WHS: Historic City of Vigan, Philippines

After our amusing attempt at finding the Neolithic Shell Middens, it was off to the west coast of Luzon; and after stopping at Saint Augustine Church in Paoay our next visit was another double crown site, both the first inaugurated of the New 7 Wonders Cities and a World Heritage Site:

Historic City of Vigan

Vigan, Philippines


Vigan is the most intact example in Asia of a planned Spanish colonial town, established in the 16th century. Its architecture reflects the coming together of cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines and from China with those of Europe and Mexico to create a unique culture and townscape without parallels anywhere in East and South-East Asia.

An important trading post before the colonial era, Vigan is located at the river delta of Abra River, along the northwestern coastline of the main island of Luzon, in the Province of Ilocos Sur, Philippine Archipelago. The total area of the inscribed property is 17.25 hectares. The traditional Hispanic checkerboard street plan opens up into two adjacent plazas. The Plaza Salcedo is the longer arm of an L-shaped open space, with the Plaza Burgos as the shorter. The two plazas are dominated by the St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, the City Hall and the Provincial Capitol Building.

The urban plan of the town closely conforms with the Renaissance grid plan specified in the Ley de la Indias for all new towns in the Spanish Empire. There is, however, a noticeable difference between Vigan and contemporary Spanish colonial towns in Latin America in the Historic Core (known as the Mestizo district), where the Latin tradition is tempered by strong Chinese, Ilocano, and Filipino influences. As its name implies, this district was settled by affluent families of mixed Chinese-Ilocano origin. The area contains the historic footprint of the entire town and consists of a total of 233historic buildings tightly strung along a grid of 25 streets.

The two storey structures are built of brick and wood, with a steeply pitched roof reminiscent of traditional Chinese architecture. The exterior walls of the upper storey are enclosed by window panels of kapis shells framed in wood which can be slid back for better ventilation. Most of the existing buildings were probably built in the mid 18th to late 19th centuries. Due to the economic decline of Vigan as an economic center after the World War II, only a few of the historic buildings had internal reorganization for alternative use. The Chinese merchants and traders conducted their business from shops, offices and storerooms on the ground floors of their houses, with the living quarters above. In addition to the domestic and commercial architecture, Vigan possesses a number of significant public buildings, which also show multi-cultural influences.

Vigan is unique for having preserved much of its Hispanic colonial character, particularly its grid street pattern and historic urban lay out. Its significance also lies on how the different architectural influences are blended to create a homogenous townscape.

Vigan took a couple attempts to be listed as a World Heritage Site, as it doesn’t compare in scale to the fortress cities like Cartagena in South America; but it is definitely its own special fusion that retains a good bit more of the original buildings than most colonial cities of its class.

This is the cathedral, where the New 7 Wonder inauguration was held:

Vigan, Philippines

which anchors one end of the main Plaza Sancredo, looking out across the Dancing Fountain to the Provincial Capitol:

Vigan, Philippines

As you see in the lead picture there, horse carts are the tourist conveyance of choice here — but since hey, it’s only 17 hectares, we walked it to get good up close looks and tours of various haciendas and the like:

Vigan, Philippines

Shopping and sightseeing here are a good relaxation stop after our last couple days of hard driving, and the buildings look even prettier once the lights come out at night:

Vigan, Philippines


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Vigan has experienced a massive surge in development since these double crowns were bestowed upon it; apparently the historic area used to be pretty much empty and shut down by dinner time, and now it’s, if not exactly a party town yet, it’s certainly becoming much more commercial. So visit it soon before the tourists take it over completely!

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