Preparations are currently underway for 2021, when Cebu will be celebrating the 500th year since its Christianization. It just goes to show how rich Cebuano history is, and how much has happened since Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed on our shores in 1521.
There are a lot of ways you can discover a city’s history–but what better way than exploring the remnants of yesteryear.
Here are some spots in Downtown Cebu that deserve a visit, places that have witnessed the city’s changes through the years.
Fort San Pedro
Built by the Spanish under the command of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the fort is significant for being the first Spanish settlement. It served as a military defense structure during the more tumultuous parts of history, but is now a favorite venue for weddings and photoshoots.
A. Pigafetta Street, Cebu City
Open everyday from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM
For inquiries, call +63 32 256 2284
One of the most iconic landmarks in Cebu, this site is said to be where Magellan planted a cross when he arrived on the island. Since then, the original cross had been enclosed in newer, stronger wood. It stands inside a stone structure, where murals of the first mass decorate the ceiling.
Open everyday from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Basilica Minore del Santo Niño
Founded in 1565, it is one of the country’s historic landmarks, and is home to the oldest religious relic in the country–the wooden image of the Santo Niño de Cebu. It was said to be a gift from Magellan to the chieftain’s wife, Hara Amihan, who later converted to Christianity and was called Reyna Juana.
The Basilica is an important fixture for the Sinulog, the annual festival in January that celebrates the Santo Niño.
Osmeña Boulevard, Cebu City
For inquiries, call +63 32 255 6697
Just a short walk from the Basilica is the oldest street in the country. Although the area suffered considerable damage during World War II, many American-era structures remain standing there today. These days, it’s a great place to go bargain shopping, whether for clothes, cooking ingredients and home decor.
The Heritage of Cebu Monument
If you can only make one stop on your tour, then this monument should be it. The massive sculpture includes all the major moments in Cebu’s rich past. The piece was created by national artist Eduardo Castillo, and stands in the heart of the old Parian district, the old residential district for prominent Cebuano families.
Sikatuna Street, Parian, Cebu City
1730 Jesuit House
With Año 1730 etched above its entranceway, the Jesuit House is one of the oldest houses in the city. Tucked inside a warehouse, the house has been preserved, with a gallery showcasing Old Cebu. Old photographs, maps and furniture give guests an idea of how they lived centuries ago.
Zulueta Street, Parian, Cebu City
Open from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM on Mondays to Saturdays
For inquiries, call +63 32 255 5408
Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House
Another house-turned-museum, this old residence is built with coral stones and hardwood. Now it has a number of decorative pieces on display, including antique home decor, religious figures, period furniture and old dinnerware.
Lopez Jaena corner Mabini Street, Parian, Cebu City
Open every day from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Around the block from the Yap-Sandiego House is Casa Gorordo, home of Cebu’s first bishop Juan Gorordo. Constructed in traditional bahay na bato style, the living spaces are on the second floor. The rooms are decorated with antiques from various historical periods, with several of the family’s actual heirlooms on display.
Eduardo Aboitiz Street, Cebu City
Open everyday from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
For inquiries, call +63 32 255 5645
Last on the itinerary is the largest museum in Cebu province. The structure is what was once called Carcel de Cebu, a prison built in 1870. Designed by Domingo Escondrillas, the Spanish-era structure was made of coral stones that are believed to have come from the demolished Parian Church. Artifacts from the pre-Spanish era to the Japanese occupation are on display in the different galleries.
MJ Cuenco Avenue, Cebu City
Open from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM
For inquiries, call +63 32 239 5626
Bantayan: A Pilgrim’s Paradise
Vacationers are drawn to Bantayan like pilgrims to a holy land – a blessed island actually, with blinding white beaches and sparkling aquamarine waters that beckon. Indeed, pilgrims do come for its time-honored observance of semana santa or Holy Week. The Maundy Thursday and Good Friday processions draw thousands of pious devotees as grandiose family-owned carrozas (carriages) bearing life-size religious statues, some handed down the generations, make their annual appearance around town.
Bantayan’s Holy Week is like no other in the country, an almost festive atmosphere pervades across the island. While faithful Catholics abstain from eating meat, expect lechon as part of the feasting among families and friends who made it to the island bearing the 3-hour long drive from Cebu City to San Remigio town up north, then an hour’s ferry ride to the Santa Fe port in Bantayan.
It is told that when their fishermen refused to launch out to sea and toil during the most religious time of the year, their families had nothing to eat. An indulto was then issued to Bantayan’s parish priest in 1840 allowing the townspeople to eat meat on Good Friday, and they have been doing so ever since. Whether this applied to Bantayan visitors is unclear but the special dispensation has most likely long expired. If you’re interested in seeing one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, the 15th century Saints Peter and Paul Church was built with walls of coral stone.
