Western Visayas has been in my travel radar for a very long time and when I got a chance to book a flight for Iloilo on a folding bike heritage tour, I was so excited! I have read a lot of books and articles about the rich historical heritage of the Ilonggos. Every wandering traveller will be amazed on how the town preserved its old streets, historical plaza’s, weathered churches and colossal mansions not to mention their delectable cuisine and the ever gentle Hiligaynon dialect. During its heyday, Iloilo had been a seat of power during the Spanish Inquisition and its colonial period. Every corner we turn and every place we stop by, there is a constant reminder on how the place looked like from their street ornaments and building facades. Riding our folding bikes on Iloilo’s old streets was like riding a time machine, only better- it runs on fat. We visualize the place, recount its history and marvel its beauty. So much amazing Heritage are found in Iloilo. Let me take you to the places that we have visited and tell you a little bit of our journey in the land of the Ilonggos.
Arriving on a sunny day at Iloilo was a perfect opportunity to ride our folding bikes from the airport to the town. There were wide open tarmac and concrete roads that lead to the town proper. Ice and I agreed to stay on a budget during this trip so we went to look for the affordable inns we can find. We first went to the Ong Bun Pension House but the only room available was on the top floor. Thinking ahead of our plight up and down the stairs with two bikes, we decided to look for another place. We rode around the area and found a nice spot near the Ortiz port. We stayed at the City Corporate Inn along Rizal corner Guanaco streets. The staff was very courteous and friendly, we wouldn’t mind going back there for another stay.
The fist order of the day was to visit Museo de Iloilo. The cultural and historical safe keeper of the Hiligaynon People. The antique collections, artifacts and memorabilia that dates back from the pre-Hispanic era were in their extraordinarily preserved state. A visitor can see the evolution and the origin of the early settlers in the Panay Island and how it came to be the Iloilo city as we know it. The museum is situated just beside the new capitol building and easily spotted by its nice colorful design placed on its exterior facing the highway.
Fronting the old Iloilo Provincial Capitol Building was a beautiful fountain carved out with four maidens bearing a basin of water. It reminds me of the fountains of Greece. This beautiful piece not only serve as an aesthetic roundabout but also the regional kilometer zero point.
Fort San Pedro
Ravage by different naval attacks from British, Dutch, American and Japanese forces. Only few remnants of the Fort appear on the shoreline. Built in the 1600s by the Spaniards, the once beautiful Fort San Pedro facing Guimaras island is now nothing but a ruin. During our visit, evident of reconstruction was on its way to redevelop the area back to its glory.
Iloilo was quite a unique city that we have visited. The town has been separated by a river and spiraling all over the town. I could see clean and clear waterways beside a bustling progressive city. I must admit, I’m completely impressed on how they took care of their river system. Their river quay was considered one of the safest harbors because of the immense Guimaras Island that serves as a barrier from impending wind and waves. It has been a thoroughfare for centuries since it was opened in 1855. Since then, many vessels have found their way on these wide passageway, but recently, the Iloilo government made an effort to clean up the river banks and evacuated the old dilapidated ships parking along its banks. It has looked a lot cleaner till this day.
A very well-preserved Custom’s house sits along Muelle Loney. Included on Iloilo’s heritage list, it is the most preserved Aduana(Customs) compared to its other counterpart in Cebu (Malacañang sa Sugbo) and Manila(Intramuros).
The strong Spanish influence, brought upon by our 300 years of colonization, was apparent in the town of Iloilo. The famous Jaro Cathedral is one of the priced heritage and symbol of Catholicism, with the Our Lady of Candles resting on its church walls arguably the miraculous statue in the whole Iloilo. The Ilonggos celebrate its Feast Day every 2nd of February.
Quite a unique setup where its Belfry is not adjacent to the cathedral. Superimposed tower in the middle of the plaza greeted us when we rode from the airport enroute the town. It was a surreal feeling riding along with these aged colossal structure. Dated during its Spanish Colonial era, the tower has survived many earthquakes and the World War II.
San Jose Church – Iglesia de San Jose de Placer
Before the start of the Dinagyang Festival, a Mass is held here to honor the Santo Nino and to be reminded of the arrival of the Malay on the island of Panay and the acquisition of the land from the Atis tribe.
