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

Celso Pepito

It was a couple of years ago when we saw this beautiful painting by the entrance of a spa in Cebu. The random lines and vibrant colors used in the painting delineated the figure of an herb doctor. We asked our Cebuano friends to help us find Celso Pepito,the artist who did the painting. However, it was on our last day in Cebu when I was able to talk to artist. From then on, I made a mental note to include his works in our list.

When we found out that Celso Pepito will be in Manila, we immediately went to see him to learn from him about his inspiriations and aspirations in creating his art.    

Traveler on Foot: Can you tell us something about yourself as a child, the time when you were starting to discover about art? What are your common subjects when you were starting to paint?

Celso Pepito: I was born in Cogon -Talisay- Daan Bantayan- Cebu. At the age of six my family has migrated to Mindanao. I grew up in Lambagan -Cabanglasan- Bukidnon – having finished my elementary and secondary in the area.

As a child I am more inclined to do some creative activities- like making my own toys but never have inclination to drawings or paintings though often I made some stick drawings on the walls of our house using a local charcoal. My subject for stick drawings were then more limited to faces and figures. It was however in making wooden cars using the available materials in our barangay that has given me much fascination. Aside from these interests I also noticed myself to be a bit inspired in the sculptural works of our neighbor.

In high school, I got interested in making letterings. Thus in our graduation I was tasked together with my classmate to decorate the stage where the program was being held. And because of it, I was awarded as the “Artist’s Of the Year” of our school. As an awardee, I was encouraged by my class adviser to take a Fine Art course not knowing that indeed Fine Arts is all about paintings. Unfortunately, I learned my first drawing lesson only when I entered my fine arts course at the university where I have studied. As a beginner, I am more inclined to paint landscape, seascape, and still life.

Traveler on Foot: Where did you have your formal art lessons? What is the most important lesson did you learn from your teacher? What skills do you think a painter must have?

Celson Pepito: I got my formal art lessons when I enrolled myself at the University of the Philippines Cebu College as a Fine Art student in 1977. I was hoping to finish a degree of Fine Arts but only managed to have a Diploma of Fine Arts because I lack one subject for me to be accorded the Certificate of Fine Arts by our school.

Under the tutelage of the Martino Abellana who was considered as the dean of Cebuano painters, I started to paint in his direction using Impressionistic-realistic style as my means of expression but in 1994, I have shifted to Cubism which until now I’m still fascinated with. I have always considered Abellana as one of the great mentor I have had in painting. One important message that really matters to me from him was his advice for his students to focus more on perfecting ones craft by constant practice to give importance to the basic tenets in painting such as correct lines, forms, values, colors, composition, and so on. He always emphasized that for an artist to excel he needs to be more knowledgeable in these areas even though, he might be going into abstraction.

Personally, I always adhere to his suggestion believing that for anyone who wants to become a good writer, he needs to study the basic alphabet, the use of grammar and to be aware of what a composition is all about and it holds true with the way to become a painter. I always believe that there will never be a shortcut to it.

Traveler on Foot: Who were your contemporaries?

Celso Pepito: As a painter, I belong to the fourth batch of Cebuano painters. My contemporaries are Wenceslao “Tito” Cuevas Jr., Arlene Villaver, Georgetffe Sato, Adeste Deguilmo, Antonio Vidal, and Sonia Yrastorza.

Traveler on Foot: If you are to collect paintings, whose works are you going to collect? Who are your favorite artists?

Celso Pepito: If given a chance to collect, I prefer to collect the works of Tito Cuevas Jr., Adeste Deguilmo, Manny Garribay, Seb Chua, Denis Montera. I have always considered Martino Abellana, Fernando Amorsolo, Vicente Manasala, and Ang Kiukuk as my favorite artists. Monet, Renoire, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Pablo Picasso, George Braque, and Jackson Pollock are few of the international artists that matters most to me too.

Traveler on Foot: Most of your current works we see are cubism. Have you tried realism or abstractionism? Why cubism?

Celso Pepito: As a student of the late Martino Abellana, I painted in the style of Impressionism/ realism for more than a decade. I made Abstract expressionism as my Thesis in UPCC. I have tried other styles but find more meaning in what I do in Cubism.