Jutting out to the sea, Kota Park’s footbridge allows an expansive view of the surrounding waters and offers an ideal spot to watch Bantayan’s magnificent sunsets. The ruins of the old fort (kota in Spanish) built in 1790 to protect the townspeople from pirates are now part of Kota Park.
During this peak season, inter-island ferries are busy shuttling the overwhelming number of visitors who show up at San Remigio’s Hagnaya Wharf, all of them in a mad rush to make the crossing and start their long Easter weekend on the tropical isle. Accommodations in Bantayan are unpretentious and pitching a tent on the beach is an option when rooms are hard to come by.
The laid-back lifestyle resumes once the Holy Week frenzy dies down as islanders around the 3 main towns return to their fishing nets and poultry farms. Bantayan, also the name of the biggest town, is where 80% of the eggs in the province come from, while Madridejos is Cebu’s main supplier of dried fish. The friendly resort town of Santa Fe is the perfect island getaway that tourists dream about. Its endless white-sand beaches remain nothing short of spectacular, and the best spot to bask in the sun, or watch it retreat gloriously beyond the horizon.
Bountiful harvests from the sea around Bantayan Island find their way to the local town market; seafood couldn’t be any fresher than here.
Originally published in Postcards from CebuMotorbikes can be rented to check out some of the island’s interesting sites like the Ogtong Cave. There’s also the little known Virgin Island for those who just can’t get enough of the beach. After super-storm Yolanda (internationally named Haiyan) brutally lashed across the island – and other parts of northern Cebu – in 2013 and rendered people homeless, Bantayan has pretty much well recovered. With generous humanitarian and financial aid from around the world, and the commendable hard work, resourcefulness and community spirit of the local population, the islanders are back on their feet again with rebuilt homes, revived livelihoods and renewed energy.
Talisay City: Tracing Its Colorful Roots
Another bit of history bound to the Augustinians lies twelve kilometers south of Cebu City. The religious order founded an estate in Talisay in 1648, and after 200 years, the friar-owned property became a municipality. Its name is said to be taken from the magtalisay tree that grew in abundance although the area was a big producer of sugar.
Part of Metropolitan Cebu, Talisay became a chartered city in 2000. It is linked to downtown Cebu and the town of Minglanilla by the South Coastal Road. This six-lane highway with exits to several areas in Talisay has greatly eased traffic for the dwellers of this primarily residential city.
Talisay served as the center of guerrilla intelligence operations of the Philippine resistance movement in Cebu during World War II. Returning American troops landed on its beach on March 26, 1945 and freed the province from the Japanese, aided by Philippine Commonwealth forces and the local guerrillas. That significant day in history is marked by the National Historic Shrine Liberation Monument.
The original bells of the old Sta. Teresa de Avila church built in 1836 no longer ring today but its parishioners remain devoted and congregate at what has now been declared an archdiocesan shrine. The feast day of the city’s patron saint is a red-letter occasion celebrated with much gaiety including a colorful parade and the unique Halad Inasal Festival.
Famous for its inasal, the Cebuano term for lechon (whole roasted pig), the city makes a spectacle of its succulent pork offering by parading the skewered pigs around its streets, some are garbed in creative outfits. Talisay’s flavorful inasal is generously seasoned with a blend of lemongrass, garlic and spices then slow roasted to juicy perfection. Its skin is always the exact golden brown and ever crispy, making it the centerpiece of many tables during special celebrations and fiestas.
Much progress has been seen in terms of infrastructure projects and public service since Talisay gained its cityhood. Having earned numerous national and local accolades, it is working towards becoming an even more progressive and peaceful city that is committed to look after the welfare of its local community.
Check out the other things you can do in Talisay:
HALAD INASAL FESTIVAL. Two men carry a skewered lechon on their shoulders to a nearby barbecue stall, a common sight on Sunday mornings in Talisay. The city holds an annual Halad Inasal Festival in celebration of its famous inasal, the Cebuano term for roasted suckling pig.
BARBECUE STANDS. Fish and Cebu-style chorizo (small rounded pork sausages) are grilled at a barbecue stand; Women prepare puso (hanging rice) by weaving coconut leaves into small diamond-shaped pouches which are filled with rice grains.
MUSEUM. The National Historic Shrine Liberation Monument marks the landing of liberation troops in Talisay in 1945.
CHURCH. Made of coral stone like most old churches in Cebu, the Sta. Teresa de Avila Church stands out for its uniquely designed recessed main entrance and pediment. Tucked away from the commercial side of the city, the church was declared an Archdiocesan Shrine in 2007.
Originally published in Postcards from Cebu.
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