If you think traveling back in time is impossible, then you evidently haven’t traveled to the heritage city of Vigan just yet. A world-renowned wonder, Vigan City is, but what makes it different to our country’s most popular tourist destinations like Boracay, Palawan, and Bohol, is the exhibit of stories and proof of our long history showcased in the cobblestone streets, monuments, churches, and even delicacies.
It seemed like it was just yesterday, though it had been three years since my last visit, that I stepped out of the tricycle in front of the Ilocos Sur Provincial Capitol, and across the street was the giant “Ilocos Sur” signage beside the statue of Elpidio Quirino, the sixth President of the Philippines and a proud Bigueño. There it was, the dancing fountain, the old churches and buildings, the sound of townspeople chattering and charming tourists, and the smell of home. Truth be told, I’ve only gone to this beautiful place four times, the first time when I was only a year old so I don’t remember it, once for a two-day vacation during Christmastime, and twice over short Holy Week breaks, which are also appropriately the reunion of our relatives in our hometown, Bantay, the town just a tricycle’s ride north of Vigan. This was the place where I first witnessed the wondrous dramatic performances of the Panunuluyan, Senakulo, and my personal favorite, the Salubong.
Before my last visit, which was way back in 2019, if you asked me what comes to my mind at the mention of Vigan, my answer would only be the dozen bazaars lining up the streets during Semana Santa, the dancing fountain at night in Plaza Salcedo, aunts, uncles, and distant relatives doting on me and my cousins, and angels floating in mid-air when my parents brought five-year-old me to watch the Salubong for the first time. Since that day, naïve little me believed that angels existed, and I started associating Vigan with the concept of my personal heaven on Earth. However, on April 2019, this magical correlation changed. I saw Vigan City as the place that it truly was, not heaven on Earth, but the gist of the history of my country presented in front of me to remember, to appreciate, and to preserve. Somehow, that notion was far better and comforting than heaven.
Vigan began as a trading center and was popular among Chinese settlers, whom referred to the area as “bee gan” which directly translates to “beautiful shores” as the city is surrounded by bodies of water, such the Mestizo, Abra, and Govantes rivers, and most prominently, the South China Sea. The waterways provided the earlier settlers with food, trades, and even protection from territory invaders. This is the reason why there are a number of Chinese-descendant or Filipino-Chinese families in the city even to this day. The influence of the history of the maritime tradeswork can also be seen in the arts and crafts in the city, such as the presence of burnay jars that are sought-after by foreign and local visitors alike, and abel weaving. Of course, the one of the more nationally familiar Filipino culture is the abundance of souvenirs and “pasalubong” delicacies. The famous Calle Crisologo and the two grand plazas that are the center of Bigueño life would attest to how the city is still known as a thriving trading center.