I have considered this style as my means of expression as of this moment though I still believe in the evolution of my artistic expression. It is however in this style that I have discovered my true freedom in the expression of my ideas and aspiration. Here, I have injected my principle of three planar divisions of my composition which humbly reflect my three important messages in life: of loving God, caring for the Filipino family and concern for my country. I also implored the use of octagon to represent sense of positivism.

Traveler on Foot: What are your favorite subjects now? Do you ever repeat subjects? What is your favorite medium?

Celso Pepito: My painting subject revolves around capturing the Essence of God in my works. Presenting the positive Filipino values of our people and rekindling visually the spirit of nationalism that I often strive to project in my paintings. Since I get much fascinated with the family, most of my subjects are aim towards this direction. Though, I always try to make a different composition out of it.

In matters to painting medium, I got my encouragement from Abellana to embrace whatever medium available for ones expression. So, I got fascinated with ink, watercolor, acrylic, oil, pencil, or ballpen or a mixed media. I never limit myself to any medium though lately I am more comfortable with acrylic.

Traveler on Foot: How do you motivate yourself when you don’t feel like painting?

Celso Pepito: An artist must create even if not in the mood of creating. Being moody is not a reason to be lazy. It is the great passion to express oneself that truly motivates an artist. Offering ones artistry to God is the best way for any artist to keep moving and to be an inspiration to others is another.

Traveler on Foot: Have you ever heard of people not liking your work? How do you deal with it?

Celso Pepito: Artist is not like gold or diamond that always attracts to almost everybody. He can never have the privilege to grasp all the people to be attracted to his works. And thus he must focus more of his aspirations on the right market of his creativity.

Personally, I always find the situation a reality in the art world. We cannot always please everybody. I take it as a challenge more than a discouragement or an irritation in my part. Appreciating ones criticism can be a very good motivation to improve or otherwise just simply ignore it politely as possible.

Traveler on Foot: How do you handle the commercial side of being an artist?

Celso Pepito: I have always considered my art more of a vocation rather than a profession. Though I love to promote my art for it to be known or perhaps to be recognized, it is in the true message of my art that I want it to be appreciated. I have this belief that “Art is not only to be valued by its essence of beauty but must be understood beyond it. Art, if properly used, can be a great factor for change and development in ones society.”

My objective is organizing an exhibit is not merely to illicit commercial response but hopefully inspired my viewers to do their share in nation building. Traveler on Foot: If you are not a painter, what are you doing now?

Traveler on Foot: If you are not a painter, what are you doing now?

Celso Pepito: I will be attracted more to advertising or layout designing if I failed to become a painter.

Traveler on Foot: What is your view on exclusivity of an artist to a gallery?

 Celso Pepito: I highly respect those artists who opted to be in an exclusive contract with any gallery. It is the safest way for one’s work to be noticed and appreciated though sometimes it somehow hinders the creativity of the ones involved. But gallery owners are right enough to go in this direction knowing the stiff competition in the art industry.

I always believe that it is the prerogative of any artist to either agree or defy this kind of arrangement. In my case, I am seeking more of my freedom to create my own artistic world in the hope of propagating my own messages, looking forward to be contributor of change and development in a society where I belong.

Traveler on Foot: How do you want to be remembered as an artist?

Celso Pepito: I want to be remembered as an ordinary artist seeking to make my extraordinary effort to promote unity and harmony through my art. And to be an inspiration to other people!

Traveler on Foot: What is your message to the young artists?

Celso Pepito: To the young and upcoming artists: Know your goal. Define your reason for becoming a painter. Be a trailblazer. Be a contributor of change and development. Be a true Filipino. Love your family. Above all- offer everything to God.

Traveler on Foot: What is your message to the people who are beginning with their art collection?

Celso Pepito: My heartfelt appreciation to those who started to collect paintings. You are not only helping the artists in the country, you are also helping our country defines its true cultural journey. If possible, please collect works that really appeals to your senses.

Never buy a work of art only because you want to help the artist but also because you really love their works. Interact with the artists. Know he sentiments behind their creative process. Help them develop their sense of usefulness in society.

Traveler on foot: You are celebrating 30 years as an artist, what can we expect from you in the years to come?

