The Coconut Palace, Philippines

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The official residence and workplace of the Vice President of the Philippines, in Manila, is a curious attraction. The building is called Coconut Palace, or Tahanang Pilipino, because of the extensive use of coconut lumber and various parts of the coconut tree in its construction. The roof is made from coconut wood shingles, while the columns are inverted coconut trunks, with their distinctive bulge at the root end forming the capitals. Coconut wood parquetry covers the floors, carpets are made of coconut fiber and wallpaper from the fibrous sheath. The massive chandelier made from 101 coconut shells is worth seeing, and so is the dining table of 40,000 tiny pieces of inlaid coconut shells.

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Photo credit: www.manosa.com

It is said that nearly 70% of the structure is made from the coconut tree. Everything from the tree’s roots to its trunk, bark, fruit, flower and shell were used to design and decorate the palace as a demonstration of the versatility of the humble coconut. No wonder the Philippines call the coconut tree the “tree of life”.

The Coconut Palace also has a certain notoriety. It was built during the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos who along with his wife First Lady Imelda Marcos, looted the Philippine treasury of at least USD 10 billion before he was ousted from his position. With the illegally accumulated wealth, the couple bought several palatial homes in the United States and Philippines, more than a hundred expensive paintings by old masters such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Rafael and Michelangelo, silver tableware, gold necklaces, diamond tiaras and all the best and precious the world had to offer.

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A museum employee displays some of the shoes of former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, next to her portrait at the shoe museum in Manila. Photo credit: Ted Aljibe

Imelda Marcos lived a famously extravagant lifestyle and was known to have a massive wardrobe featuring at least a thousand pairs of shoes. (Her shoe collection are now on display at the Marikina Shoe Museum in Manila). It was Imelda Marcos who came up with the wacky idea of building an elegant guest house, the Coconut Palace, in order to receive Pope John Paul II when he visited the Philippines in 1981. But when the Pope learned that it was built at the cost of 37 million Philippine pesos, or USD 10 million at that time, he refused to set foot in the palace because he knew the opulent place was built at the expense of the country’s citizens who still lived in poverty.

Surprised and possibly embarrassed at the Pope’s refusal, Imelda seized a couple of average Hollywood celebrities like Brooke Shields and George Hamilton for a gala opening. Later, the palace was turned into a venue for weddings and parties before it became the Vice President’s office and official residence. The Coconut Palace was opened for public tours on 2011.

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Photo credit: Paul Shaffner/Flickr

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Photo credit: Raphael Bick/Flickr

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Coconut inlaid onto a table. Photo credit: hoagland.org

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The coconut chandelier. Photo credit: bigbark/Flickr

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Photo credit: Adam Brill/Flickr

Sources: Wikipedia / Philippines Travel Guide / Lonely Planet / BBC / www.manosa.com

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