Cebu's Sites and Sights In and Out of History
Althea Ricardo leads us down memory lane, through the streets and suburbs that proudly showcase Cebu's history, and then some.
It's hard to enjoy Cebu without feeling like you're stepping into the pages of history. I mean, how often can you say the street you're on was part of a town plan designed by Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi himself? I didn't know you could say actually say that until I bumped into a rather nondescript National Historical Institute marker while exploring Colon Street in downtown Cebu.
Colon Street is the oldest street in the country. It was built in 1565 and named after Christopher Columbus. At its prime, it was the island's center for commercial activity, as well as a host of many social and cultural events. While still lined with shopping malls and other business establishments, Colon Street is a far cry from what it once was. Nevertheless, it still holds its reputation as a shopper's paradise--if you're hunting for bargains.
If you're an astute shopper, you're still bound to find good buys. During this particular jaunt, I saw a guy in dreadlocks dragging a wheeled stand. On display were hundreds of necklaces and bracelets he and his friends made. I bought a necklace with a shiny white shell pendant, which I wear whenever I want to give off a tropical vibe.
Colon Street is part of what was called the Parian District, home to the early Filipino-Chinese. You can still see traces of its old grandeur in several surviving churches and old houses. The mid-19th century bahay-na-bato Casa Gorordo, now a museum under the Aboitiz Foundation, is one of them. The restored structure showcases the elegant lifestyle of Cebu towards the end of the Spanish era. An even older house, which I found more fascinating, is a short walk away: the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House. Built in the 17th century, the old house has been restored and is now home to antiques and old religious relics.
Right across the old house is the relatively new Heritage of Cebu monument built by sculptor Edgardo Castrillo in the late 1990s. It was inaugurated in 2000. The tableau beautifully captures the colorful history of Cebu, from Rajah Humabon's conversion to Christianity, to Lapu-Lapu's battle against the Spaniards, to the beatification of Cebuano martyr Pedro Calungsod in 2000.
While the monument offers a quick virtual tour of the storied island, nothing beats heading off to the actual sites. The Basilica of Santo Niño, one of the oldest churches in the country, and which was built to house a Sto. Niño statue left behind by Ferdinand Magellan's crew, is not far off. The church, first built in 1566, is still one of Cebu's most famous destinations. The story is that the statue--supposedly the same statue that Magellan gave Rajah Humabon when he converted and which turned black because it had survived a fire--sometimes leaves it glass casing and takes a walk around the church.
Several steps and a Chinese bakeshop away is Magellan's Cross, which is said to be encased inside a bigger cross made of tindalo wood, housed inside a small chapel. History says that the cross was erected on the site of the conversion of Rajah Humabon and his tribe. This scene is depicted in a mural on the small chapel's ceiling.
More than the church and the cross, however, I was awed by the Magellan Shrine and the Lapu-Lapu Shrine, which stand back-to-back all the way in Punta Engaño, Mactan Island, on the same spot where Magellan allegedly died at the hands of Mactan's tribal chieftain in 1521. Magellan's memorial shrine showcases a thirty-meter-high tower, while Lapu-Lapu's shrine feature a 20-meter bronze statue. Legend has it that Lapu-Lapu never died. Holding his spear, he turned into a stone statue, which was placed in front of the old city hall.
Of course, not everything is Spanish or Catholic in Cebu's history, given its long history of trade with the Chinese. Three hundred meters above sea level, in a subdivision called Beverly Hills in Lahug, stands the colorful, multilevel Taoist Temple. The temple is open to the public, and many visit it to make a wish. From the temple's balconies, you can enjoy a view of downtown Cebu.
Also in Lahug is Busay Hills, at the top of which is a tourist destination called, well, The Tops. It's a huge viewing deck paved with hexagonal blocks and with a cylindrical covered seating area. At night, you can see the lights of the city and, sometimes, when the sky is clear, the island of Bohol. It's worth the trip, because the half-hour drive introduces you to the less familiar side of Cebu that is green and mountainous and not just flat and sparkling white with beaches.
Which brings us to the beaches. Mactan Island is home to more than 20 beautiful beaches, the most famous of which is Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa. You can take your pick among a smorgasbord of resort choices, from high-end to low budget, within the capital and the many islands nearby.
But travelers who want the road less traveled can easily find their own powdery pockets of paradise, because wherever you are in Cebu, the sun and surf is not very far away. That's one thing your history books won't say.
What are you waiting for? Basta Pinas, Laag Na!
Althea Lauren Ricardo is Palanca-Award-winning freelance features writer and a regular columnist for The Freeman, a Cebu daily newspaper. She is working on her MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University while working full-time at an English training company.