Celso Pepito: Thanks be to God for allowing me to remain intact as an artist after 30 years of toil in the creative industry. I can only promise you more creative endeavors in line with my commitment to be of help in the development of my society. I look forward to create a bigger and more substantial artistic output in the future. To help see Cebu as a great example of a city who truly takes pride of their local community of artists and to contribute in bringing the Filipino artistry into the arena of world art.

Thank you very bay Glenn for the privilege of sharing my thoughts on the many aspects of being a painter and a citizen of this country. Mabuhay ka! Cheers!

Published in: on July 5, 2011 at 12:12 am  Comments (5)  
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Carcar Aquitectura Mestiza

The story begins with the migration of the inhabitants of Villadolid escaping from the ravages of the Moro pirates to a place farther from the coast towards the uplands where an abundance of parasitical plants locally called Kabkaban are found clinging to the barks of trees. The migrants eventually named the new settlement after the plant.

When the new parish priest arrived to the new settlement, he renamed Kabkaban after his home town in Spain. What follows is the development of a thriving city rich in heritage and history known as Carcar.

We started our tour into Carcar’s glorious past by heading to the rotunda. It is said that the present site of the rotunda was the spot where the inhabitants of Villadolid founded the new settlement. This historic migration is immortalized in the sculpture on the roof of the intricately designed bandstand located at the center of the rotunda.

Our next destination was, off course, the Jolibee across the rotunda where we had spaghetti, fries and a kiddie meal. On our way to the plaza which holds a monument to Dr. Jose Rizal, circa 1927, we were greeted by street vendors selling chicharon and ampao. We bought some of Carcar’s most famous native treats and consumed a pack of chicharon while walking.

Having nourished our body, we went for a bit of soul. 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.

While moving around the church, we discovered more details of this magnificent church. The statues of the apostles bordering the front patio composed only of the eleven –the 12th apostle, Judas Iscariote is standing isolated on a pedestal in front of the convent. A relief  above the entrance of the sacristy shows a church that is said to be the original church structure that previously stood on the current site.

While inside church, our eyes gazed on the impressive woodwork, decorated ceiling and statues of angels holding lamp posts that adorn the columns. The Neoclassic main altar has a painted image of the Sagrada Familia on top of the statue of Santa Catalina de Alexandria.

One the left side of the main portal is a wooden staircase that leads to the choir loft above. The baptistery is located on the right side of the main portal.

Around the church, on the walls and floors are tombstones of prominent residents of the town. One of which is the beautiful gothic tombstone of Petrona and Arcadio Alegrado.

The Church is just one of the many heritage buildings around the plaza. Next to it is the American period building of Saint Catherine School. Founded in 1923 to educate young girls of Carcar and nearby towns, the ornate façade of its main building shows the name of its founder –Padre Anastacio del Corro.

It is only in Carcar where we have seen well-preserved American period structures. Most of the public structures were built during the term of Mayor Mariano Mercado from 1922 to 1938. Among these notable structures that still stand today are the Rizal Monument, the Carcar Rotunda, the public swimming pool and 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. Today, the dispensary houses the Carcar Museum.

Going downhill towards the heritage village on the other side of the road, we passed by the monument of revolutionary hero Pantalleon Villegas. Known as Leon Kilat, he led the uprising against Spain in Cebu on April 3, 1898. Unfortunately, he was betrayed and assassinated by his own-aide-de-camp in Carcar on April 8 of that same year.

Carcar is a town with joyously decorated bahay-na-bato. Just like Vigan, Taal and Silay, it is considered as one of the best preserved heritage towns in the Philippines. Traditional bahay-na-bato in her fanciest dress lined the streets of Carcar’s heritage village. One of the ornately decorated houses occupy a block along the main road is the Silva House. The Spanish refer to houses like this in Carcar as Arquitectura Mestiza.

As we walked deeper into the street we found more Spanish and American period houses that are well preserved like the Noel House and Bahay na Tisa. One of the Best Filipino Ancestral Houses, Bahay na Tisa was constructed in 1859. The house went through restoration in 1989 and was renamed after the original brick tile roofing locally called -tisa.

-25 November 2009 | Feast of Sta. Catalina de Alessandria

Osmena Museum in Cebu

In Cebu City, it is almost impossible to go anywhere and see anything that has not been dedicated to the Grand Old Man of Cebu.  Whether a school, a military camp, a street, or even a fountain, the name President Sergio Osmeña Sr. has been attached to these landmarks and institutions.

