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Vigan The Philippines


Vigan Historical Photo


  • The City of Vigan on the north west coast of Luzon is a World Heritage Site listed for its Spanish colonial architecture, cobblestone streets and unique architecture. The citation for listing said, ‘’ Vigan represents a unique fusion of Asian building design and construction with European colonial architecture and planning and that Vigan is an exceptionally intact and well preserved example of a European trading town in East and East Asia.’’
  • '' Vigan, part of the 18th and 19th century network of Asian trading cities, demonstrates a unique architecture that effortlessly fuses Ilocano, Filipino, Chinese, and Spanish styles. It also demonstrates, in a tropical Asian setting rather than in the New World, the typical Spanish colonial urban layout as specified by the Ley de las Indias, thus linking Vigan to another network of colonial cities in Latin America.
  • Vigan is testimony to the Filipino cultural traditions and lifestyle of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Its domestic architecture, allowing business to be conducted on the ground floor and the family to reside above, reflects deep kinship with its Asian neighbors, where entrepreneurs preferred to live and work in their houses. The lifestyle gave rise to streets lined with shop houses, similar to the rows of Vigan houses that stand next to one another along the narrow streets. The urban ensemble of Vigan is a group of buildings which, because of its architecture, its homogeneity, and its place in and relationship with the landscape, is truly of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history and art.
  • The architecture of Vigan is truly reflective of its roots. It is built from the wood, stone, shells ( kapis ), and terra cotta derived from its surroundings. The houses are in the traditional bahay na bato style, where the ground floor is enclosed by stone walls and the upper level is constructed entirely of wood. A variant to this style exists in Vigan in which both storeys of some houses are built entirely in stone or brick. Vigan is well known in the Philippines as the last urban area that has maintained the architecture and urban planning established during the Spanish colonial period. Modernization and progress are creating pressure for the transformation of many structures in the historic core zone as well as the buffer zone. However, Vigan is determined to maintain its authenticity.
  • Before the arrival of the Spanish, there was a small indigenous settlement on what was at that time an island, consisting wooden or bamboo houses on stilts. In 1572 the conquistador Juan de Salcedo founded a new town, which he named Villa Ferdinandina, on this site, and made it his capital when he was appointed Lieutenant Governor ( Encomendero ) of the entire Ilocos region. Intended as a trading centre rather than a fortress, it was the northernmost city established in the Philippines by the Spanish. At the end of the 17th century a new form of architecture evolved, which combined the traditional construction with the techniques of building in stone and wood introduced by the Spanish. Brick was introduced by the Augustinian friars for their churches and other buildings. The seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia was transferred there in 1758, making it the centre of religious activity in the region. In 1778, as a result of its expansion, it was renamed Ciudad Ferdinandina.
  • The Mestizo river was central to the development of the town in the 16th-19th centuries. Here large sea going vessels could berth in the delta and small craft communicated with the interior. However, it is now no longer navigable owing to silting, as a result of which the town is no longer an island. As the major commercial center for the region, Vigan traded directly with China. As a stage in the Manila Acapulco galleon trade that lasted throughout the Spanish colonial period, it supplied goods that were shipped across the Pacific to Mexico, and thence onwards across the Atlantic to Europe. These trading links resulted in constant exchanges of peoples and cultures between the Ilocanos, Filipinos, Chinese, Spanish, and ( in the 20th century ) North Americans.



