Vigan: The wonder city
Lester Gopela Hallig (The Philippine Star) - August 17, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - There is something about old houses and old cities that tap into our systems. It must be the sense of connection, silent and enduring, that binds us to these remnants of glories past. So when the invitation to visit Vigan was brought up, we just had to say yes.

Coming to Vigan felt like, funnily enough, old times. The well-preserved European architecture of houses and buildings practically zapped us back to those eras of the simpler life. Our host, Hotel Felicidad, has made it its business to keep the traditions alive, to become the best representation of the city itself.

Hotel Felicidad consultant Bonito Singson said that the hotel features materials from the original structure, faithfully adapted to the building’s restoration. By “original structure,” Singson was referring to the building of Dr. Filadelfo Rosario de Leon Sr. and his wife Primitiva Encarnacion Donato.

“The original fixtures are still intact: the entrance hall, the staircase, the grand sala, the terrace and the bedrooms. It took time to get it right because it involved intensive research on our part,” he said.

Singson added that the original building boasted meter-thick oven-baked brick walls, wide and tall wooden window casings, high ceilings, narra floors and window panes on tongue and groove railings.

“The modern features, from plumbing to electrical, are all hidden from view to retain the old-world charm of the building,” he said. “What we have done here is similar to Vigan itself, a place where past and present seamlessly meld into each other.”

To further prove his point, Singson led us on a tour of some of Vigan’s popular spots. Among our first stops were the Syquia, Crisologo and Arce mansions. The first was the house of former President Elpidio Quirino, the second belonged to the late congressman Floro Crisologo and the third was owned by a buena familia of the same name. All three mansions have since been converted into museums, with family memorabilia as main attractions. It was heartening to witness visitors eager to know about the respective histories of each mansion, hanging on to what the tour guides were saying.

How could we miss the famous Calle Crisologo, a practical museum of a street which lines up one ancestral house after another?

We were also brought to churches such as the Conversion of Saint Paul Cathedral (also known simply as Vigan Cathedral) and to the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Charity and bell tower in Bantay. If anything, these attractions are further proof that heritage cities can, indeed, survive in this modern world. While other towns and cities are being eaten up, slowly but savagely, by commercial considerations, Vigan continues to uphold the dignity of its heritage. Here, the modern world had to adapt to Vigan’s terms, not the other way around.

For those who want to see a little more of the city’s traditional commercial practices, visit the Pagburnayan, where traditional burnay jars are made; the local longganiza makers; and the abel weavers. One can tell that these trades have been going on for generations. Most of these people are descendants of pioneering weavers and makers, a business zealously kept by families.

“We have always been very proud of our history and culture,” Singson declared. “That is why we have consciously taken care of our city. I would know, having been born and raised in Vigan, that what you see here is the product of the Ilocanos’ resilience and hard work. As the center of trade, commerce and culture in the north, we will continue to become more progressive without sacrificing our traditions. After all, Vigan is a repository of culture.”

The last point is indeed valid, especially now that Vigan is a finalist in the New 7 Wonders Cities of the world. The voting competition chooses the top seven heritage cities. Vigan is one of 21 finalist-cities, which includes Bangkok, Barcelona, Beirut, Chicago, Doha, Durban, Havana, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, La Paz, London, Mendoza, Mexico City, Mumbai, Perth, Quito, Reykjavik, Saint Petersburg, Seoul and Shenzhen.

Vigan Mayor Eva Marie Medina remarked, “For Vigan to be counted among these cities is huge for us. This is not only to bring pride to Vigan but to the entire country.”

Mayor Medina said that the recognition alone is enough to bolster the number of tourists in the city. “We enjoy a yearly average of 450,000 tourists. Whether we make it to the top seven or not, we still hope that more people would be encouraged to check us out and see what we have to offer.”

Our host agreed. “We have to take into account that this is a worldwide contest. The name Vigan City is being published and mentioned all over the world in different languages. The exposure alone is very significant. Whether we will be included eventually is another thing. It will be a big boost.”

The most important thing, averred Singson, is to maintain the character of the city, the heritage side in one and the modern in the other.

He explained, “When we decided to put up Hotel Felicidad, for example, the decision was to ensure that the hotel will represent the character and tradition that Vigan is very proud of. That is why we have our taglines ‘A travel back in time’ and ‘Ilocano heritage hospitality at its best.’ We are trying to convince the other hotels that if a renovation was necessary, maintain the character of Vigan as a cultural center of Ilocanos.”

“Local and foreign tourists want to experience something old and new. These experienced travelers would come to Vigan and say we are the best in terms of hospitality, attractions and amenities. From our end, we make sure you will not be disappointed. And like us, you will be very proud of our heritage,” Singson concluded.

Well, we require no further convincing: we already are proud of this Heritage City.

* * *

(Vote Vigan for New 7 Wonders Cities at www.n7w.com/en/cities. Hotel Felicidad is located at #9 V. de los Reyes St. corner Florentino St., Vigan City, Ilocos Sur. For more information, call +63 917-8568309, +63939-9252402, +63 77-722-0008, or email hotelfelicidad_vigan@yahoo.com) Photos by FERNAN NEBRES

 

 

BONITO SINGSON CITIES CITY COM HOTEL FELICIDAD SINGSON VIGAN VIGAN CITY WONDERS CITIES
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