IMAGINE sitting in a horse and cart being clopped slowly through cobbled streets. Old wagon wheels line the paved walkways with white washed houses leaning heavily above them into the street. Dogs sleep in the doorways of old villas to soak up the warmth of the morning sun. Dark haired women hang washing from their wooden balconies.
With its mansions, cobblestone streets and horse carts, Vigan in north Luzon is considered the second greatest architectural legacy of the Spaniards in the Philippines, behind Intramuros in Manila. It received UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1999 and is considered Asia’s best surviving Spanish colonial town. Today it’s still possible to find vestiges of this era in Vigan. Here are five ways you can really transport yourself back to that time:
One of the transportation means in Vigan remains the calesa – a horse drawn vehicle. While used a lot by tourists, locals can still be seen utilising them to send children to school or help carry the shopping home. The clip clopping of the calesa is particularly atmospheric down the cobble stone street of Mena Crisologo.
Mena Crisologo street
Nowhere is the traditional way of life in Vigan more apparent than on Mena Crisologo Street. This is the only cobbled street left and is considered the height of the town’s colonial history. The narrow winding road is clearly reminiscent of the 17th century. Old wagon wheels are placed along the street, lanterns line the pavements and lovely antique furniture is sold from the wooden doorways of old houses.
St Paul’s church
When the Spanish arrived in 1521 they immediately built churches and St Paul’s was one of these. The original was built in 1574 but was since damaged by earthquakes and reconstructed in what has been termed ‘earthquake baroque’ style – this basically means extra thick walls.
This plaza outside St Paul’s church was named after the young conquistador Juan de Salcedo who was given the commission to govern the province. There is a covered area inside the plaza where performances are sometimes held during festivals and important events. However the best performance to acquaint yourself with is the making of traditional gob-smacking foods in the plaza such as empanadas (patties) and kalamay (sticky cake stuffed into bamboo).
For a closer look at life in Vigan under Spanish rule visit this museum on Liberation Blvd. It is also a good showcase of the Marcos years. The house was the home of the Crisologos, a wealthy family in the Ilocos Province of which Mena Crisologo was governor. The house is filled with their old colonial furniture and possessions with dresses still hanging in the wardrobes and brushes waiting on the dresser as if they had never left.