Vigan is an island, which used to be detached from the mainland
by three rivers - the great Abra River, the Mestizo River and the
Govantes River. It is unique among the Philippine towns because
it is the countrys most extensive and only surviving historic
city that dates back to the 15th century Spanish colonial period.
Vigan was an important coastal trading post in precolonial times.
Long before the Spanish galleons, Chinese junks sailing from the
South China Sea came to Isla de Bigan through the Mestizo River
that surrounded the island. On board were sea-faring merchants that
came to barter exotic goods from Asian kingdoms in exchange for
gold, beeswax and other mountain products brought down by natives
from the Cordilleras. Immigrants, mostly Chinese, settled in Vigan,
intermarried with the natives and started the multi-cultural bloodline
of the Bigueños.
In the book, The Philippine Island, Vol. III, p. 276, Blair and
Robertson, two letters of Governor General Guido de Lavezares to
King Philip II of Spain mentions: It seemed best to send Captain
Juan de Salcedo with 70 or 80 soldiers to people the coast of Los
Ilocano on the shores of the river called Bigan. Salcedo then
sailed from Manila on May 20, 1572 and arrived in Vigan on June
Thus, after the successful expedition and exploration of the North,
Don Juan de Salcedo founded Villa Fernandina de Vigan
in honor of King Philip IIs son, Prince Ferdinand who died
at the tender age of four. From Vigan, Salcedo rounded the tip of
Luzon and proceeded to pacify Camarines, Albay, and Catanduanes.
As a reward for his services to the King, Salcedo was awarded
the old province of Ylocos which then composed of the Ilocos Norte,
Ilocos Sur, Abra, La Union and some part of Mountain Province as
his Encomienda and was accorded the title as Justicia Mayor de esta
Provincia de Ylocos.
In January 1574, Salcedo returned to the capital of his Encomienda,
Vigan, bringing with him some Augustian Missionaries to pioneer
the evangelization of Ylocos and established a Spanish city, for
the purpose of controlling the neighboring country.
Governor General Gomez Perez Darmarinas, in his Account of Encomienda
dated in Manila on May 31, 1591 states: The town of Vigan
called Villa Fernandina has five or six Spanish citizens with one
priest, a Justice, one Alcalde Mayor (Governor) and a Deputy. The
King collects 800 tributes (equivalent to 3,200 subjects). During
this period, the old Vigan was composed of 19 barrios.
In 1645-1660, Vigan was already divided into 21 Cavezas de Barangay
as mentioned in the Libro de Casamiento, the oldest
records of the parish house of Vigan found in its Archives. Separated
from the naturales, the Chinese have their own place of settlement
called pariancillo, Los Sangleyes del parian and the
Spaniards were residents in a villa called Los Españoles
de la Villa.
How Vigan got its name is told from an anecdote carried by the
tongue of generations, which tells of a Spaniard walking along the
banks of the Mestizo River. There, he met a native of the place
and stopped to inquire: Como se Ilama usted de esta lugar?
Not understanding a word of Spanish, the native scratched
his head and upon seeing that the Spaniard was pointing to a plant,
exclaimed in Ilocano: Bigaa Apo. Bigaa being Alcasia
Macroniza, a giant Taro plant belonging to the Gabi family which
used to thrive at the bank of the Mestizo River. From the name of
the plant Bigaa, whence Vigan derived its name.
Road to Cityhood
RECTION OF THE DIOCESE OF NUEVA SEGOVIA AND THE
CUIDAD FERNANDINA DE VIGAN
The Episcopal See of Manila was erected by Pope Gregory XVIII
with the publication of his Bull Fulti Praesidio on December 21,
1581. It was elevated into a Metropolitan Church on August 14, 1595
through the Bull of erection of Pope Clement VIII with the Diocese
of Santsimo Nombre de Jesus in Cebu, the Diocese of Nueva Caceres
in Naga and the Diocese of Nueva Segovia in Lallo, Cagayan as its
The Bull of Pope Clement VIII likewise elevated the seat of the
four diocese including Lallo, Cagayan to the dignity of a city being
the center of evangelization in their respective territories.
For 160 years from 1595 to 1758, all the Bishops of the Diocese
of Nueva Segovia in Lallo Cagayan, starting with Fray Miguel Benevides
to Fray Diego de Soria preferred to stay in Vigan due to the deteriorating
condition of Lallo at that time. Malaria was endemic to the place
and was constantly flooded during the rainy season. The Rio Grande
de Cagayan was eroding and destroying the site of the Diocese leading
to a progressive decay of the town.