Vigan Street Scene At Night


  • Vigan is located in the delta of the Abra river, off the coastal plain of the China Sea, close to the north-east tip of the island of Luzon. The present-day municipality covers some 27 square kilomtres, divided into nine urban districts ( poblaciones ) and thirty rural villages ( barangays ). Nearly half the total area is still in use for agriculture. The Historic Core Zone, which is proposed for inscription on the World Heritage List, covers an area of 17.25 hectares defined on two sides by the Govantes and Mestizo rivers. The traditional Spanish checkerboard street plan opens up into a main plaza, in two parts. The Plaza Salcedo is the longer arm of an L-shaped open space, with the Plaza Burgos as the shorter. The former is dominated by the Municipal Hall and the Provincial Capitol and the latter by the Cathedral. The urban plan of the town closely conforms with the Renaissance grid plan specified in the Ley de la Indias for allnew towns in the Spanish Empire. There is, however, a noticeable difference between Vigan and contemporary Spanish colonial towns in Latin America in the Historic Core ( known as the Mestizo district ), where the Latin tradition is tempered by strong Chinese, Ilocano, and Filipino influences. As its name implies, this district was settled by affluent families of mixed Chinese Ilocano origin. The building materials used in Vigan are terra cotta, wood, shells ( kapis ), stone, and lime, all obtained from the surrounding area. The architecture of the typical Vigan house is derived from the traditional Filipino dwelling, the bahay kubo, which is a small one-room hut built of light woven materials ( wood, bamboo, and thatch ), raised off the ground on stilts for ventilation and as protection against monsoon flooding. Such structures are no longer to be found in Vigan, but their influence is discernible in the much larger bahay na bato ( stone house ). This is a much more solid structure, with a stone-built lower storey surmounted by a timber-framed upper storey, and with a steeply pitched tiled roof ( reminiscent of traditional Chinese architecture ). The exterior walls of the upper storey are enclosed by window panels of kapis shells framed in wood which can be slid back for better ventilation. Most of the existing buildings were probably built in the mid 18th to late 19th centuries. Few have escaped internal reorganization to adapt them for alternative use with the decline of the town's prosperity.
  • The Chinese merchants and traders conducted their business from offices and warehouses on the ground floors of their houses, with the living quarters above. This is characteristic of Chinese society, to be observed in other Asian cities such as Penang, Singapore, and the older sections of Bangkok. The resulting town-scape has a special quality not to be found elsewhere. It is a unique manifestation of the multi-cultural nature of Filipino society, which harmoniously blends Ilocano, Filipino, Chinese, and North American elements to produce a homogeneous whole.
  • In addition to the domestic and commercial architecture, Vigan possesses a number of significant public buildings, which also show multi-cultural influences. These include the
  • Cathedral of St Paul ( 1790 to 1800 ), the Archbishop's Palace ( 1783 ), St Paul's College ( 1892 ), the Catholic Cemetery Chapel ( 1852 ), and the neo classical early 20th century Provincial Capitol.
  • The street pattern is entirely authentic, conforming completely with that laid down by the Spanish in the 16 th century. The authenticity of the overall townscape and the open spaces is also high.
  • So far as the buildings are concerned, lack of conservation control has resulted in the use of modern materials such as galvanized iron on roofs instead of tiles. An awareness of the need to preserve authenticity has only developed recently in relation to Vigan. Restoration and conservation practices that respect the authenticity of this town that has developed organically over several centuries are now being introduced, making use of the considerable reserve of traditional crafts that survives in the Philippines.
  • Vigan is unique among the towns of the Philippines by virtue of the fact that it is the only one to preserve much of its Spanish colonial character intact. It is also significant because of the way in which distinct architectural traditions, European, Ilocano, Filipino, and Chinese, have fused to create a homogeneous townscape of great cultural importance. Vigan belongs to a group of important South East Asian trading cities in which Asian and European elements blend together, such as Malacca, Macau, Singapore, and Hoi An. Closest to it is probably Hoi An, where the same pattern of shop-houses influenced strongly from China can be observed. Vigan is,however, unique in that it is the only town in this group in which the rigid Spanish colonial checkerboard street pattern survives intact. The only surviving parallels in this respect are to be found in Latin America, but these do not exhibit the multi-cultural fusion that Vigan demonstrates.
  • Vigan is the most intact example in Asia of a planned Spanish colonial town, established in the 16th century. Its architecture reflects the coming together of cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines and from China with those of Europe to create a unique culture and town-scape without parallels anywhere in East and South-East Asia. Old Vigan Colonial Houses, the ancestral houses were built mostly by rich Chinese traders. These great big houses are made of thick brick walls and plastering with red clay. Tile roofs are made to survive earthquakes. The Mestizo district where more than a hundred houses line side by side along Calle Crisologo. St Paul’s Cathedral, built in 1790 to 1800 by the Augustinians, this impressive Baroque Vigan Cathedral cathedral has most of its interior walls well preserved. The 12 altars and 3 naives enhance the church beauty and grandeur. The bell tower is octagonal and is located 10 meters south of the cathedral. It is a place not to be missed when visiting Vigan.
  • Palacio de Arzobispado, built in 1783, it is the official residence of the Archbishop of Nueva Segovia. The palace was the headquarters of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Included in the palace is the Museo Nueva Segovia with a collection of paintings, manuscripts and religious articles accumulated through the Burgos National Museum, the museum building is the ancestral house of Padre Jose Burgos. One of the museum’s best feature are the paintings of Esteban Villanueva depicting the 1807 Basi Vigan Bell TowerRevolt. The dioramas of local historical events is worth the visit. Included in the collections are antiques, manuscripts and other priceless items. There is a Tourist Information Center in Vigan to help visitors. And if you want to take a break, there are beaches to go to just a few minutes away from the town.
  • A good time to visit Vigan is during the town fiesta. Celebrated for one whole week concluding on January 25 to commemorate the conversion of the apostle, St. Paul. The fiesta is marked by street parades, beauty contest and variety shows on the town plaza. The mestizo district offers a wonderful glimpse into the Philippines' colonial past. The ancestral houses were mostly built by Chinese traders using a mixture of local, Asian and Spanish architectural styles. St. Paul's Metropolitan Cathedral (admission free) was built by Augustinians around 1790 and features a unique design intended to minimize earthquake damage; a style that came to be known as "earthquake baroque". Look out for the brass communion handrails forged in China. The eight sided bell tower is just south of the cathedral. Plaza Salcedo west of the cathedral features a 17 C monument to Juan de Salcedo, and was also the site of resistance leader Gabriela Silang's public hanging in 1763. Plaza Burgos and its snack stands are a favorite hang out for locals. It is also used for staging major public events. The Ayala Museum used to be the home of Father Jose Burgos but now houses Ilocano artifacts, weapons, kitchen utensils, basketry, costumes, jewelry and Burgos Memorabilia. There are also some dioramas showing important events in the history of Ilocos Sur, and a mini library. Beside the museum is the Ilocos Sur Provincial Jail, where the Philippines first Ilocano president, the late President Elpidio Quirino, was born.