Heritage Towns of Southern Cebu

Cebu City prides itself as one of the most historic cities in the country. But traveling the ribbon of road going south of the island province truly captures the authentic old charm of Cebu.

The five heritage towns in our itinerary: Carcar, Argao, Dalaguete, Boljoon, and Oslob. The history of these towns is linked to the Fray Julian Bermejo, the priest and military leader who designed a formidable network of defense system consisting of watchtowers, church-fortress complex, stonewalls, and fortifications. These ancient structures once made inhabitants of the coastal towns feel secure and safe from marauding enemies.

As practiced, we started our tour to the farthest of the five towns in our itinerary. From Cebu City, it took us nearly four hours to reach the sleepy town of Oslob.

Heritage structures in Oslob are easy to identify. For one thing, the focal point of the town’s oldest street from the national highway is unfinished Spanish cuartel. No records have been found to help explain why such an enormous structure was built in rural Oslob. It remained unfinished as events in the country in 1898 overtook Spanish plans of what experts say could have been the largest naval station in the south.

From the last quarter of the 18th century, Fray Bermejo began building a string of watchtowers stretching from Carcar in the north to Tañon (present Santander) in the south. Watchtowers were built within line of sight of each other to warn and prepare the townspeople of approaching raider from the sea. One of the Bermejo’s watchtowers is in Oslob. Half of this octagonal structure made of coral stones has collapse. It is has become a charming ruin by the beachfront.

From Oslob, we travelled north for the town of Boljoon. The town is located near the sea and by the slopes of the mountain range. Its natural landmark is the Ilihan, a rock formation projecting into the sea where the national road was carved around it. 

Embellished with Baroque and Rococo details from the grand altars to holy water fonts, the 18th century Boljoon church must be one of the most perfectly preserved in country.

But before building this church, Fray Bermejo began constructing the meter-thick perimeter walls using mortar and piedra vitoca (coral blocks). At the center of the enclosure, he put up the church, the convent and a two-storey bell tower separated from the church. He built a massive blockhouse to serve as first line of defense and as a secure hiding place in times of attack.

From Boljoon, the national road winds its way through the coastal town of Alcoy before reaching our next destination –Dalaguete.

The bus dropped us off in front of the municipal hall in Dalaguete, which looked like an over-sized bahay-na-bato. Directly, across it is the Rizal monument. According to local lore, a statue of Andres Bonifacio had the original honor of being in that monument.  It was believed that the statue of Bonifacio wielding his bolo has inspired the people to become aggressive and violent that town authorities decided to replace it with an image of the Jose Rizal to remind the people of unity and peace.

After few walks from the Rizal Monument, we’ve reached the church complex. The walls enclosing the church plaza consisted of thick low barriers made of coral stones with square pillars topped with pointed finials.

The façade of the massive church dedicated to San Guillermo de Aquitaña has delicate floral and heavenly Baroque motifs carved into the coral stones. Inside the church were the biblical scenes painted on the barrel ceiling. Painted by Canuto Avila in the 1930s, the palette was mostly baby blues, pinks and greens.

Leaving Dalaguete at lunchtime, we arrived in Argao an hour pass noon.  Although all that remains in Argao’s defensive wall is the arched entrance, the pueblo is a living remnant of a Spanish medieval fortress.

At the center of the walled pueblo is a church dedicated to the San Miguel Archangel. Argao’s church was built in 1788. Its façade is decorated with bas relief of angels and garlands.

Inside the church were impressive murals on the ceiling depicting different Biblical scenes. These were magnificent works of Visayan artists Canuto Avila and Raymundo Francia.

From Argao, our trip continued to roll north before coming to halt at a beautiful rotunda with an embellished structure. This landmark is said to be the spot where the inhabitants of Villadolid founded the town of Carcar. This historic migration is immortalized in the sculpture on the roof of the intricately designed bandstand located at the center of the rotunda.

The same lace-like patterns is repeated in the Carcar Dispensary. The eye-catching architectural detail of the Carcar Dispensary is a collaged of exquisite lattice work, accented with stained glass doors and windows in a lovely two-storey building that brings to mind plantation houses in New Orleans.

Built on top of a hill overlooking the heritage town of Carcar is the Church of Sta. Catalina de Alexandria. Constructed in 1860, it is one of the uniquely-designed colonial churches in country.  Its striking features are the twin bell towers capped by an onion-shaped dome that resembles those found in Greek Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe.

It church of Carcar, has a beautiful interior consisting of impressive woodwork, decorated ceiling and statues of angels holding lamp posts adorning the columns.

Carcar is a town with joyously decorated bahay-na-bato. This is where we saw traditional houses in her fanciest dress. This kind of architectural embellishing in houses is referred to as Arquitectura Mestiza.

To cap our tour, we visited one of the oldest houses in Carcar. The 1859 Bahay na Tisa is a fitting place to end our heritage tour of southern Cebu.  

-10 September 2012 | Feast of San Nicolas de Tolentino, major saint of the Augustinian order.

This post is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival for the September 2012 theme THE VISAYAS ROUND-UP, compiled by Ding Fuellos of www.ThePinoyExplorer.com

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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey, travelling to Cebu now and your post was a big help for me! Thank you so much for your effort! – Alex

  2. i hope your site will be updated,please try to post in the heritage site of Negros Occ, and the Silay City old heritage house,God bless you always!

  3. I like the theme of your travels. You are giving me a good education.

    • Thank you BertN for the encouraging words.-Glenn

    • Thank you BertN for the encouraging words.-Glenn

  4. Everytime i visit and read your stories, it made me inspire to visit more churches and old structures in our country…you really have great collections…
    thanks for sharing this…

    btw…hope masama ko sa blogrolls list mo..^_^

    • Not a problem Brian. I shamefully admit that I fail to update my blogroll. Ang dami ng travel bloggers.

  5. WOOW! GREAT ARTICLE BAY GLENN! WHEN DID YOU MAKE YOUR ROUNDS FOR SOUTHERN PART OF CEBU BAY?

    • We did this tour in 2009 Bay Celso.

  6. do any of these heritage sites have a nice beach nearby? i’m thinking of a summer vacation with a little culture trip, too

    • Yes Albert. In Boljoon there is a beach near the historic area Cebu Club Med. Here’s the link to their site http://cebu-clubfortmed.com/.

  7. The places that you’ve featured here are so picturesque! The architecture is so exquisite too — it’s like you’ve been transported to another country.. This road trip to Cebu definitely puts mine to shame.. I should go around the different parts of Cebu the next time I’m there. Great Visayas Round Up by the way. :)

    • Southern Cebu surprised me Mai. It’s one of the good decision I made to delay the tour in the usual tourist spots in Cebu and go south. I am looking forward to how Ding will weave our travel stories for the Visayas Round Up. -Glenn


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