In sharp contrast, Vigan, during the same period, was a flourishing
Spanish settlement nearer to Manila. It was fast developing into
the center of Spanish influence and politico-economic power in the
When Don Juan dela Fuentes de Yepes became Bishop of Nueva Segovia
in 1755, he requested the King Spain and the Pope for the transfer
of the Diocese from Lallo, Cagayan to Vigan, which was at the height
of its progress as center of religious, commercial and socio-cultural
He summoned three former Alcalde Mayores: Don Maximino Ballero
of Vigan, Don Juan Antonio Panelo of Pangasinan, and Don Francisco
Ledem of Cagayan to testify and give their support of the requested
transfer of the Diocese. Aside from the former Alcalde Mayores,
Bishop Yepes also solicited the favorable endorsement of Fray Bernardo
Ustaris of the Dominican Order and Fray Manuel Carillo of the Augustinians.
The transfer of the Seat of the Diocese of Nueva Segovia from
Lallo, Cagayan to Vigan was formally approved during the Pontificate
of Pope Benedict XIV during the reign of Fernando VI, King of Spain
by virtue of the Royal Decree of September 7, 1758.
By this Royal Decree, Villa Fernandina which became the new seat
of the Diocese, automatically elevated its status as a City known
as Cuidad Fernandina de Vigan in honor of the then current King
By 1764, there were already 21 sitios or barrios in Vigan as mentioned
by Father Pedro de Vivar in the document entitled as Relacion
de los Alzamientos dela Cuidad de Vigan, cavesera dela provincia
de Ilocos Sur el los años 1762 y 1763.
In 1803, Cuidad Fernandina de Vigan has a population of 10,585
souls with 1,966 paying tributes. The natives were working on agricultural
land and the mestizos engaged in business with other provinces including
Manila. The mestizos played a very important role in the progress
and prosperity of the city of Vigan.
The Chinese in Vigan on the other hand, settled in a place called
Pariancillo while in Manila they were in Parian.
With their talent and knowledge in business as well as their skills
and mastery of the art of manufacturing, the Chinese became rich
and powerful in society. They opened business in the heart of Vigan,
employed the naturales, intermarried with the natives and mestizos
of Vigan and as time passed by; they rose into the class of the
elite. They triggered a business boom in the community and engaged
in domestic and foreign trade. They exported indigo, lime, maguey,
basi, jars, tobacco, woven cloth called abel, and other local products
to Europe, China, Borneo and Malaysia. As a consequence of this
business boom, there was a mark change in the lifestyle of the inhabitants.
Found in the Philippine Archives in Manila is a report in 1870
describing Vigan, the place. West of the cathedral are the Casa
Real and the monument of Salcedo, north of the cathedral is a small
house, and south of the cathedral is the Seminary. West of the Seminary
were the hacienda publica, barracks of the Carabineros and the Ayuntamiento
To further justify the to category of Vigan as a city are the
documents from Instituto de Historia Programa de Modernization
del Archivo Nacional de Filipinas that describes that Vigan
has its own carcel, casa de gobierno, mercado publico, Provincial
High Court and one the only four (4) Public Works District in the
entire Island of Luzon. More importantly, it has an Audencia Territorial,
an implicit indication that it was a City.
Revolts and Social Unrest
Being the nucleus of religious, economic, political, social, commercial
and cultural activities in the north for more than three centuries,
Vigan became a hotbed of social unrest. The social inequity of caciquism
and landlordism, the imposition of unfair tributes and other taxes
on the natives, the abuses of foreign friars and civil administrators,
the demand for free labor in the construction of civil and religious
infrastructure, monopolies in some local industries, and the continued
infringement on the rights of the citizens provoked the natives
to revolt against established authorities.
In 1762, Diego Silang, the first Filipino emancipator led the
famous Ilocano Revolt against the collection of exorbitant tributes
and the imposition of monopoly on provincial commerce by the Alcalde
Mayor and the babaknangs of Vigan. The revolt coincided
with the short-lived British occupation of Manila. After Diego Silang
was assassinated on May 28, 1763, his wife, Gabriela Silang, took
over as leader of the uprising until she was captured and hanged
publicly in Vigan four months later. She was later extolled as the
Filipino Joan of Arc and the first woman to lead a revolt in the
In 1817, the civil government imposed a monopoly forbidding the
Ilocanos to brew basi the sugarcane wine compelling
them to buy the product from government controlled stores. On September
of that year, Ambaristo led a popular uprising until they were caught
and summarily executed along the banks of the Bantaoay River in
the neighboring town of San Vicente, Ilocos Sur.
