Discovering the Heritage Downtown in Cebu City, Philippines

Earning the moniker "The Queen City of the South", Cebu City is a seductive destination that emanates with rich cultural heritage. This handsome city packed with old colonial churches, polished museums and old fashioned edifices that stood the test of time, is a favourite of most foreign tourists in the Philippines.

Cebu City is considered as the oldest city in the Philippines and most, if not all architectural masterpieces left are bittersweet memories of the long epoch of Spanish colonial rule. Downtown Cebu is an impeccable destination for  tracing some pieces of its history as well as charming photo opportunities. Here are some places you can explore around downtown:

Fort San Pedro

Triangular in shape, the smallest and oldest fort in the Philippines sits along the coast of downtown Cebu. Fort San Pedro construction began in 1565 to resist Moro raiders. It is home to the first Spanish settlement in the country -- Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus.

Carbon Market

Carbon market is Cebu city's oldest and biggest produce market; a typical Filipino market packed with all kinds of goods like cheap souvenirs, artistic handicrafts, fresh vegetables, fish, live poultry and dried intestines. It was named Carbon market because it served as a depository of mountains of coals that runs the old steam train nearby.

Magellan's Cross

Housed inside an octagonal chapel with divinely murals painted on the ceiling depicting the first mass and the planting of the original cross in Cebu's shore is the legendary Magellan's Cross. The cross encased inside the towering wooden cross is believed to be the original cross used by Magellan according to the inscription on the plaque.

Basilica Minore Del Santo Niño

The oldest religious relic in the Philippines -- the image of the Santo Niño (the Holy Child Jesus) is housed in Basilica Minore Del Santo Niño. This was the image that Ferdinand Magellan gave to Queen Juana as a gift during the baptism of King Humabon and his wife Queen Juana in 1521. The wooden image of the Holy Child is the center image that is used in the grandest festival in Cebu called Sinulog Festival.

Basilica Minore Del Santo Niño was burnt down three times and the present church proudly standing was reconstructed in 1735. Be captivated by the lavishly designed interiors, beautiful ceiling murals, and a dreamy courtyard with a lovely vintage fountain, impressive altar manned by various Saints and throngs of Catholic devotees.

Outside the mammoth church, do check out the The Prayer and Candle Court crowded with religious devotees and bonfire of candles. Another must-see is the Pilgrim Center fronting the Basilica Minore Del Santo Niño which was built to accommodate the growing numbers of pilgrims during novena, mass and pilgrimage.

Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral

A colossal white colonial church with thick walls is the seat of the Archdiocese of Cebu. This dreamy historical church quietly stands a few metres away from the bustling Basilica Minore Del Santo Niño. At the back of the church there is a mausoleum where the remains of the departed Catholic bishops are buried.

Cathedral Museum of Cebu

This ecclesiastical museum of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu is a typical example of an old colonial house. It consist of several galleries which showcases photographs of the  rise of Catholicism in Cebu, a collection of statues of different saints, chalices, priest vest among others.

Rajah Humabon Monument

Fronting the Cathedral Museum of Cebu is a humble park where the forgotten statue of Rajah Humabon sits. Rajah Humabon is an indigenous chieftain in the Philippines who first embraced Christianity upon the arrival of the Spanish colonizers led by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer.

Magellan then gave the iconic image of the Santo Niño (the Holy Child Jesus) to Raja Humabon's wife -- Queen Juana. Before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the indigenous locals of Cebu were involved in the South East Asian maritime trade with East Indian, Siamese and Chinese traders. The Rajah Humabon statue portrays him with a turban, a loin cloth, tribal ornaments and paint on his face and body.

Colon Street

Also known as the Parian, Colon Street is located a few metres away from Rajah Humabon's monument. It is the oldest street in the Philippines constructed by the Spaniards in 1565 and named after the explorer Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus).

Marked by an obelisk, this old commercial hub in Cebu is bustling with old restaurants, some souvenir shops, and movie and shop houses.

Heritage of Cebu Monument

The Heritage of Cebu Monument is an evocative sculpture of national artist Edgardo Castrillo highlighting the rich history of Cebu. This monumental artwork is located in the Old Parian district where the Chinese merchants and Filipino entrepreneurs used to live during the Spanish colonial era.

Yap-San Diego Ancestral House

This ancestral house owned by Don Juan Yap, a Chinese merchant and his wife Doña Maria Florida is my personal favourite. I wasn't able to enter though because it seemed like there was no one around at that time, or perhaps they couldn't hear me knocking and calling outside the gate. But I was able to take a peek inside through its open window and was stoked by its extensive collection of antique dinnerware, Chinese jars, glasses, artworks, and old paintings displayed on the first floor. 

The house itself is an old colonial house made out of wood, coral stones, capiz window and a roof made out of bricks. It is truly a great heritage masterpiece and I love the way they arranged and displayed the heirlooms here.   Yap-San Diego Ancestral House is highly recommended if you're planning to visit Cebu City.

Another must-see old structure in the Old Parian plaza is the Jesuit House of 1730 but I had a hard time locating it.

Casa Gorordo Museum

This lofty home of the first bishop of Cebu -- Juan Gorordo is found along Lopez Jaena Street set in an adorable manicured garden. The house is an epitome of bahay-na-bato where the upper part of the house is made of wood and capiz window while the lower part is built out of stone. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside, unlike in the charming Yap San Diego house. Typical antique furniture, paintings and rooms decorated with heirlooms, reminds me of the house museums I visited before.

Downtown Cebu is just one of the many places that tourists can explore in this pleasant old city. Cebu is one of the top tourist destinations in the Philippines because of its rich cultural heritage, cool travel adventures and gastronomic delights.

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