Cebu City heritage comes out of the shadows
There is more to Cebu City than the tall and modern buildings that go with economic progress.
“We have a culture and a proud history which need to be taken cared of as time progresses,” heritage advocate Madrelina dela Cerna told the Inquirer.
Being the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines, Cebu City is home to a number of historical sites. The downtown area alone is a heritage belt of old churches, houses and other structures that date back to the colonial Spanish past spanning 333 years—and these can be visited in less than a day.
A heritage walk may start at Fort San Pedro, a military defense structure built by Spanish and native Cebuano workers under the command of Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi.
The smallest but oldest triangular bastion fort in the country was constructed on May 8, 1565. It was used as refuge for Filipino revolutionaries near the end of the 19th century.
Adjacent to it is Plaza Independencia, where a life-size sculpture of Legazpi, the first Spanish governor-general of the Philippines, is found. About 200 meters away is another park, Plaza Sugbo, an open space between City Hall and the Magellan’s Cross kiosk.
Many tourists frequent the place to see Magellan’s Cross, which is reportedly encased inside a huge wooden cross that is visible to people. Authorities wanted to protect the historical piece from people who chipped parts of it for souvenir or its supposed miraculous powers.
Some, however, believe that the original cross had been destroyed after Magellan’s death, and that the encased item is a replica planted there by the Spaniards after they colonized the Philippines in 1565.
The ceiling of the kiosk is decorated with murals that depict Cebu’s conversion to Christianity.
A few feet away from the place is the centuries-old Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, which is accessible from Magellan’s Cross through the entrance of Colegio del Santo Niño.
“Our identity as the Cradle of Christianity in the Far East is manifested through this basilica. It simply tells numerous stories about our faith and our culture,” said Dela Cerna, a retired professor who earned her doctoral degree in history, major in Philippine Studies, at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
The basilica houses the image of the Sto. Niño, which was given as baptismal gift by Magellan to Cebu’s Queen Juana in 1521. The icon of the Child Jesus has been revered as the oldest Christian relic in the country.
Built on the site where the image was found in 1565, the basilica also displays many historical icons and items.
A block away is the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, which serves as the ecclesiastical seat of the Archdiocese of Cebu. Like the basilica, it also has a museum in another building, where church artifacts, including images of saints and liturgical vestments, are displayed.
Just across the Cathedral Museum is Plaza Hamabar, where a huge statue of Rajah Humabon is placed on a pedestal. Humabon was the first chieftain to embrace Christianity in the Philippines.
About 200 meters away is Calle Colon, the oldest street in the country, in the heart of downtown.
Near its end is Parian District, where one can find Cebu’s heritage monument that showcases significant events from the pre-hispanic days through the Spanish colonization, the American commonwealth period and World War II, to the beatification of now St. Pedro Calungsod.
The giant images that are sculpted in brass and concrete bring to mind the good memories of Cebu.
Across the Heritage Monument of Cebu is the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House, one of the oldest residential houses in the country which is referred as “Balay nga Bato ug Kahoy (House of Stones and Wood)” since it was built out of coral stones, “balayong (a native black wood),” and “tugas (molave).”
“Tisa” or red clay tiles were used for the roof, while egg whites served as adhesive to put together the pieces.
Chinese merchant Don Juan Yap and his wife, Doña Maria Florido, constructed the house between 1675 and 1700.
At present, the ancestral house is under the supervision of Doña Maria’s great great grandson, Val Mancao Sandiego, and his wife Ofelia. The house is still intact and has been converted into a museum.
Inside the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House are old religious icons, fine dining sets, an old birthing chair, and antique furniture. It also has several altars—a testament of the religiosity of many Cebuano families.
Outside is a mini-garden with a 14-feet fresh water well and is adorned with plants, jars and chairs.
Just a few steps away from the ancestral house is another historical treasure—the 1730 Jesuit House, which used to be the residence of the Vice Provincial of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, a religious order of the Catholic Church founded in 1534.
It later became the headquarters of the Japanese military during World War II and a private nightclub in the 1950s. It was eventually used as a hospital by the Americans, and became the residence of the Alvarez family, which sold the place to Nicanor Sy in the mid-1960s.
Sy used it as a warehouse. In 2009, the present owners converted it into a museum.
The house is made up of a big main structure of two levels and a smaller, similar structure. Both structures are connected by a covered walkway or bridge.
The bigger one is made up of hewn stones and has the original clay tile roof with a pagoda-like design inspired by the Chinese culture that used to flourish in the area before. The smaller has two corresponding parts: a hewn stone on the first level and hardwood on the second.
The interior of the house underwent several transformations throughout the years. But some of its original pieces are still intact.
Near the 1730 Jesuit House is Casa Gorordo, another heritage house in the Parian district on Lopez Jaena Street. It was built in mid-1800s by Alejandro Reynes y Rosales and was bought by Spanish merchant Juan Isidro de Gorordo in 1863.
Four generations of the Gorordo family lived in this house, including Bishop Juan Gorordo, the first Filipino bishop of Cebu.
The lower portion of the the old house is supported by massive stone walls to protect it from fire and typhoon. Huge molave posts extend from the basement to support its clay tile roof. Inside are a variety of old paintings, religious icons, and furniture.
Casa Gorordo was renovated in 1980 after it was acquired by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. and turned it into a museum.
The National Historical Institute conferred on the Casa Gorordo Museum the title of “National Historical Landmark” in 1991.
Heritage advocates in Cebu are hoping to preserve Filipino culture and traditions as well as various places that would remind future generations of the rich Cebuano history.
“Cebu City’s culture and history should not be remembered only during the Sinulog,” said Dela Cerna, alluding to the annual cultural and religious celebration in honor of the Sto. Niño every January.
“Let us not forget Cebu City’s roots. Everything we have now came from history. So let’s promote and propagate our heritage,” she added.