Vigan City (n7w)
By Nico Erle Ciriaco
“Let us be united nationally whatever may be our personal differences . . .”
- Pres. Elpidio Quirino
Perched at the crossroads of its well-preserved cultural heritage and the vestiges of thriving 21st century modernity, Vigan was enshrined, recently, as one of the world’s seven wonders cities (n7w). “From 1,200 cities worldwide, we were fortunate to have landed in the Top 28. From there on the number was trimmed down to 16, which included four cities from the Philippines. It was a tough elimination process because the awards committee was seeking for one city per country and then one per geographical region. During our campaign, it was the CBCP who first signified to help us. Fortunately, their prayers were heard and we made it to the Final 7,” shared local chief executive, Mayor Eva Marie Singson Medina.
During the inauguration and unveiling of the n7w monument in front of the city hall, the marquee was bequeathed to seven young Bigueno kids who were tasked tol protect and perpetuate the city’s posterity.
The spellbinding glow of its nightly Bellaggio-inspired fountain show coupled with the click-clocking sounds of the horse-drawn kalesas on the cobblestones, that seems to be tirelessly turning its many narrow avenues like some clockwork mechanism from yore, can leave even the most jaded tourist dazed and dazzled.
“Vigan is the only city with a massive fusion of Eastern and Western edifices. From our food, buildings, and monuments can be seen these international imprints; painstakingly preserved by our forefathers. And now, we use it as a tool for development so as to afford the privilege to the next generation,” added Mayor Medina.
Once the capital of the entire Ylokos region that encompassed the provinces of La Union, Ilocos Norte, Abra, Ilocos Sur, and the Cordilleras, Vigan is the only World Heritage City in the Philippines; it was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Sites and Monuments on Dec. 2, 1999. Ciudad Fernandina, as it was known before, represents a unique fusion of Asian building design and construction with European colonial architecture and planning. It is an exceptionally intact and well-preserved example of a European trading town in the Far East and Southeast Asia; one of the few stopovers of the bustling Acapulco galleon trade in the 19th century. Vigan derived its name from the lush Bigaa tuber, a species of the taro family.
“While we may not pass the stringent guidelines of cityhood, which require population size, territorial area, and income, Vigan is however mandated by a royal decree which states that as long as the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia and its church stand, it will forever remain a city. This same decree has been validated by an act of Congress,” explained third-time mayor, Hon. Eva Marie Singson-Medina, the only unopposed mayoralty candidate of Vigan. She has served her previous two tenures to its full nine-year periods.
The capital city of the province of Ilocos Sur, measuring 28.8 square-kilometers in size, it is located in the northwestern coast of the Philippines. A former island surrounded by three bodies of water (the rivers Bantay, Mestizo and Vantes), Vigan is now connected to the Luzon mainland by bridges. Its river cruises point to the significance of waterways throughout its colorful history. The river cruises trace the Galleon route around the region as it shows how the riverways played a pivotal role in this important trading post.
“Our conservation efforts continue despite changes in governance. We are fortunate to have the support of our local residents. These efforts are our very tools for development. Everything is embodied in the Homeowners Preservation Manual, a guideline published by UNESCO and the University of the Philippines,” continued Mayor Medina.
The city’s Heritage Village is a treasure throve of numerous historic sites like the Syquia Mansion, Plaza Salcedo, St. Paul Cathedral, Hotel Felicidad, the Burgos Museum, and Casa Caridad, a beautifully preserved 1872 dwelling that was made as a tavern set in the Oliver Stone movie “Born on the Fourth of July” that starred Tome Cruise. Also nearby is the Vigan Convention Center, a modern facility set in the country’s only world heritage city that sits 3,000 covers on a theater-type sitting and 2,000 on a banquet setting. Baluarte, fomer governor Chavit Singson’s sprawling estate, is the highest elevation in the entire Vigan. It used to be called El Pueblo de Salcedo, named after the city’s founder.
“V igan is a small city with big dreams. It has grown in leaps and bounds; a meteoric rise from what it once was, actualizing its dreams. Vignettes of its colorful history – how the church started, how the city evolved, and how the houses were compartmentalized – are all showcased inside the Casa Bigueno,” pointed out historian Prof. Eric Saludo.
A variety of entertainment, shopping opportunities, local delicacy peddlers, as well as tourist attractions are close by. Noteworthy of these places is the burnayan. The Bantug clay used to make the tapayan (jars) is sourced from a non-arable farm lot in Brgy. Bulala, and which was awarded to the Go family in 1954 as ceramic molders. Surviving heir Fidel Antiporda Go continues the trade and was honored as National Folk Artist by the NCCA in 1990.
“The dragon kiln for our burnay is the only remaining one in the country that cooks the air-dried, formed clay. It is patterned after the pasotes from Mexico. Our cuisine, on the other hand, is rich and flavorful. These include staples like bagnet, longganisa, dinengdeng, igado, puqui-puqui, pusi, mara-utong,buridibud and pippian to name some.
“As to festivals, we celebrate our city/charter day and Longganisa Fest in January. We even produced a book-cum-guide on the ‘101 Ways to Cook Longganisa.’ Holy Week is the peak of our tourism related undertakings. Soon, we will put up park facilities with bath and CR facilities for those on day tours. Sept. 8 is the solidarity celebration of all World Heritage Sites globally. We are seeing a marked increase in our tourism traffic each year. Our day tourists have reached 450,000 in 2014.
