Postcard-perfect. That’s how I’ve always imagined Vigan would be. Kalesa (horse-drawn carriage) leisurely rolling through cobblestone roads, passing century-old houses that are witnesses to Vigan’s rich history. I thought it would feel like being brought back in time, walking through the past which we’d otherwise read only in books.
[See also: VisitPinas Itinerary for a 3-day Ilocos Trip]
Vigan was established in the 15th century, the oldest surviving Spanish colonial city in the Philippines. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the capital of Ilocos Sur, located around 400 kilometers from Manila. Vigan was called Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan in the mid-1700s. The centerpiece of Vigan, in my opinion, is the collection of old colonial houses, a great number of which is concentrated in Calle Crisologo. These multi-story, thick walled houses stand side by side along Crisologo Street, framing the cobblestone road. Vigan is fortunate to have been spared the heavy bombardment during World War II, unlike Manila which was heavily damaged.
There’s the Plaza Burgos, in honor of the Ilocano priest Father Jose P. Burgos who spoke against Spain. Burgos, together with two other priests (Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora), were executed after having been found “guilty” by the Spanish authorities with subversion. Jose Rizal, the national hero, dedicated the novel that he wrote, El Filibusterismo, in honor of their memory. Rizal was also charged and found guilty of subversion, then executed at the same place where Fr. Burgos was executed — no, not Burgos Plaza, but in Bagumbayan (also known as Luneta, now Rizal Park). We now refer to the triumvirate as GomBurZa (Gomez-Burgos-Zamora).
Standing majestic, and really ancient, beside the Plaza Burgos is the Palacio de Arzobispado. Built in 1783, this is the seat of the Diocese of Nueva Segovia, established in 1595. Really old. Let’s say that again: 1595. The palace later became the headquarters of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, who became the first President of the Philippines.
Also beside Plaza Burgos is the St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the old churches in Ilocos. The original church was a chapel made of wood and thatch erected in 1574 on orders of Juan de Salcedo, the conquistador and founder of Villa Fernandina (now Vigan).
Vigan plays host to many of Philippine history’s leading figures. It is the birthplace of P. Burgos. Diego Silang assaulted and captured the town. When Diego Silang was assassinated, his wife, Gabriela Silang, took over in the uprising against Spain. Maybe there are many more personalities that I failed to mention, but I’m just trying to make this point: why is Vigan, or Ilocos in general, a hotbed of the uprising against the Spaniards?
I’m no expert and this is purely guesswork — maybe the Spaniards dared to dip their hands on something sacred; something, perhaps, like bagnet. Of course I’m just kidding (and this is in no way meant to disrespect the spirit of our national heroes). But if I were alive back then and somebody took my serving of bagnet, I’d declare an insurrection. If they also grab my just serving of Vigan Empanada and longanisang vigan (see photos below), then I’d declare a revolution. Lucky for us today, the bagnet and longganisang vigan are readily available. The Vigan Empanada is prepared fresh (and I suggest you eat it fresh off the boiling oil) just at the edge of the Plaza Burgos. Don’t miss this when you go there.
Going back to the personalities of Vigan, there’s Cafe Leona, er, Leona Florentino, considered as the the first Filipina poet and the “mother of Philippine women’s literature”. Her residence, at the adjacent block from St. Paul Cathedral, is now a restaurant, but the structure is still preserved. Other commercial establishments, like the Max’s Restaurant found near Cafe Leona (and behind Leona Florentino’s statue), remain true to the architecture of the place.
There’s President Elpidio Quirino, whose memorabilia could be seen at the Syquia Mansion Musuem, which is one of the stops in the kalesa tour (you could inquire from the hotel staff about the kalesa tour, which is usually at the rate of P150 per hour).
There’s Floro Crisologo, the Congressman who was assassinated inside the St. Paul Cathedral in 1970. He is the father of Cong. Bingbong Crisologo (Quezon City) and the uncle of Gov. Chavit Singson. The Crisologo Musuem, which is another stop in the kalesa tour, still contains the bloodied clothes worn by Crisologo when he was assassinated.
There are a number of nice places to stay in Vigan, most of which were fully booked when we went there immediately before the Holy Week. We ended up in GranPa’s Inn. I thought the location is perfect so I could sneak to Calle Crisologo, which is just a few meters away, real early in the morning when the street is clear of people. The cobblestones and the old buildings all to myself, I thought. The hours of straigth driving, plus the splashing at Pagudpud‘s Blue Lagoon, sapped my strength. The cozy interiors of GranPa’s Inn makes one feel at home. Lots of old stuff and the place itself is old. There were no ghost sightings, if you’re asking.
The name of a place, at least in the Philippines, is usually related to something found in it. Manila, for instance, is derived from the Maynilad plant that was abundant in the area. The river banks of what we now call as Vigan was abundant with biga, a tuberous plant (kabigaan, roughly translated as a place abundant with biga plants). This discussion, however, is not even close to cover the rich history of Vigan.
Perhaps what can’t be narrated can be felt and experienced amidst the old buildings of Calle Crisologo. So just go and visit Vigan.