored while new facilities are being improved and built. At the time of writing this post, new buildings are actually under construction. Moreover, their standard of education is considered to be one of the best in the country for ensuring that its learning content is being up to date without forgetting the history and lessons learned from the past. Hence it is a place of a fusion and a collection of contemporary and old knowledge, art and architecture.

If you happen to be living or just staying for days in the city of Manila then you may consider visiting this place. It offers a non intimidating and a carefree vibe yet welcomes you to get to know the contribution and milestones it has in the past and formation it does for the next generation of the country. While in Manila, your one to two hour visit to the university will enrich your knowldege in the past and present history of the city.

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