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Vigan Spanish colonial style city in the Philippines

The City of Vigan in Ilocos province, Philippines, is a uniquely well-preserved Spanish style city on the other side of the world from Spain. Its origins go back to the Spanish conquistadores who arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century and it was an important trading post for centuries before that. The Spanish brought with them their building styles, houses, churches and religion, and created a city which mixes Spanish, Filipino and Chinese influences.

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]As elsewhere in the Philippines, when you walk around Vigan, you get a curious sense of geographical displacement. Am I in Spain? Or in Latin America? Vigan is of course, located in the northern western part of the Philippine archipelago, south of China, but over 7000 miles (11200 km 6250 nautical miles) from Spain. Manila is 254 miles (407 km) away by road.

The main characteristic of Vigan, and the reason for its UNESCO World Heritage status, is the fact that is exceptionally intact and well preserved Spanish-style town. The architecture, though showing signs of moderate decay, exudes a strong feeling of life in past centuries.

Today the streets are full of noisy tricycles, jeepneys and cars, but calesas (horse drawn carriages) still ply the streets, carrying mostly tourists.

Architectural models in the main square give an overview of the city with its grid pattern, squares, city walls and Spanish style churches. As you ride in a calesa, and look at the famous Vigan-style houses with their beautiful though decaying facades, it's not difficult to imagine how the rich merchants of Chinese origin, must have lived.

The Padre Burgos museum is housed in the former home of priest patriot Father Jose Burgos. The house now contains historical artifacts and exhibits, but I preferred to imagine how it must have been when it was still a private home with original furniture and personal effects.

View onto the street from Vigan Padre Burgos Museum

The main attractions of Vigan include the Plaza Salcedo - the main square with ponds and monuments - the smaller Plaza Burgos, the St Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, the long straight streets to the south of the cathedral, and many other mansions, museums parks, churches and cathedrals.

On 2 December 1999, Vigan was proclaimed a world heritage site, one of only five in the Philippines. This exalted status is helping to drive forward the restoration and reconstruction of the city and and is attracting more and more tourists.

Vigan dusk view from cathedral tower

Sadly our half-day visit was far too brief to experience all the attractions of Vigan and I plan to return again for a longer visit soon.

Click to see all Vigan city photographs on this site

See the Vigan City website

The Vigan page on the Unesco website


Name: Manny Santos
Country: USA
My compliments, Kabalen! Your articles about my "mother country", particularly the one of Vigan, were very informative The photos are also nice!

Conversely, I heard many interesting stories about England from my father who was stationed in London during WWll. Years ago, my wife and I dined at Rules (roast beef & yorkshire pudding) and learned that Charles Dickens used to go there too. That was cool!

Ang matanda from Las Vegas, Manny

Thanks very much for your comments, I appreciate them very much. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding are very nice, but being married to a Filipina and going to lots of Filipino parties I tend to eat Adobo, Pancit and fried rice most of the time these days!


Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2005-09-26

Aidan O'RourkeAidan O'Rourke has been active in photography and online media since 1995. He has documented the development of the local area in his Eyewitness website (1997-2005) and as a contributor to books, publications and the Manchester Evening News. He runs his Eyewitness photography walks in Manchester, Liverpool and other locations. He offers one-to-one tuition in Photography and Languages. He is a high-level speaker of German and can offer photography walks and tours through the medium of German. Visit www.aidan.co.uk

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