Vigan, Ilocos Sur: Philippine Heritage City

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.

And so these questions fueled me to drive for hours and wander through Ilocos. Saving the best for last, we first explored Pagudpud, down to Bangui, Burgos, Laoag, Batac, Paoay, then Vigan.

[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.

9 thoughts on “Vigan, Ilocos Sur: Philippine Heritage City”

  1. Hola Fred, desde Espana!
    Wonderful photographs of Vigan….how very Spanish and well-preserved. It’s nice to know that this city has been spared the usual slap-dash, scruffy facade when some people take over premises. How long will the preservation last though? Hopefully, forever. Living in Spain all these years, I can assure you that this country knows how to preserve their heritage. Majority of the Spanish cities are totallly intact, apart from new towns along the coast of Andalucia where many European tourists buy property, making Andalucia the place to retire. Now, back to Vigan. I couldn’t help by notice that those ugly overhead electric wires/cables deface Vigan’s beauty. How on earth can utility firms like Meralco think that they are doing a great job putting up those hideous black electric wires and those ugly wooden posts packed with dangerous electric wires and cables? Why are they allowed to do such a lousy job by the LGUs up and down the archipelago? Are they so powerful that they can’t be told in no uncertain terms that those overhead electric wires and cables are not just very ugly but downright dangerous? There have been deaths in recent months and years where people have been electrecuted unnecessarily…such needless death. No one seems to bother about those hanging and dangerous electric wires. All over the capital, in Binondo, Sta Cruz, SAmpaloc, even Roxas Blvd and Makati—-are now full of these ugly electric cables that I do not know where to start. How can this be allowed to happen? I remember in the past when it was illegal in Makati’s financial district to have overhead electric wires and cables. There were rules and regulations that they should be buried or installed underground—however, it is with sadness that Makati is now looking like Binondo and Sta Cruz.
    I hate being repetitious but no one out there is reminding utility firms like Meralco to do their jobs properly—apart of course endangering people’s lives because of their sloppy, lousy job. Yet, electricity bills are sky-high! The nerve to charge all that money. One doesn’t have to be in the country—just check out Youtube and you can see in fine print those ugly ugly electric wires everywhere.
    Filipino citizens, time to take a stand. This is an important issue, too. let’s leave the politicking to the politicos and LGUs. But those guys need reminding that they are servants of the people and country. Not dons and divas who lay claim to every nook and cranny that is our, I repeat, Our archipelago. Mabuhay!

  2. Hi Hill,
    For those who’d want to revisit our past, Vigan is really good place to go. How long will the preservation last, you ask? If it’s any indication, I saw a sign plastered on one of the old buildings that it’s the subject of expropriation proceedings, which basically means that the government is buying the structure. Our tour guide also explained that a permit must be secured from the city hall before changes are made, to ensure that the architecture remains the same.

    Good point on the electric wires tangling in the open (don’t forget the wires for the cable tv, telephone, etc.). Perhaps there are reasons why this is so. For instance, in the low-lying city of Malabon, it’s always flooded (high tide, plus rain) so I don’t know if burying the wires would be advisable at this point. There may be solutions to this, but this will entail major infrastructure works. I’m not sure about Makati though.

  3. Buenos dias desde Espana, Fred!

    Some additional travel delights you can feature in the future: cable cars and finucular train found in Tagaytay. Not many people know about these world-class facilities. i wouldn’t have known myself if i didn’t swith on to YouTube.
    As for those ugly, aesthetically-challenged black electric wires/cables and telephone wires, I’m sure there’s a way to hide them from view. Holland is below sea level, but they have found a way to do just that and they do not even get floods! The Uk has been experiencing the worst floods these last five years. I was there during the great British floods and it was terrifying while driving along the motorways and no visibility at all. Perhaps, we can ask our talented engineers to design permanent structure of “furniture” where these electric wires and cables can be hidden from view. Something like a “tube” where they are permanently installed on one side of the motorway…oh, how I wish I were a design engineer. It would be inserting these electric wires/cables in the “specially-designed tubes” or specially-designed friberglass pipes where they can insert the wires and cables, etc.
    Back to Vigan; they are right to ensure that the architecture remains the same–otherwise, it wouldn’t be the same. Please Fred, let’s make Vigan well preserved for a long long time so that the future generation would be able to appreciate Vigan’s heritage. You must really come to Spain and visit SEvilla, Cordoba, Granada, Madrid, Barcelona, Santander, The Basque region, especially Galicia where you can find pilgrims anytime of the year to be in Santiago de Compostela. Spain is utterly beautiful. Where I live, it’s only a resort town, beaches, one shopping mall and one department store, the rest are blocks of flats, or as you say over there, condos.

  4. If you’re going to Vigan and you want to dine in a resto, I would not suggest Cafe Leona. We were there 2 days ago and the service there was slow and the food was not good, not worth the long wait. If we only knew that would happen we’d rather had our dinner at Max Restaurant, it’s just beside Cafe Leona.

  5. we had a tour here last April 4-8 2010 vigan is the most nostalgic place to be, all the structures there are so well preserved and there are so many things to learn there from history to delicacies , i suggest fort ilocandia for lodging then pagudpud for the beaches … you also want to try the BAGNET and the EMPANADA,for dessert, try the ROYAL BIBINGKA (I DONT KNOW THE WHOLE NAME OF IT) its so great that i want to come back the day i went home… its around 7-8 hr ride from manila but its all worth it … vigan is the greatest i have ever seen…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.