Vigan is the capital of Ilocos Sur. It was the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo who led the construction of the city in 1572. Today, Vigan exudes a rich historical culture. As seen in its old houses along its cobblestone streets, the town is a living relic of Spanish influence. Vigan is by far the best preserved heritage town in the Philippines.
After an hour of discovering Vigan on Foot, we decided to explore the rest of Vigan aboard a calesa, a vintage-type horse drawn carriage that has been widely used throughout the country as the principal mode of transportation during the colonial era until the turn-of-the century. When traveling it is always good to have a map, so we dropped by the Heritage Village Administration Office located along Calle Crisologo to get a map of the city before taking the calesa tour. For 150 pesos an hour, the calesa took us to heritage houses, historical landmarks and cultural centers in Vigan.
From Calle Crisologo we traveled northwest to the downtown passing Plaza Burgos, the cathedral, Plaza Salcedo, Plaza Encarnacion, Plaza Trece Martires for our first stop –the Burgos Museum. The Burgos Museum is a bahay-na-bato. This house is the birth place of the Ilocano hero Padre Jose Burgos. Burgos finished his studies at the University of Santo Tomas. Throughout his ecclesiastical career he has held important positions at Manila Cathedral. He advocated the empowerment of the secular clergy which is frown upon by the Spanish friars. Burgos was implicated in Cavite Mutiny which caused him his life. Together with Rev. Gomez and Zamora, he was executed in Bagumbayan in 1872.
The museum showcases Padre Burgos’ memorabilia, Ilocano cultural and archaeological treasures and antique collection. An important part of the museum’s collections is the 14-piece Estaban Pichay painting depicting the 1807 Basi Revolt.
The Syquia Mansion is the ancestral house of Doña Alicia Syquia-Quirino wife of the 6th President of the Philippines, Elpidio Quirino. However, Doña Alicia did not lived to become first lady because she was one of the casualties of World War II. Elpidio did not remarry. During his term as president, their daughter Doña Victoria (whose beautiful portrait graces the spacious sala) served as the first lady of the 6th Philippine president.
The mansion was the official residence of President Elpidio Quirino and it is claimed to be the first Malacanang of the North. Antique furniture and opulent display of European decor is all around the house. Small scale versions of Juan Luna’s Spolarium, Pacto de Sangre and even the extinct People and the Kings (which the original was destroyed during the Liberation of Manila in 1945) hang on the walls. These paintings were exectued by Juan Luna’s Spanish assistant Respal who was brought to the Philippines by the Augustinians in the early 2oth century.
The Syquias were among the illustrious political families of Vigan. They share this political prominence with the Crisologos. The Crisologo Museum houses memorabilia of the late Ilocos Congressman Floro Crisologo. The Crisologos were victims of assassinations. Congressman Crisologo was murdered while inside the Vigan Cathedral. The morbid image of the assassinated congressman can viewed in his legal office on the house’s mezzanine.
His wife on the other hand, former Ilocos Governor Carmeling Crisologo survived an ambushed while onboard a car on May 10, 1961 at San Juan, Ilocos Sur. The lady governor is the aunt of former Ilocos Sur governor Chavit Singson who owns Baluarte ni Chavit. However, we’ve decided to skip this Vigan destination and proceeded next to Vigan’s famous bed and breakfast resort Villa Angela.
We thought that we had enough of ancestral houses but we were told not to miss Villa Angela, an ancestral house converted into a bed and breakfast inn. American actor Tom Cruise is one of the famous celebrity guest of this bed and breakfast resort. The American icon stayed at Villa Angela during the filming of a war movie in Vigan. According Angela Versoza, Cruise stayed in the biggest room in the house called Cuarto del Senor- a room with a king size four-post bed. Rooms such as the Cuarto de los Hijas and Cuarto de los Hijos have four-post beds, tres marias (dresser), kinka lamps, aparador (closet) and comodas (chest of drawers).
The house and its rooms were used as the set for the remake of that Mars Ravelo classic film Maruja.
Burnay is the famous Ilocano jar. It is made in Vigan and traditionally used for storing water, basi, vinegar and bagoong. Pagburnayan is where the clay jars of varied shapes, designs and sizes are made.
We watched how these burnays are made using one of the earliest inventions of man –the potter’s wheel, which is powered by a series of kicks. Hand-mold pots are dried then are fired in a kiln which we learned was built hundred of years ago.
Vigan is also famous for making terracotta pots, the well-known Vigan floor tiles and bricks. Terracota bricks are Vigan’s indigenous construction material. This is evident in the old houses we visited and most especially in the town of Bantay where the town’s famous landmark is the all-brick belltower.
Off the city limits of Vigan is the town of Bantay. The town is the traditional sentinel to the town of Vigan. It was founded in 1591 by the Augustinians where they built a church dedicated to the founder of their order. Enshrined in the brick church is the miraculous and the greatly venerated image of the Nuestra Señora de Caridad, possibly the oldest Marian image in Ilocos. Unfortunately, the ivory parts of the 50-inch image (the head and hands) where stolen in 1928.
The famous landmark in Bantay is the all-brick bell tower which stands on a hill 200 meters away from the church. In our recent Ilocos tour, we’ve seen a number of churches whose bell tower is detached from the nave -a characteristic of colonial church architecture in the Philippines known as Earthquake Baroque.