Vigan in Ilocos Sur is a place brimming with nostalgia of a bygone era when the Calesas Rule the cobblestone streets of the former Ciudad Fernandina de Bigan. Named in honor of King Fernando of Spain, it was the seat of the Roman Catholic faith in Northern Luzon for several hundred years. With its rows of well-preserved ancestral houses and colonial architecture that represent a European trading town in East and Southeast Asia , Vigan was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Site and Monuments on December 2, 1999.
While traversing along the cobblestone streets of the historic city on foot and later on a calesa, we found ourselves drawn in the stillness and elegance of a setting straight out of colonial Philippines.
After enduring a solid eight hour drive from Manila, we’ve finally reached Vigan and parked our vehicle along Plaza Salcedo. Bound by the provincial capitol, the city hall, the Arzopizpado, and the cathedral, the plaza was the center of secular and ecclesiastical power during the colonial period. It is the same plaza where Ilocano heroine Maria Josefa Gabriela Silang y Cariño was hanged in 1763. The execution site is marked by a white obelisk.
Plaza Salcedo is named after the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo who arrived in Vigan and established Villa Fernandina de Bigan in 1572. Salcedo also built the first chapel that would later evolve into a cathedral which elevated Vigan from a villa to a ciudad.
The year was 1758 when the seat of the ancient diocese of Nueva Segovia was transferred from Lallo, Cagayan Valley to Vigan by virtue of a Spanish Royal Decree elevating Vigan’s status into a city named Ciudad Fernandina de Bigan. This ushered Vigan as the center of ecclesiastical influence in the north.
The Augustinians built a church in a distinctive Baroque architecture with the bell tower situated a distance away from the main church building. At the back side of the cathedral is the Museo San Pablo which is claimed as the first and only museum in the region committed to conservation of religious heritage through a distinct faith-culture approach.
East of the cathedral is the 18th century Arzobispado, the official residence of the Archbishop of Nueva Segovia. In 1889, the building served as headquarters to General Emilio Aguinaldo. The arzobispado currently houses the Museo Nueva Segovia which features ecclesiastical artifacts and archdiocesan archives. Off to the side of the cathedral is Plaza Burgos, a landmark tribute to the city’s most illustrious at the same time tragic citizen, Padre Jose Burgos of the Gomburza triumvirate. The execution of priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora (hence GOM-BUR-ZA) in 1872 was a prelude to the war of independence during the generation that followed.
It was lunch time when we’ve decided to take a tricycle ride just off Plaza Burgos to bring us to Café Uno, a restaurant and coffee shop housed inside Grandpa’s Inn. Surrounded by Café Uno’s old world ambience, we were served with a hefty lunch of bulalo, chopsuey and the Ilocano favorite bagnet, a fried air-dried pork belly that is a hybrid of cholesterol-filled chicharon and lechon kawali.
The stretch of Calle Mena Crisologo is the main shopping area that extents west of the cathedral. Since the stretch is closed to motorized vehicles, only pedestrians and the quaint calesas rule the cobblestone streets. The clip-clop of the horse-drawn calesas on the cobblestone road alongside with ancestral houses of the Kamistisuhan District (Chinese Quarters) evokes the nostalgia of the historic Spanish colonial era.
Our eyes opened wide upon seeing antique religious icons and furniture together with reproduction of their kinds and equally interesting old pieces sold in the many stores that line both sides of Calle Crisologo and its periphery. Part of our exciting experience is to haggle for a price lower. For our take home, we both a decorative harp, an old plantsa (iron), a couple of bauls with mother of pearl inlays and for pasalubong to our friends, we both some souvenir items like the abanico, tobaccos, Ilocano inabel, a colorful yet sturdy cloth woven in Ilocos and in La Union.
After a few walks here and there, we decided to take a calesa for a guided tour of the heritage city. Click here for part two –Vigan Calesa Tour