Viva Ilocandia: A Time Traveller In Vigan
(Part 1 of a series)
Have you ever wished that you could turn back time and see for yourself how a place looked like centuries ago? Well, in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, you can do just that.
An 8-hour ride northwards from Manila will take you to the famed provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur (Northern and Southern Ilocos), just two of the most historical tourist attractions in the Philippines.
The locals refer to the two collectively as Ilocandia because the province just seems to go on forever. In fact, the northwestern most tip of the Luzon island is a well-known beach called Pagudpud, which is found in Ilocos Norte.
A Long Winding Road To Vigan City
To get to Vigan City, you need to traverse as much as 400km of roads that wound around rivers, mountains, rice paddies, cemeteries and residential areas. The trip can be pretty boring, and taking a night bus is advisable so that you won’t miss out on the many daytime activities that you can engage in once you arrive in Ilocandia.
You know that you are very near the historic city of Vigan once you pass by the majestic Banaoang Bridge.
This beautiful steel hanging bridge connects two mountains across the Abra River. On a really clear day, the sparkling blue of the water below and the soft blue of the sky above provide motorists with a panoramic scene that is truly breath-taking.
And just like all the other places in Ilocandia, this bridge has its own story to tell. The bridge is actually officially known as Quirino Bridge, named after one of the former presidents of the Philippines.
Over time, however, people have taken to calling it the Banaoang Bridge because it is found between the towns of Banaoang and Bantay.
This scenic bridge is not just all about beauty. It is also lauded for its strength and stability for having survived the bombings during World War II.
Approaching the bridge from the south, you will be treated to an awe-inspiring view of mountain, river and sky. The bridge has become so popular as a tourist attraction in its own right that the local government has erected a viewing deck for passengers to get off their vehicles and snap photos of this truly splendid architectural creation.
A new bridge parallel to Banaoang was recently built to accommodate the increased traffic to and from the northern areas of Ilocos, but the former does not hold a candle to the beauty of the original bridge built over the mighty Abra River.
Vigan City Architecture
Some people say that an old building can speak volumes about bygone times, and the structures in Vigan City can certainly fill pages and pages with stories about the past.
In Vigan, it’s all about immersing yourself in history by admiring the well-preserved architectural wonders that have withstood the test of time.
The city is so beautiful and so culturally-unique that the UNESCO has conferred on it the title of a World Heritage Site. Vigan was established as a city and trading post in the late 16th century, but to this day the town still bears the architectural influences of the Spanish colonizers.
Other elements from European, Chinese and Philippine architecture are also apparent in the ancestral houses, administrative buildings and parks that are located in the heart of the city.
You know you’ve arrived in Vigan as it was during the Spanish era when you pass by Calle Crisologo, a place that has not changed much in the last 300 years.
This half-kilometer stretch of cobblestoned street is lined with restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops where tourists can enjoy the unique atmosphere of Vigan.
The streets in the old quarter are arranged like a grid and are easy enough to navigate, thanks to the practical design ideas of the Spaniards. If you want to have a more authentic experience, hire a carretela to take you through the area.
The buildings may look old and run-down, but don’t be fooled by appearances. After all, they have been built by the richest Chinese traders who did not spare any expense in creating the grandest and most expensive house on the street.
The walls of the houses are made of thick brick plastered with red clay, and the roofs are tiled to survive earthquakes.
The entryways are barred by big, heavy wooden doors that are big enough to accommodate a mid-sized carretela or a woman in a full hoop-skirt.