Wednesday, July 24, 2013

First District: Iloilo’s Heritage Destination

CASA REAL (Provincial Capitol) Museo Iloilo Archive
Iloilo is one of the most incredible provinces to visit for history lovers. It is full of historic monuments centered around the city. The towns are blessed with a great variety of Spanish influence where every location offers a range of superb churches, cemeteries, watchtowers and bridges. Exploring each town visitors will enjoy a privileged journey back in time where you can discover Iloilo's important cultural heritage.

In the First District of the province of Iloilo you will find unique places where one live history at each step. Visitors will discover outstanding examples of Spain's rich, varied cultural treasures.

We start in the town of Oton being the gateway of Christianity, along with Cebu and Manila as the focus of Spanish colonial domination. It was recorded that Miguel Lopez de Legaspi brought knowledge of Spain to Ogtong (now Oton) in 1566. They settled in the area where it became the center of administration of Iloilo. The town also expresses their pride as a once flourishing Malay Port (somewhere near the Batiano River) where regular trade and cultural contacts already existed even before the coming of Spanish authorities in the country. Written records reveal that Chinese and Southeast Asian ceramics found in the Oton tell the story of how the town forged social and commercial ties with China and its neighbors. In the 1960s anthropologists Alfredo Evangelista and F. Landa Jocano excavated in Barangay San Antonio and found a death mask made of very thin gold with one piece used to cover the eye and the other piece placed on the nose. Pre-Spanish ceramic trade wares had also been retrieved. Golden necklaces and other semi-precious stones were also recovered. Oton is 10.2 kilometers from the city.


photo by Jose de Luna
The iconic ST. JOHN OF SAHAGUN PARISH in Tigbauan is considered to be the oldest existing church in Western Visayas. Constructed in 1578, it is the only church of Latin-American Churriguesque style, a lavish piling up of surface ornamentation, especially stone carvings. Inside the church is a wide array of carefully laden tile mosaics such as the station of the cross and the altar bearing Dante’s interpretation of heaven and hell. On its churchyard remained a marker of what used to be the site of the first Jesuit boarding school for boys in the Philippines established in 1592 and renowned that time for their liturgical music during church services. Tigbauan is 22.5 kilometers away from the city.


photo by Vincent Angelo Gefes
The Bantayan or Moro watchtower is one of the most valuable ruins Guimbal built centuries ago. They have lasted the centuries with remarkable strength. The town has three such towers that remain to this day and that you can still see with your eyes are found in Barangays Tuguisan, C. Colon and Pescadores where one can get an unfettered and more authentic look.

Taytay Tigre is an old stone bridge where tiger stone structures are placed in both sides of the bridge. Built by Augustinian priests during the Spanish rule, it is the smallest in Iloilo with its 4.5-meter length. It was also known as the Spanish Arch Bridge and is situated along the highway a few meters away from the town plaza.

photo by Bombette G. Marin

The St. Nicolas of Tolentine Parish or Roman Catholic Church of Guimbal occupies an area of 1.22 hectares and was built in 1774 by Father Campos. Its outside walls are of yellow sandstone made of adobe blocks locally known as Igang. The facade of the church is flanked by two round pilasters with white floral carvings. The church belfry of 4-storey high was also built as a watchtower for incoming raids from Moro pirates. It was originally facing the street across which is the sea. When the municipal plaza was built at its back, the back side was converted into the front side to make it the church facing the plaza. Guimbal is 29 kilometers from the city.


photo by Jun Fuerte

The municipality of Miagao is more well- known than the other places on this list. Situated 40.5 kilometers away from the city, Miagao is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Baroque-Romanesque style of ST. THOMAS OF VILLANOVA PARISH was constructed in 1786 and completed in 1797. It was built as a place of worship and as a watchtower to protect the natives from Muslim pirates that regularly pillaged the town. The huge stone blocks were quarried at Sitio Tubog in San Joaquin and in the mountains of Igbaras. The church sinks six meters deep in the ground with walls 2.5meters thick including the outside buttresses. It boasts of its native façade with a unique explosion of botanical motif: coconut, banana, papaya tree and a stylized guava fruit. Its centerpiece is San Cristobal in rolled pants carrying the child Jesus. It was declared as a National Shrine in 1973 and was included in the World Heritage List, the only one in the Visayas and Mindanao, under UNESCO in 1993.

photo by Jun Fuerte

TAYTAY BONI in Barangay Igtuba, Miagao is considered to be one of the nine surviving Spanish bridges in the Philippines. Named after Boni Neular, the construction foreman and major carpenter, it was constructed in 1854. Made of stone blocks, the bridge connected Miagao to neighboring Guimbal. It was still used after World War II but was damaged in 1948 by a strong earthquake that resulted to the destruction of the middle part of the bridge and the crumbling of its walls. It is approximately six meters high with walls a meter thick. Its waterway is said to have a dimension of 2.44 meters high and 2.74 meters wide.


photo by Jun Fuerte

San Joaquin is situated 53 kilometers from the city, on the edge of the southern portion of Iloilo bordering the Province of Antique. Its most impressive feature is the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH OF SAN JOAQUIN.  Built in 1859, it is considered as the most militaristic church in the Philippines where the pediment’s bas relief sculpture entitled “Rendicion de Tetuan” reveals the cavalry and infantry led by St. James, the Moor-slayer, breaking the Moorish defenses under a minaret tower against a landscape of date palms. The sculpture was so intricate that even the expression of wounded soldiers is visible. Skilled masons, famous sculptors and celebrated painters and craftsmen from Spain and Mexico were employed for the construction of the church. It was constructed in 1859 and finished in 1869.The limestone used in the construction of the church is found along the seashores on Punta Talisayan, Punta Malagting Tubus, Talus and Sinugbuhan in San Joaquin. Father Tomas Santaren, a Spanish priest, built the church with himself as master architect, assisted by a layman engineer, Don Felipe Diaz, and with an array of skilled masons, famous sculpture, celebrated painters and craftsmen from Spain and Mexico. The church is made of gleaming coral stone called “sillar,” shaped rectangularly into a given dimension. On February 4, 1896, Father Santaren died and was buried right under the altar of the church. In 1974, the church was declared a national shrine. In 1982, reconstruction and restoration of the church was initiated by the National Historical Committee.

photo by Jun Fuerte

A little further down from the church along the highway is the fantastically preserved ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY OF SAN JOAQUIN. For any history lover, this is a fantastic place to visit on a day trip. This coral stone walled cemetery with an iron gate is fenced by wrought iron with walls of carved stone. The two pillars supporting the decorative archway were ornately carved with flowers and tendrils showing the influence of Gothic architecture. Its 20-steps ascending stairway is flanked a stone balustrade on both sides leading you to the grandiose hexagonal mortuary chapel popularly known as "Camposanto." Made of coral rock, it was built in 1892 and was recently restored.

For the history enthusiast, this south country-side tour allows visitors to appreciate the beauty and history of the first district that should not be missed in every visit to Iloilo. For more information, please contact the Office of Culture, Arts, History and Tourism, Iloilo Province at (033) 3384910.

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