To warn the restless natives against any future attempts to overthrow
the colonial government, a series of paintings was commissioned.
In 1821, fourteen oil paintings measuring 91.44 by 91.44 centimeters
each were produced by a Vigan-born painter named Esteban Pichay
Retelling the Basi Revolt from the Spanish colonial viewpoint,
the fourteen paintings echo the via cruces or way of the cross paintings
in churches. According to art historian Santiago Pilar, the paintings,
in sequence show the following scenes: (1) Alcalde Mayor Juan Ybanez
and local troops at vigil; (2) Ybanez calls the chiefs of Bantay,
San Vicente, and Santa Catalina; (3) Chiefs of Candon and Santiago
are reprimanded for tardiness; (4) Rebels of Ilocos Norte march
to Ilocos Sur; (5) Troops sent to confront the revels; (6) An arrested
rebel dies of lashing; (7) Vigan troops are sent to repel the enemies;
(8) Natives flee to Bantay Church; (9) Bloody battle is wage at
Bantaoay; (10) Dead rebels are buried; (11) Victory comes on September
7, 1807; (12) Convicts are brought to the gallows; (13) Revel leaders
are hanged; (14) The condemned are decapitated.
Villanuevas style is naïve. The figures appear two-dimensional,
and follow the hierarchical perspective (the government officials
are larger than the farmers on the same plane). According to Pilar,
Villanueva did not take formal lessons in an established artistic
tradition. He derived artistic devices in his environment. He stylized
clouds in the manner of carved santo images.
The Basi Revolt paintings are important, not only because they
chronicle, albeit rather prejudicially, a milestone in the Filipino
struggle for freedom. The fourteen panels are important also because
they are some of the finest examples of a particular stage in the
development of paintings in the Philippines. Before the time of
Villanueva, subjects for paintings were predominantly religious
in nature. It was only in the 19th century that non-religious subjects
Today, the Basi Revolt paintings are on display at the Vigan branch
of the National Museum, inside the ancestral house of Father Jose
The Edict of Governor General Narciso Claveria in 1847 required
all inhabitants of the Philippines to adopt surnames to facilitate
the collection of taxes. Being the capital town, the naturales
or natives in Vigan were required to adopt surnames beginning with
the letter A while the mestizos with the letter F.
In the case of the De Leon, Dela Cruz, Prudencio, Donato and Del
Rosario families, each added another surname beginning with the
letter F. Thus, Faz de Leon, Filar dela Cruz, but later
dropping the dela Cruz and added the T to Filart, Foz
Prudencio, Ferre Donato, and Fino del Rosario. It was also during
this period that the influential Mariano family changed their surname
As early as in 1890, the prominent families of Vigan were quick
to support the revolutionary movement of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo against
the Spaniards. Aguinaldo finally captured Vigan in 1896 making the
Archbishops palace as the provinces revolutionary headquarters
during the first phase of the Philippine revolution. General Tinio
arrived in Vigan in 1898 to drive away all Spaniards out of Ilocos.
Finally, on August 13, 1898, the Filipino flag was raised on top
of the Archbishops palace for the first time in 325 years.
Vigan and the rest of the Ilocos region were left completely in
But on the same year, the Dewey squadron sank the entire Spanish
fleet in Manila Bay. The Spanish-American War ended with the signing
of the Treaty of Paris, which ceded the Philippines to the victorious
Americans. This precipitated the Philippine-American War, which
was announced in Vigan with the ringing of the bells. The Ilocos
under the leadership of Gen. Tinio, the brothers Blas and Juan Villamor,
and Bishop Gregorio Aglipay became the last bastion of defense against
the incoming American forces until the US 45th Infantry under Col.
James Parker captured Vigan in December 4, 1899.
In the fight against the Americans, the Katipunan movement was
very much alive in Vigan. According to William Henry Scott
Ilocano Responses to American Aggression, 1900-1901, The
Calvo family was associated with the family of Estanislao delos
Reyes in a supply network which served Filipino forces from his
mothers house for more than a year before it was discovered
and broken-up. Five feisty females operated it: Eleuteria Florentino,
Salome Reyes, Lucia del Rosario, Conching Calvo and Carmen delos
Reyes. They were arrested for communicating with and giving
aid and comfort to the insurgents and shipped to Fort Santiago in
Manila on 18 February 1901. Eleuteria was Estanislaos widowed
mother whom Dangadang (Struggle) called Capitana
Teriang. At the time of her death 30 years later, she was
compared to Balintawaks Tandang Sora. This family alliance,
whose members occupy so much space in Vigans list of names
of natives connected with the insurgent government, was based
on the marriage of two Reyes brothers with two Florentino sisters
and illustrates the sort of family solidarity which supported men
in the field.
