The Heritage Village of Vigan | 400 Years and Beyond
The cracks on its stucco walls and adobe bricks tell her story of defense. Rusty iron grills and weathered balustrades narrate her tale of love in war. Bathe in light; the chronicles of her illustrious past are painted on its faded windowpanes. This is the Heritage Village of Vigan, a legend warped in 400 years and thousands of moons.
Unlike many other Spanish fortress settlements during colonial Philippines, Vigan was uniquely set-up as a hub of commerce, government and religion in the north. Tobacco, rice, cotton fabric, corn and gold were sold through the Acapulco trade. Over time, many mixed Filipinos and Chinese Creoles have enriched themselves in trading. Some even held positions in the government. This ushered the rise of the aristocratic class and the emergence of beautiful principalia mansions.
According to Architect Manuel DC Conde’s History of Philippine Architecture published in www.ncca.gov.ph, these houses are called bahay na bato or stone houses, where the ground level made of stone or bricks supports the hard wooden upper level covered by a tiled or galvanized roof. These are actually derivations of pre-Hispanic Filipino homes traditionally made of bamboo, nipa and cogon, elevated from the ground by stilts. These domestic structures are a coming together of various cultural influences: the indigenous Filipino, Chinese and Antillan (which came in the way of the Galleon Trade).
I have seen many ancestral houses across the nation, but only Vigan has kept a preserved Spanish colonial townscape. Other heritage towns like Taal in Batangas may come close to Vigan but some of its structures already include post-war buildings. Another collection of heritage homes can be found in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. These were uprooted from its original locations and restored plank-by-plank in a private San Jose Builder estate in Bagac, Bataan. Vigan’s conservation of its old Spanish pueblo, laid out still in its original quadricula has earned it UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage Site. This is also the very reason why Vigan continues to attract an uncontrollable number of visitors.
While downtown Vigan is decked with ancestral buildings, most of these are within the eastern block of the St. Paul Cathedral and Plaza Burgos. On its cobblestone walkways stand fortified ancestral mansions in adobe blocks and Philippine hardwood. The calado transoms and other complex wooden traceries on its roof eaves soften its massive geometrical structure.
Calle Crisologo is the most popular strip along with its outlying streets Plaridel and delos Reyes. Stores selling various souvenir items from heavy antique pieces to hand woven looms occupy the ground floor of what used to be called the zaguan. During those times, the zaguan was used as entryway of the caruajes, a cuadra for its animals and bodega or storage room for its provisions. At night, Calle Crisologo becomes Vigan’s chill spot as tables from restaurants and cafés extend to its narrow cobblestone alleyways.
The ancestral houses on the intersecting streets of Gen Luna, Salcedo, Mabini and Encarnacion are mostly converted into hotels, restaurants, and a few hardware stores.
The heritage village has stood for more than 400 years. The government, conservation agencies and various cultural commissions are working steadfastly to keep it until the next generations. However, it still shows many signs of threats:
- Mass tourismis sadly among the most noticeable threats. While it rakes in money to sustain livelihood and funding for restoration/fortification, the hordes of tourists that come each day always leave footprints of pressure on its delicate buildings, tons of garbage, added heat and changing ambience.
My Thoughts: Spread the development outside the heritage village to ease congestion. There must be traffic and tourist marshalls within. Create more campaigns on sustainable tourism (eco-friendly, support local economies especially SMEs & cottage industries, cultural awareness walkthroughs, contribute and share information).
- Motorized vehicles such as motorcycles, cars and even delivery trucks are permitted to take the intersecting streets of Calle Crisologo. Can you imagine the pressure it takes on its age-old stone pavements?
My Thoughts: Only caruajes or horse-drawn buggy must be allowed in the entire heritage village. Motorized vehicles of all forms must be banned from entry. Encourage walking around.
- Expensive hotels are mushrooming anywhere within the heritage village. The engineering works during the construction normally create geological effects around it. Given the current state of global warming, how strong is our earth still to withstand all of these?
My Thoughts: No more new hotel must be built within the heritage village. Instead, expand developments outside the poblacion.
- Some stores within the heritage village but outside Calle Crisologo have small electronic welcome marquees. Stick-out signs, tarpaulin and plastic promo banners of softdrinks and telcos are indiscriminately present.
My Thoughts: Take out all signage that do not conform to aesthetic standards. Regulate designs and construction methods. Penalize both the store and the advertising company that will insist to insert any visible branding efforts.
The inevitable changes in our civilization must always lead to somewhere that does not neglect humanity. Our cultural past shapes our future and define us a nation. While Vigan’s Heritage Village is truly a wonderful place, both the government and us, as responsible travelers must practice ethical consumerism.
Vigan was able to keep its village because the Japanese imperial army spared it from burning before they retreated in 1945. Capt. Fujihiro Takahashi and Major Sakae Narioka both fell in love with Ilocano maidens Adela Tolentino and Belen Castillo. Love may have saved Vigan but it may not survive another century if we do not do our part.
HOW TO GET TO VIGAN
From Manila (Private Vehicle/Approx 408 KM)
- Take the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). Exit to Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX).
- In SCTEX, drive straight to the newly opened Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX). This will lead you to the exit in Paniqui Tarlac. As of Dec. 23, 2013 TPLEX terminates in Paniqui but once completed, it will end in Rosario, Pangasinan.
- Take the McArthur Highway passing through Urdaneta in Pangasinan.
- Follow the national highway that leads to La Union. You will drive past Bauang, San Fernando and Candon.
- Further up north, you will arrive in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.
From Manila (Commuting of Public Transport/6 hours)
- Take the bus from Cubao Terminal to Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Bus lines such as Victory and Partas regularly ply this route. Alternatively, there are northbound buses in Manila area such as Florida Bus Line.
Via Airplane from Manila
- Fly to Laoag Airport. Check the web for schedule and tariff.
- Drive or take the bus from Laoag to Vigan. This should just take you about 2 hours travel time.
GETTING AROUND VIGAN
- If you are taking the poblacion, especially around the heritage village, I strongly recommend walking around. This helps us save on the pressure and vibration of traffic on its age-old structures.
- Tricycles (rickshaws) and calesas (horse-drawn buggy) are widely available.
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