29 years
Community Service
News Magazine
Operated by couple Eddie Flores and Orquidia Valenzuela
News and Views of the
Filipino Community Worldwide

By Becky S. Torres
Photos by Christina Itchon
November 20, 2017


For posterity and continuity, it is  an enriching and nostalgic visit to introduce our children to their ilokano roots, appreciating one’s  past or where our parents and grandparents lived and grew up.

Vigan, a UNESCO heritage site north of Luzon, is an interesting city to visit where one is transported back in time to when  Spain  governed  the Philippines. Vigan’s main attraction  is that it is one of the best preserved towns with Spanish inspired centuries-old ancestral houses  with cobbled  stone streets reverberating with horse drawn kalesas.

Staying in a Vigan House

A visit to Vigan will be complete by staying  an authentic old Spanish house to really get the 'feel' of this heritage city and have the right context for our  sentimental trip back to our roots. We found just the right place in Villa Angela Heritage House, which was built in 1870, and where the guests feel as if the whole house is yours to enjoy.

We were roomed up in the very spacious cuarto  del senor or the master's bedroom which is dominated by a four poster bed complete with canopy. The comedor (dining room)  has a long  huge dining table made of wood. Can you imagine our family of  four  having breakfast of kilawin ti bigbigat  (kilawin in the early morning), Vigan longanisa, scrambled eggs, rice and patupat (a cone-shaped native rice cake wrapped in banana leaves) with ripe mangoes plus hot tsokolate or kape at the far end of this huge dining table? 

Retracing our Ancestors Footsteps

Going around Vigan is not a problem. You can  do a walking tour on your own.  The tour starts at the Fr. Burgos Museum on Burgos St. near  the Ilocos Sur Provincial Capitol (Capitolyo)  where you can feast your eyes on genuine archeological treasures, antiques and dioramas.  

From  the Capitolyo,  you walk towards the St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral and bell tower passing by the city's three plazas, the Plaza Encarnacion, Plaza Salcedo and Plaza Burgos.  Across Plaza Salcedo, you  can see  the one of a kind McDonald's which is not in its usual modern franchise look but  housed in  a structure  consistent with the architectural design of Vigan's Spanish houses.

North  of the cathedral is the Arzobispado or the Archbishop’s Palace,  the official residence of the Archbishop of Nueva Segovia, the only surviving 18th century Arzobispado in the country and it houses the Museo de Nueva Segovia showcasing ecclesiastical artifacts, a throne room, archdiocesan archives gathered from various churches in Ilocos Sur.
  From St. Paul’s  Cathedral,  you can hire a kalesa near the plaza to take you  on a one-hour tour around the city. We enjoyed riding the kalesa and reminiscing our childhood summer vacations in Vigan. It is different and more enjoyable to ride in a kalesa to tour  the city, observing  the day to day life of the Biguenos. 

An important  part of the  cultural tour is  the pagburnayan (jar factory) where the clay potteries are made. The potter  readily gives  a short orientation  on how burnay (earthen jar)  is made starting from mashing the raw clay with the trampling of a carabao. What makes this cultural exposure unforgettable is  when  you  try your hand at making your own burnay.  You can also watch while burnay is 'cooked' in a gigantic wood - fuelled dragon- like kiln or furnace  which our Ilokano ancestors learnt the lucrative burnay craft from the 14th century Chinese traders. 

Another unique experience  is a visit to a Spanish house like  the Syquia Mansion.  We had an orientation on the typical layout of a  Vigan house, from the entresuelo at the foot of  the massive staircase  to the outer sala,  the inner sala which was the formal reception room for special guests and dignitaries, the cuarto de los hijos (boys'  room) and the cuarto del senor where the hijas (girls) also sleep in.  The windows or ventanas have ventanillas (small windows) underneath which are opened during hot summer days to improve ventilation and let the  children peer outside to watch  the goings on in the street below.

Must Try Vigan Food

At the top  of the list is   the sinanglaw served near the Post Office for breakfast, poqui  poqui (broiled eggplant  sauteed with garlic, tomatoes and onions and scrambled with eggs and bagoong), pipian which is a crossbreed of sinigang (sour soup using kamias) na baboy (pork) and manok (chicken) and kare kare (with achuete and finely ground roasted rice). Pipian is not   pipian without  a herb  called pasotes which traces  its roots to Mexico via the Spanish galleon trade. 

Of course, you should not miss the Vigan empanada with sukang iloko with lazuna (onions) which is best eaten at the old Lyric Theatre with the  click clucking sound of  horse-drawn  kalesas passing  by, adding  Vigan ambience to a unique merienda  experience. Empanadas are available only in the  afternoon up to evening. 

Another merienda or dessert fare is the  golden yellow royal bibingka (ground sticky ricecake) of Vigan which is sold near  Plaza Burgos.  You can bring  the hot newly cooked empanada,  bibingka and drinks  to any of the coastal beaches around Vigan like in Sta. Catalina which is just a few short minutes away, roll out an ules on the fine gray sand,  and  enjoy the glorious orange and yellow hues of the sun as it sets in the horizon into the China  Sea.

Create Your Own Reunion Events

Special events were planned such as the first salo-salo dinner/visit of our Itchon ancestral home at the end of  Calle Crisologo and  lunch in the Pinakbet Farm in Caoayan.  We donned our authentic Filipino outfit for a  unique pictorial  in Calle Crisologo  near midnight.  

We also had  a Master Chef challenge in the beach,  organised by a nephew Chef who bought the surprise fresh ingredients early morning from the Vigan Public Market. Each family had two representatives competing to cook  the Vigan inspired dishes, members of  their families rooting for them.

The  Best Time to Visit

Visit Vigan  any time of the year but it is  best to spend at least  3 to 4 days exploring the heritage city. Time your visit with the numerous festivals like the traditional Vigan fiesta and Longanisa Festival  held annually from January 16 to 26  with its climax on Fiesta Day itself, January 25. We enjoyed the street dancing on the Crisologo Heritage Street.

    Vigan is likewise  a popular  destination during the   Semana  Santa (Holy Week) where life-sized santos with authentic jewelry and silk gowns  intricately embroidered with  real gold thread are brought out of their owners’ ancestral homes for the religious procession on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.  A celebration of the city’s rich arts and treasured cultural heritage, the colourful Viva Vigan also commemorates the finding of the Cross by St. Helena, queen mother of King Constantine on  May 3.

It is only during holy week when the silver altar ornament of  the church brought out for the adoration  and all-night vigil on Holy Thursday.  The number of carrozas are numerous  such as St. Peter's, the glass encased coffin of the Santo Entierro,  the Pieta and lastly,  the Mater Dolorosa, the sorrowful Mother. Because of the huge number of devotees, the procession is so long that the first carroza, that of St. Peter,  is already arriving at  the Vigan Cathedral while the tail-end of the procession, the carroza of Mater Dolorosa,  is just leaving the cathedral.

It is really a very spiritual and different experience of Vigan's rich religious and Spanish fiesta heritage, retracing the  footsteps of  our  ancestors and returning to one’s roots.

Photo credits to Christina Itchon, an avid photographer and an 8th generation Itchon

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