“The Twilight Festival is our homecoming feast as well as the remembrance of our beloved-departed. Lighted wish lanterns waft to the air from the cemetery plots below. This culminates in a lantern and torch parade,” shared Mayor Medina.
Today, Vigan remains to be the home of proud Biguenos who welcome everyone with warm smiles to the city. Performed by employees of the city, the Tres Patrimonio (Three Patrimonies) musicale chronicles the legacy of its most famous sons & daughters: Diego & Gabriela Silang, Leona Florentino and Padre Jose Burgos. Diego Silang is considered the precursor of the Philippines’ stand against Spain, albeit briefly.
Images and sounds of modernity, like the impressive Dancing Fountain show that plays nightly at the town square, have established their marked presence in the age of digital technology. Inspired by Las Vegas’ Bellaggio, the waterworks display is a gift of former Gov. Chavit Singson to the city’s townsfolk. Yet, dazzling as the images and colored lights may be, including its fantastic soundtrack, they are, however, unable to drown the stillness and elegance of the past. All you need to do is simply walk the entire stretch of Calle Crisologo to have a virtual ‘trek into the days of yore.’ Or hie off to any of its museums and be transported back in time.
“We have identical advocacies, Vigan and Las Pinas, and share ideas and learning with each other. We should take care of our history and culture. May is National Heritage Month as mandated by Proc. No. 439. The consciousness to love our legacy includes the protection of both tangible and intangible heritage. We engage the youth in these conservation efforts especially in this age of digital technology and social media. Our actions should be sustainable so our legacy continues and live on long after we’re gone,” encouraged Sen. Cynthia Villar, who formally opened the city’s new conservation complex.
At the Arce Mansion, you can don traditional outfits and have your portrait taken amidst well-preserved fixtures and furnishings. At the sprawling conservation complex, the Casa Bigueno Museum traces the city’s history, church involvement, as well as sections on Pres. Elpidio Quirino and the parts of a Vigan house.
“The poverty incidence of Vigan in 1995 rose up to 45.5 per cent. It was a tough act regaining the city’s pride from the stigma wrought by the ‘guns, goons and gold’ reputation of the 1980s. To date, that figure has plummeted to a measly 7 per cent, as shown in our baseline study. To curb unemployment, the city went on a massive skills training program. Then a lending project for capitalization, with 97 per cent collection efficiency, followed through. Everyone is given a chance to improve their lives,” enthused Mayor Medina.
Vigan has opened itself to change but has not sacrificed the bountiful wealth of its heritage. It is exactly the ability of coping with the needs of the present, despite the bounds set by centuries-old legacy that makes it a Living Historic City. “The core and buffer zones follow architectural guidelines and blueprints are first approved by a committee prior to construction. Edifices should not rise higher than the bell tower except those erected prior to the issuance of the guidelines,” continued Mayor Medina.
Vigan is one of the oldest Spanish settlements in the Philippines; together with Cebu, Zamboanga and Intramuros de Manila. Through the years, it has received numerous accolades from different institutions. It has been recently hailed as a Lakbay Aral community of learning, as the most child-friendly component city in the entire archipelago. Vigan is also the first awardee of the Pamana ng Lahi honors for good governance and fiscal management. UNESCO also highlighted its sustainable importance as a heritage city. “It was in 1995 when we first attempted to be inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. We were named as such in 1999. And in 2012, we were awarded with the Best Management Practices distinction from among 23 other UNESCO heritage sites in the region. In the pipeline is a 3-hectare Ylokos Theme Park like Nayong Filipino and Villa Escudero. Also, a four-storey ancestral building in Crisologo St. will be devoted to research. One of the rooms will be dedicated for teachers in honor of former Pres. Elpidio Quirino who was an educator before he became chief executive. This year marks the 125th natal anniversary of Pres. Quirino, the sixth Philippine head of state who served from April 17, 1946 to Dec. 30, 1953,” apprized mayor Medina.
“Tolerance and love is the legacy that my grandfather left behind,” quipped granddaughter Ruby Quirino-Gonzales, chairperson of the Quirino Foundation, who also graced the unveiling rites.
And being named as one of the seven New Wonders Cities of the World, Vigan, has once again, cinched another distinction for the city and the entire country; adding another laurel to its growing list of achievements. “Prosperity is not measured by skylines. World wonders are monuments of greatness of the human mind. They remain models of dedication of the people and that of their leaders throughout time. From the past, we can see our future. Our heritage is our future. It shows us how we were and directs us to the path of tomorrow. The way of life may still the same but Vigan’s heritage is open for all to savor. The metropolitan planning to usher in the urban changes remain. It is a balance of development and culture.
‘Monuments are made by man, thus, can be destroyed by man as well. Conservationists are at a race with time. This is because those that are lost forever remain as stories. Let us all do our bit in preserving our communities and the Earth in general. Enduring structures are showcases of excellent workmanship,” declared guest of honor, Vice-President Jejomar Binay, during his keynote speech.
The six other cities that were honored alongside Vigan as the New 7 Wonders Cities are Beirut (Lebanon), Doha (Qatar), Durban (South Africa), Havana (Cuba), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), and La Paz (Bolivia).
For more information, simply visit the city’s Web site, http://vigancity.gov.ph.