The last Capital of Spain in the Visayas Islands succumbed to defeat and returned the power to its inhabitants. History recounts the first Philippine Republic was raised after a victorious campaign led by General Martin Delgado on Christmas Day of 1898.
Lapaz Church- Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje( Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage)
We were set off for a long day of bike tour, visiting the prominent sights along our route towards Miag-ao. Visiting Lapaz Church was a good place to start our journey. After all, The Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage will grant us blessing for the rest of our trip. Since we are already in Lapaz, Ice and I scoured around the area for their renowned Lapaz Batchoy. We had our fix at Decos and it was a very filling meal!
Molo Church- St. Anne Parish
Just as you bid goodbye to the downtown Iloilo, another majestic place would greet you as you take the south highway towards Miag-ao. The pointed bell towers are seen from a distance and the dome from the church becomes visibly immense as we rode closer. Stained Coral Stones add to its allure and many observed that there were all female saints to its interiors, which is uncommon to other church nearby.During our visit, the plaza is undergoing its all due restoration. It will have been a wonderful sight as soon as it completes the restoration.
According to historians, the Old Oton Church is arguably the most beautiful church in the Philippines until it was damaged and destroyed during a massive earthquake in 1948. There is only a portion left from its majestic structure. This is where we had a rest for our Church Spotting leg of the trip.
Located at the heart of the town, Tigbauan Church has an impeccable facade inspired by a Spanish-Mexican artwork, richly ornamented in a low relief style suggesting silver works. Quite amazing as you can see the Augustinian coat of arms embellished on the main door way. In front of the Church is the town’s plaza, where we took a short break munching our ensaymadas while listening to the kids conversing in Hiligaynon. We could not understand most of what they were saying but it’s quite entertaining as they have a unique way of conveying their thoughts in diction and slur in a manner only they can deliver.
In an old fishing village known as Guimbal, there is a church noted for its yellow sand stone walls. Perphaps the materials were quarried from the neighboring island of Guimaras where Coral stones are in abundance. The old structure was built during the 17th century and it served as a watchtower from the pillaging moro pirates and as a church of Catholic worship in town.
Miag ao Church
Just before sun down, we have reached the Church of Miag-ao, perched on top of a hill, sitting majestically around its subjects. The intricate design of its facade has made it to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only four churches in the Philippines, namely: Paoay; Sta Maria; San Agustin; and Miag ao, were labeled UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was no surprise to see how they have considered it with utmost importance for the benefit of humanity. The rich culture and the deep Catholic beliefs were instilled upon us for around 300 years. These Structures serves as a reminder of who we are as Filipinos and guides us on our way to progress as a thriving nation.
As we gaze in awe, the facade depicts local life in the islands showing ornaments and carved out coconut tree, papayas and other fruit crops. A decorated relief motif set as a center piece was St. Christopher carrying Santo Niño on his shoulders while leaning on the coconut tree. For many, these were inspired by the life of missionaries during the exploration age. Missionaries like Jesuits, Dominicans, Augustinians Franciscans and Recollects known as the “Paladins of Cloth” were called from Europe to spread Christianity from the order of the King of Spain. They were tasked to learn the local dialect and teach the inhabitants about Christ in vernaculars. There is also an almost life-size image of St. Thomas of Villanueva, the parish patron saint, situated just above the intricate designs of its gold-plated doorway. A very well preserved thick buttresses jut out around the church while its towers flank from each sides. The Church is considered to be an Architectural Gem carved out by local master builders and conceptualized and designed by the friars. It’s definitely a sight to behold when visiting western Visayas. This point culminates our folding bike journey as we planned to ride the bus back to the town proper.
There is not a trip around Iloilo without visiting the massive mansions of the Lopez, also known as “Nelly’s Garden”; the Lizarez Mansion, which was sold to the Dominican Orden and currently houses the Angelicum School of Iloilo; and the Montinola y Sanson, which is just along the main highway from Jaro. These rich families of Iloilo had constructed wonderful villas and mansions during its heyday. A reminder of what the life of the rich and powerful Sugar Barons was like back then.