The revolutionist finally surrendered to the Americans on February
1901. The Americans established a civil government in September
1, 1901, with Mena Crisologo as the first provincial governor. Ironically,
Mena Crisologo was the husband of Felipa Florentino, Eleuterias
Miracle During the Liberation Period
A miracle actually saved the town of Vigan during the last days
of the Japanese occupation. As part of their military strategy at
the end of the war, the Japanese were ordered to burn and completely
destroy occupied zones before withdrawal. On the eve of their departure
from Vigan, the Japanese Military Commander, Captain Fujiro Takahashi
pleaded with the SVD procurator of the Vigan Seminary, Fr. Joseph
Kleikamp, to take custody of the Japanese officers Filipino
wife and their love child. The priest agreed on the condition that
Takahashi and his men would leave Vigan without burning the town
to prevent the town folks from seeking revenge on his family. (At
that time, drums of gasoline was already strategically stored at
the town plaza, ready to be used in burning the town). Takahashi
agreed and left with his troops during the night.
The following morning, the people of Vigan discovered that the
Japanese had left peacefully. They immediately spread an oversized
American flag at the plaza forestalling the planned bombing by the
Americans to flush out the Japanese forces. Thus, Vigan miraculously
escaped total destruction, a misfortune that befell other colonial
cities like Cebu and Intramuros in Manila.
Post War Period
The Philippines was fully liberated from the Japanese on July
1, 1946. The Japanese lost in all, 409,267 killed and only 9,744
were taken as prisoners. American losses were 11,921 killed, 401
missing and 42,569 wounded or a total of 54,891. The ratio was 8
to 1. Over a million Filipinos, military and civilians were killed
and the overall property damage in the Philippines was 16 billion
When the Japanese left Vigan on January 9, 1945, Dr. Gregorio
Favis, the Japanese appointed mayor, went in hiding for fear of
being caught by the guerillas. Late in March of 1947, Dr. Favis
and Remedios Donato, his chief of police, were captured in Narvacan
by the guerillas. They were tortured and executed at the outpost
of the USAFE-NL M company near the junction of the national
highway in Narvacan leading to Abra.
President Roxas succumbed to a heart attack while delivering a
speech at Clark Field on April 16, 1948 and his Vice President,
Elpidio Quirino assumed office as the 2nd President of the Republic.
President Quirino was born in the building, which now houses the
Provincial Jail in Vigan because his father was the prison warden
then. He became the first Ilocano President and will long be remembered
as the architect of the countrys foreign policy and for implementing
the total economic mobilization program to rehabilitate a ravaged
country just after the war. Because of his negative stand in the
retention of the American bases in the Philippines, the CIA mounted
a vicious propaganda campaign against him to prevent his re-election
so that he could not continue as President in 1954 when the review
of the bases agreement was to be resumed. He lost the Presidency
to Ramon Magsaysay, his Secretary of National Defense, in the national
elections of 1953.
The hand of fate wrote an unforgettable line in the history of
Vigan when Congressman. Floro Crisologo was assassinated inside
the St. Paul Cathedral on October 18, 1970 during the 4:00 PM mass.
Following the death of the family Patriarch, the political leadership
of the Crisologos ended on November 8, 1971 with the election of
the charismatic Singson brothers Luis as governor of Ilocos
Sur and the elder Evaristo as Mayor of Vigan.
Towards the new millennium
At present, under the leadership of its first lady Mayor Eva Marie
S. Medina, Vigan was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List
of Sites and Monuments last December 2, 1999 which now includes
630 cultural and natural properties of exceptional universal value
in entire the world and one of the only five heritage sites found
in the Philippines. With its inclusion in said prestigious list
of world heritage sites, Vigan has become a source of pride, and
a national symbol of the Filipinos.
As a sign of its continuing economic boom in the new millennium,
Vigan became the first component city of the province of Ilocos
Sur known as the City of Vigan through an overwhelming Yes
votes cast by the Bigueños during the plebiscite last January
22, 2001. Indeed, once a city is always a city.