Walking Carcar
CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren (The Philippine Star) - February 5, 2016 - 9:00am

This week, we continue with the third in a series on Philippine plazas, parks and open spaces. The choice of location is random. Today, we visit Cebu and the Heritage City of Carcar, specifically its central plaza and the Carcar rotunda, beside which everyone stops to buy the city’s famous chicharon.

The town of Carcar was established at the end of the 16th century and is one of the oldest in the province of Cebu. It has a population of just over 100,000, making it a secondary hub on the highway south of the provincial capital. It was declared a city a decade ago and continues to grow.

Contrary to its name, Carcar did not make any vehicles. It was famous for its footwear industry. It was the Marikina of Cebu and produced the province’s sandals and shoes from the American colonial period until the industry petered out in the 1970s. Other than for the feet, Carcar produced for the stomach — ampao, bucarillo and chicharon are what it still is famous for.

Carcar is also known for its heritage. It was declared a Heritage Town a few years ago. Its two main streets are lined with heritage homes and structures. We focus this article on the city’s heritage of open spaces defined by these structures.

The city’s main plaza is situated on a knoll off the main highway. In olden times, this gave commanding views of the sea located over a kilometer southeast. The old town was moved here to protect it from raiders.

 

 

 

 

The plaza, like most from that era, was built according to the Laws of the Indies, with the municipio, church and other important structures defining its borders. At about 8,000 sqm., Carcar Plaza is smaller than most in the province. This is probably because they had to fit the structures and space on the little knoll. Other town plazas are on large flat sites.

The main landmark contained in the plaza as you reach the top of the knoll is a tall monument to Dr. Jose Rizal that was built in the 1920s. There are three other vertical elements in the plaza fronting the church and convent complex to the northwestern end of the plaza. All are religious in nature and apparently built in different eras because of their diverse styles.

These statues and monument sit in separate little islands in a sea of asphalt. The city hall complex on the Southeastern side of the plaza is also fronted by asphalt and acts as a parking lot for government vehicles. All this paving makes for a harsh setting for pedestrians and visitors and does little to complement the half dozen heritage structures around the plaza.

There are two other statues in the vicinity, making this plaza more populated than the average Philippine plaza. One is a religious icon in a fenced-off devotional garden that seems to have been a donated lot. The other is the equestrian statue of Leon Kilat, the Negros-born leader of the Katipunan movement who was killed in Carcar. As elegant as this monument is, it sits oddly unbalanced on one side of the angled approach up the knoll. It is also fenced off the side and rear by unsightly painted corrugated sheets providing hardly any foreground to appreciate the statue properly.

The structures defining the plaza from the left of the Rizal monument clockwise include the Uphill Elementary school (literally up the hill) built in 1905, the mid-19th-century convent and church of St. Catherine, named after the town’s patron saint, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Catherine’s College built in 1921, the Carcar Museum in distinctive American “stick” style (also from the American period) and finally the City Hall complex, recently renovated emulating the same style of the museum but not with great aesthetic success.

Also not so successful is the extension to the Padre A. del Corro Building (1921), which houses St. Catherine’s College. The modern annex tried to mimic the original neo-classic style, but it appears half-baked. It may have been better to just use a neutral color scheme to meld the two. The structure also sits too close to the older building, physically and visually choking it.

The Carcar Museum, however, is a successful adaptive re-use of the old Carcar Dispensary building that was built by Mayor Mariano Mercado. The museum structure is well conserved and worth a visit. Other than this structure, Mercado was responsible for key landmarks of Carcar built in the 1930s, including the Rizal monument and the Carcar rotunda.

The Carcar rotunda is the most famous of the city’s landmarks because everyone passes this on the highway. In the center is an ornate gazebo topped by an allegorical statue of Mother America pointing the way for Filipinas. Standing at the rotunda’s four corners are male and female couples representing the regions of the Philippines.

The rotunda was almost demolished a few years ago because of a scheme for road widening. Fortunately, this was stopped but the rotunda and, in fact, many heritage homes and buildings on the highway are threatened by increasing traffic.

The Carcar Plaza and rotunda are both distinctive and rich in heritage. I rate it a 6.5 out of 10. The plaza could use some fixing up with better urban design and landscape. More trees and greenery are needed to frame all its heritage structures, replace the overwhelming expanse of asphalt, and make it more pedestrian and visitor-friendly.

The plaza could also be better connected to the city’s main heritage street across the main highway and to its signature rotunda nearby. Urban growth and increasing traffic are the bane of heritage conservation. Most Philippine cities are besieged by the tyranny of the car and Carcar has suffered from the same affliction. Parks are replaced by parking, and architectural aesthetics suffer from a lack of proper direction.

Despite all this, I do hope you all find your way to Carcar for its heritage and for the chicharon.

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Feedback is welcome. Please email the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

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