Spanish Culture in the Philippines: Vigan City
Almost 500 years ago, in 1521, Ferdinand Magellan came across the Philippines while exploring the Pacific Ocean, and this was the beginning of Spanish interest in the archipelago. In 1543 Ruy Lopez de Villalobos named the islands Las Islas Filipinas to honor King Philip II of Spain. Over the following 350 years, many Spaniards arrived in the Philippines and gradually colonized the country. It wasn’t until 1898 that Spain relinquished its control of the country to the United States, for a sum of $20 million. Soon after the Second World War the Philippines became an independent country, but its European history can still be seen to this day.
The Philippines retains much of the Spanish influence that it experienced over those centuries of colonization, especially in regards to religion, with 90% of the population being Christian. East Timor, once colonized by the Portuguese, is the only other country in Asia which has a predominantly Christian population. The Spanish influence doesn’t end there though, with the country’s regions still having names like Laguna and Isabela. Perhaps the most impressive legacy that the Spaniards left in the Philippines is the Heritage City of Vigan, on the island of Luzon, in the region of Ilocos Sur. If you enjoy going on far east cruises and find you stop off in the Philippines, try taking trip to Vigan to experience the unique culture, architecture, and cuisine the city offers.
The finest European colonial town in Asia
There is no other town built in the Philippines by Spanish colonists that can match Vigan City. It is by far the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in the entire continent of Asia. For this very reason, the city was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites back in December 1999. It’s not just on one street that you can see the Spanish influence here, it permeates throughout much of the city, however the best part has to be the Vigan Heritage Village, also known as the Mestizo District. In other parts of the city you can still see impressive monumental buildings and churches built by the Spanish as far back as the 18th century.
The classically European cobblestone streets and the Spanish architecture seen in the design of the houses are still in great condition, and with the help of UNESCO these areas will be protected in the future. The two particular streets which give you the best example of how the town looked back in the 18th and 19th century are Mena Crisologo Street and Plaridel Street. There are around 630 heritage buildings in Vigan, which reflect the Spanish character that the growing Pilipino city still has to this day.
Vigan Cathedral, also called the St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, was first built in 1574, from wood and thatch, and then another version was built in 1641. This cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake, and the next cathedral built burnt down in 1739. The cathedral which still stands today took ten years to build, starting in 1790. It was constructed with thick buttresses so that is could withstand the force of earthquakes and typhoons, which often affect the Philippines.
The white cathedral is built in a Neo-Gothic style, and what it its outer façade lacks in extravagance, its interior design makes up for. It has twelve altars in total, with the main altar being silver-paneled. It has a large choir area located in the loft, and brass communion handrails from China add to its grandeur.
Vigan City has its own unique and wonderful cuisine, and Plaza Burgos is a fantastic place to try some of the local delicacies. The numerous food stalls serve up a wide range of different dishes, each with its own unique style. One dish that you simply have to try is the much-loved pinkabet. This dish is a combination of eggplant, squash, okra, and butter melon, often cooked with shrimp or pork-belly. It has a slightly bitter taste, but the ingredients complement each other perfectly. Other dishes to try include pipian, consisting of pazotes and chicken with ground rice, and caldereta, a mouth-watered local variant of beef stew.
If none of these local recipes take your fancy, then there is a scrumptious delight that you simply cannot miss. The Vigan empanada should appeal to everyone’s taste buds, and is very similar to a taco. Rice flour is used to make the shell of the empanada, which is then filled with a vegetable and meat filling. The filling contains green papaya, mung bean sprouts, mung beans, and carrot, combined with egg and Vigan longganise, the Pilipino equivalent of a chorizo sausage.
Staying in Vigan City
Vigan City is just over 400 kilometers to the north of Manila, and there are plenty of hotels and guest houses available in the city if you fancy visiting. The Villa Angela Heritage House and the Giordion Hotel are both very close to the Vigan Heritage Village and offer excellent facilities and guided tours of the city, but are at the more expensive end of the scale. If something a little less extravagant is needed to fit your budget, try the Grandpa’s Inn or the La Feliza Tourist Inn.