AN OLD SPANISH PUEBLO. We arrived in the poblacion of Argao pass lunch time, but the streets were quite deserted. Even if the townsfolk, like the rest of the Visayans were believed to be descendants of the industrious Indo-Malayan race, they have become hispanicized in the course of time and were peacefully taking their siesta. What greeted us instead were ancient structures of a former Spanish pueblo.
ENCOMIENDA DE DON HERNANDO. Argao is fascinating. The pueblo is a living remnant of a Spanish medieval fortress that dates back from 1733 when the once encomienda of Don Hernando de Monroy has been recognized as a pueblo and its church graduated as a visita of Carcar.
EL PUEBLO MURADA. With these developments came the construction of the thick protective walls out of impenetrable coral-stone blocks around the pueblo. The walls and gates were built to provide security against the marauding Moors that frequently invaded the coastal towns of Cebu during the Spanish period.
Passing through one of the four gates of the pueblo called the Puerta Marina transported us to a time when the legendary Mariang Cacao would sail to the Americas to sell her freshly harvests cacao and comes back with new plates and utensils that she freely lends to the townsfolk.
CAPILLA MORTUARIO. Sitting low next to the arched entranceway is the Spanish period capilla mortuario. It functioned as a leprosarium and as an autopsy chamber during the American era.
PROTECTED BY SAN MIGUEL. The relief of San Miguel Archangel holding a baby perhaps suggests that purity is regained upon death and the archangel’s promise to guide and protect souls from the enemy. It is a promise that has been carved out not only in stone but in the hearts of the people of Argao.
PAINTED CEILING. As we turned to the church of San Miguel Archangel, old ladies selling red slender candles began to approach us. After lighting each candle and saying a short prayer, we entered the dim sanctuary through a side entrance.
Murals on the ceiling depicting different Biblical scenes were impressive. These were magnificent works of Visayan artists Canuto Avila and Raymundo Francia. But the initial impression immediately faded away when the main altar gave us a visual shock.
TOUCHED BY KING MIDAS. We can only imagine that the main altar was once a Baroque retablo with altarpieces that must have aged gracefully with that of the interior. But the way the main altar was restored gave us the idea that the trigger happy King Midas must have touched every piece in the retablo and turned the antiquities into shimmering gold using latex paint.
ARGAO CHURCH. Although there is still much to see inside the church that are worth praising like the side retablos and the 18th century pipe organ on the choir loft but we need to take pictures of the facade of the church while the light was still good.
CHURCH FACADE. We walked out to the church plaza to get a better view of the church and its bell tower. Built in 1734, it took 54 years to complete the church. The magnificent Rococo Baroque architecture and the carvings in stone we saw in that full afternoon sun were completed in 1836.
TOWN PLAZA. By the time we left the church grounds, we could see the townsfolk had started to stir from their siesta. As we walk on, we saw children running along the street. A number of pedicabs and tricycles offered us a ride but we were to continue our tour in the town plaza.
The Argao Unity Plaza is considered to one of the best well kept town plazas in the Visayas. It features three antique Spanish to early American period cannons and a statue of National Hero Jose Rizal.
CASA REAL. Fronting the town plaza, sandwich by two new buildings to the left by the Executive Building and by the Legislative Building on the right side is the old municipal building or the Casa Real.
Built during the Spanish era as the Ayuntamiento, it remains intact and original particularly the clay-tile roof. However, we think that this can be distinguished best from the inside since the old building’s newly painted exterior made the old structure identical with the new ones.
HALL OF JUSTICE. Another building facing the town plaza is the current Hall of Justice. Restored to its former glory, the massive two-level structure once the functioned as the school for boys and was the tallest civilian structure in the pueblo. Known as the Colegio de los Niños, it was built by the church workers and their children who were then required to bring a block of coral stone everyday for the building.
A tobacco factory occupied the site during the American period. It briefly became a school, then a theater and office of the Argao Parent-Teacher Association before it was gutted by fire in 1962. Restoration was done in 2006 through the efforts of former Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr.
ARGAO HERITAGE. We’re about to leave when we met Ted Villarimo, Head of Argao Tourism Commission. Ted is proud of Argao and was very cordial. He provided us with the book authored by Todd Lucero Sales, Argao: 400 Years in Legend and History and recommended to try out Argao’s famous Torta.
He informed us of that the publication of books about Argao is just one of the many initiatives set to promote and preserve Argao’s heritage. Another project in the works is making WiFi available in the entire town. Imagine surfing the web while sunbathing by the beach, Ted candidly expressed.