Born on September 9, 1878, Sergio Suico Osmeña Sr. traces his roots to the wealthy and prominent Chinese-Mestizo clan from the old Parian District of Cebu.  A historical marker along Juan Luna Street in the downtown area has been installed to mark his birthplace.

But unlike with most presidential ancestral houses we visited where the presidents were born and spent their childhood, the Osmeña Museum along Osmeña Boulevard is housed in a building built in the 1950s. It was in this house where the President Osmeña retired after his political defeat against Senator Manuel Roxas in the 1946 presidential election.

The Osmeña retirement house has been under the care of the College Assurance Plan. The ground floor is being used by the organization as office while the second floor is set up as if it was the President’s living quarters, complete with period furniture and around 500 personal belongings and memorabilia.

Every part of the museum evokes recollections of Osmena’s political career including his coats, hats, shoes, official mace and Cadillac.

Published in: on September 9, 2010 at 12:35 am  Comments (5)  
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Bahay na Tisa of Carcar

The Heritage Street in Carcar is lined with well-preserved colonial houses but we can only view them from the roadside and imagine what‘s beyond those firmly-shut wooden door and translucent capiz windows. But there is one ancestral house that took us by surprise. Like an onion, Bahay na Tisa, slowly revealed its different layers and open itself to us as we went to see what’s inside an 1859 ancestral house.

Touted as the oldest stone residential structure in Carcar, the current structure was restored bit by bit by interior designer Manny Castro after it was designated for demolition in 1989. When it was open to the public, the house was given a name after the original brick-tile roofing  locally called tisa.

We entered the house through the back stairs directly to the service patio or the azotea. Originally intended as an area for slaughtering fowl, laundry, bathing, and other watery activities, the azotea was converted into a quaint garden with potted plants and a butaca or lounging chair.

The azotea is connected to the cocina. A nostalgic ambience is recreated by the slatted banggera to match the slatted floor of the cocina as well as the beautiful Baliuag-style pamingganan, a beautiful kitchen cabinet with slats for doors and sides and embelished with bone inlay.

We emerged from the cocina into a warm and inviting comedor that features a mandatory long dining table and rustic benches. There are antique ivory santos encased in glass capsule that provide impressive accents to the side tables situated at the corners.

Beyond the long table is a smaller round table with a five-piece solohiya chairs and behind it is a imposing vajilera crowned by an elaborately carved woodwork. This particular display cabinet was for showing off a collection of fine crystals when they were not set on the dining table.

From the comedor we entered the adjacent bedroom that contained four-poster beds. One particular bed was populary known as the Ah-Tay bed. This four-poster bed was a status symbols during the colonial era.

The elite wanted their beds carved with embellishments. This bedroom furniture was named after a Chinese artisan who often incorporate baroque leaves and flowers, calabasa feet, art nouveau swirls and Prince of Wales feathers into his creations.

We left the bedroom and walked on the alternating dark balayong and light molave flooring of the second floor living quarters. Then we entered the sala via a narrow double door draped with heavy lace curtains.

The sala features a gamut of interesting artifacts including a mariposa sofa or so named after the flowing butterfly-shaped back adapted from the Victorian sofa. At the back of the mariposa sofa are religious stautes in ivory and different family artifacts on a large mesa altar.  An Art Nouveau frame by the wall containing a portrait of a family matriarch is flanked by heirloom portraits protected by convex glass.

We found several Luis Ac-ac sculpture around the house including a set depicting a rural family with their carabao which we actually saw Mang Luis were creating in his workshop during one of our visits in Paete.

Looking up, we noticed the stamped tin celing recreated in the sala. We thought of to be made up of tiles pressed from tin and painted off-white to give the appearance of molded plaster which was a common in English manors.

From the sala, we entered the adjacent room. The focal point in this room is the Art Nouveau picture frame. Furniture makers in the 1930’s would whittle Art Nouveau frames to match chairs, bed frame or cabinet. These frames are characterized by native flora like the sampaguitas, ilang-ilang blossoms and anahaw palms, scrolls, ink quills and female outline with flowing hair.

Before leaving, we were told that the owner of the house is coming over from Manila to attend the town fiesta. He is expected to bring with him some friends perhaps to allow them to experience the same surprises revealed to us at Bahay na Tisa.

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