Cebu City is the bustling capital of Southern Philippines. Like any other growing city. , it is chaotic yet vibrant and baffling yet energetic. A booming nightlife and an evolving culinary scene are slowly yet surely creating an alternative to the resilient city of Manila.
Apart from being an ideal base to explore the beautiful and famous islands of Mactan and Bohol, Cebu also boasts of a few colonial-era gems in old forts, colossal churches and historic national symbols. The exciting unique public transport in “Jeepneys” (American war trucks modified into taxis) is another reason why you should make the most of your time while hopping off to the nearby exotic islands.
The Spaniards first arrived in the Philippines on 7th April 1521, which marked the beginning of the country’s Spanish colonization. Ferdinand Magellan, considered to be one of the World’s greatest navigators and explorers, received friendly treatment from the locals and he was successful in baptizing 800 natives. To commemorate this event, he planted a large wooden cross (21st April 1921) in the public square of the market where the first Christian mass of the country was conducted. This cross later came to be known as Magellan’s Cross.
The current cross is made of Tindalo Wood and encases the remnants of the original cross. However, Magellan met his end on 28th April, 1528, during his endeavour to acquaint himself with other nearby islands. The other natives were not as friendly as Cebu’s. Thus his name remained sketched in history of the island country. 44 years passed until the next Spanish explorer reached the shores of Cebu. Miguel Lopez de Legaspi visited the island with the intent of conquering it and establishing a permanent settlement. He faced stiff resistance from the natives which led to the birth of Fort San Pedro.
Fort San Pedro
If not for the street signs or Google Maps, one might miss noticing the oldest and smallest fort of Philippines. From facing imminent demolition in the 1960s to being one of the most popular heritage monuments of the island nation, Fort San Pedro withstood the vagaries of time with commendable aplomb. A walled enclosure amidst the bustling Cebu city, this fort is an epitome of the city’s tumultuous past. Built way back in 1565, the triangular fort spreads over an area of two square km. Two sides face the sea and the third one which forms the entrance faces the land. It has been used for multiple purposes as late as the early part of the 20th century.
The Philippines Government (Department of Tourism) along with the Cebu City council and few other history connoisseurs were instrumental in preserving this priceless monument. Built by the Spaniards for protection from hostile natives and pirates, the construction of the Fort ended in 1738 (200 years after it started to be built). The Fort served different purposes at various times in the island’s history – as a prison camp for rebels, as a barrack during American rule, as a classroom during 1937 – 41 where many Cebuanos received formal education, as a hideout for Japanese soldiers during World War II and even as an emergency hospital during the battle for liberation until 1946.
Basilica Del Santo Nino
Fort San Pedro and the magnificent Basilica Del Santo Nino were built (in 1565) by the Spanish conqueror Miguel Lopez de Legaspi to signify and consolidate the rule of Spanish in the islands. Considered to be Cebu’s holiest Church, it has miraculously withstood two major fires, bombings during WW II and one devastating earthquake. The current Baroque structure dates back to 1737. Ferdinand Magellan had presented a small wooden figure of baby Jesus.
The elaborately dressed figure was believed to be of Belgian origin and was presented to the then Chieftain’s wife as a token of appreciation for their conversion to Christianity. After his death, the figure disappeared (it was possibly stolen) and wasn’t found until 1565. The current church is built on the site where it was found.
In all the ensuing bombings, earthquake and fires, the little figurine of Jesus remains unscathed. Easily the oldest Church of Philippines, the Basilica is the most prominent religious landmark of Cebu city. Replete with colourful frescoes, gilded pillars, ostentatious chandeliers and life-size statues, it is a must-visit for every worshipper and non-worshipper.
Visit Mactan – The luxury island of Cebu
The nearby resort city of Mactan is perfect for leisure beach getaway if you do not want to travel into other islands of the Philippines. The beautiful island gives a run for its money to any other faraway and remote island of the country. It boasts of powdery white sand beaches, colourful corals, Prussian blue waters and a marine sanctuary. It has been set up by the tourism authorities as a hub for luxury beach resorts. Consisting of a water park as well, it’s one of the best bet in the Philippines if you are travelling with kids. Visit the Mactan Shrine which commemorates the last fight of Magellan which led to his demise.
Try Lechon – The best in the World
American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once said, “Cebu has the best pig in the World.” He was referring to the Puerto Rican national dish called Lechon – a whole pig roasted over charcoal. Widely consumed in the Philippines it is considered to be one of the best-prepared dishes in the country. A few family farmhouses offer an authentic experience of having Lechon served with rice, pig blood stew and water.
Have you visited Cebu City? If so let us know all about your experiences in the comments below.