My first visit to Cebu wasn’t really a vacation, so I promised myself to come back. The first time I was there, traffic was so horrible because it was Christmas and I felt kind of miserable when I unexpectedly got stuck there for Christmas Eve. I knew all my friends who came to visit Cebu City had a nice time being there and I really wanted to feel that. I didn’t want to be able to remember Cebu City as the place where Colon street was horribly crowded with gift shoppers or be reminded of my frustrations as I walked from pier to pier looking for a boat home. This time around I was bent on experiencing the city.
Nicknamed as the Queen City of the South, Cebu City is the second most populous city in the Philippines after Metro Manila. Yet beyond this endearing title, Cebu city is a historical place that awakened the nerdy side of me. It is more than just the buildings and the streets; it whispers of the scorched soil of 1521 underneath the cemented roads, and the ruined church of Parian whose remains are now dusts scattered in history.
While in Cebu City I stayed at Le Village Hostel. It’s a nice affordable backpacker’s place at Gorordo Avenue, just right across Royal Concourse (if you are on a cab from the airport, simply mention this and the driver will know exactly where to go). Staying there was very convenient since it was only one jeep ride to the places I wanted to see in the city. My first stop was at Fort San Pedro. From Le Village, I simply took a 4C jeep that dropped me off at M.J. Cuenco Ave., a walking distance from Plaza Independencia where Fort San Pedro is adjacently located. From there all the other historical must-sees of the city are already walking distances.
Let me now give you a virtual historical tour of Cebu city, starting with…
Fort San Pedro
Have you noticed that old Spanish settlements have forts in them – Fort Santiago in Intramuros or Fort Pilar in Zamboanga City? Must be a Spanish thing hehe…
Forts, short for fortifications, are structures designed for military defense. Such is the function of Fort San Pedro, a triangular wall with three bastions on each corner namely, San Miguel, La Concepcion and Ignacio de Loyola. It is made of stone and mortar and was built on 1570 during the time of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The present structure we see however was already constructed on 1738 after the reclamation of the port area. Prior to the reclamation, only one wall of the city was said to be standing on land while the other two sides were on the sea.
Inside the fort were canons, armories, and artilleries which served to defend Cebu city.
I kind of wondered why this fort was smaller than Fort Santiago. (Maybe it didn’t have to be that big…) Later on when I went to the Jesuit museum, the guide showed me the old city plan and mentioned that instead of walls the city was protected by narrow canals that surrounded the city. In the present, some of these canals still exist but they have become unclean esteros.
Before being renamed Plaza Independencia, it was called Plaza Maria Christina in honor of the Spanish queen regent. Its centerpiece is the Legazpi Monument, which was built on 1855 in honor of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi who was credited for establishing the Spanish settlement in Cebu City.
In 1521, a Portuguese explorer named Ferdinand Magellan came to Cebu and planted a wooden cross. This was a symbol of Christianity entering the city after Rajah Humabon, his family, and some of his subjects were baptized. Although his expedition was not successful because of his untimely death at the shores of Mactan, the cross he erected is still commemorated and preserved on the same spot.
Basilica del Santo Niño
The current structure we see was built on the early 18th century (1735-1737), since the first two churches built on the same area on 1566 and 1628 by the Augustinian friars were burned down.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Cebu
This Cathedral served mainly the Spaniards and Spanish mestizos of the city. The Chinese Catholics in Cebu city were originally attending the old Jesuit church called Iglesia de San Juan Bautista in the parish of Parian. The local Cebuanos on the other hand were part of San Nicolas parish. So in a way you can say that Parian was the Chinatown of old Cebu. Eventually the Augustinians decided to merge the Parian and San Nicolas parish with that of the Cathedral, and the St. John the Baptist Church at Parian was eventually demolished
Located on Parian area, this monument is composed of several sculptures of bronze, steel and concrete made by the local artist Eduardo Castrillo. The monument was completed on December 2000 after 3 years of devoted work. It commemorates the different historical structures and events of Cebu, including Magellan’s Cross, Basilica del Sto. Niño, and the baptism of Rajah Humabon. On this same spot where the monument is located once stood the St. John the Baptist Church of Parian.
Jesuit House & Museo Parian sa Sugbu
Out of all the museums I’ve visited, this one is probably my favorite. My museum guide, who is a BS History intern from the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, shared so many interesting stories. I really enjoyed discussing with him the history of Cebu.
It was very amusing to know the reason why this museum is found inside a construction warehouse. According to what kuya guide told me the Sy family, who are the current owners of the house and warehouse, had a son who went to Ateneo de Manila University. It was through his association with ADMU that he serendipitously discovered that their warehouse used to be where the Jesuit superior of Cebu lived. When the Jesuits left (I think I remember the guide told me it was because of pressure from the Spanish Augustinian friars…), the house was bought by the Alvarez family. After the 2nd World War, the Alvarez Family had the house rented to American soldiers. The historic house went through a lot, until it finally went into the possession of the Sy family, who operates Ho Tong Hardware.
I asked if they ever will remove the warehouse. The guide told me that’s a negative, since the father of the living owner did not want the warehouse to be turned into a museum. Hence in honor of his father’s decision, the warehouse stays. I was kind of glad. I liked the idea that the museum was hidden inside. It adds mystery and authenticity to the place.
Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House
Walking through Lopez-Jaena St., the Yap-Sandiego house is an odd-one-out – the only two-floored house made of browned flat slabs of hard wood. You can easily identify that style of making big wide windows on the top floor looking over the street, so distinct of old houses. I know because my grandparent’s house, which they inherited from their parents, looked exactly the same way and I was always a little scared of falling down through it.
The owners will give you a short introduction and tour of the house, then will leave you to explore the antiques and architecture on your own.
So that’s it for my Cebu historical escapade. I went back to the hostel with feet tired but the feeling of reverence to the city’s historical past never left. All the walking despite the heat was so worth it. I suggest any history buff should do it too 🙂