Vigan During the Spanish Times

Vigan was the first Spanish settlement set up in the North in January 1574. It was commissioned by Governor General Guido de lavesares and Juan de Salcedo was given specific instructions to name the settlement Villa Fernandina, in honor of the first son of King Philip II, Prince Ferdinand, who died when he was four years old.

Vigan was originally just a backwater settlement with very few Spanish residents. Nueva Segovia in Cagayan was more developed and in 1959 was the ecclesiastical seat of the Catholic Church for the whole of the Northern Luzon dioceses which stretched from batanes in the North to Pangasinan in the South. But since Nueva Segovia, which was only three miles south of the mouth of Ibanog River, was constantly ravaged by floods during the rainy season, most of the bishops assigned to the diocese started to prefer to reside at Villa Fernandina. Since 1602, this preference became a tradition until Villa Fernandina was proclaimed “Ciudad Fernandina” by Pope Benedict XIV and King Ferdinand VI of Spain on September 7, 1738. This elevated Villa Fernandina from a backwater pueblo to become the new seat of the Northern Luzon diocese which would include the territory of Nueva Segovia.

Vigan was destined to duplicate the original layout of Intramuros, Manila. It had the same stately stone mansions, cobblestoned streets and spacious plazas one can still see in existence in Intramuros today. Like Intramuros, the streets were designed in a pattern that would ensure that one side would always be shaded to shield pedestrians from the tropical sun.

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The rivers surrounding Vigan would serve as its “wall”. But the Spaniards would eventually realize that the rivers could not really keep marauders out of the towns. The highland tribes could use the rivers to enter the towns to destroy and pillage. The reson why most towns are still around is probably because the Ilocano Malay settlers greatly outnumbered the highland tribes. Every time a marauding tribe would destroy a town, the local town’s inhabitants would hastily rebuild it.

Vigan is geographically situated to be very near Fujian, China. It is said that if one were to travel by ship to the Philippines from Fujian, he would reach Vigan by nightfall if he left Fujian at daybreak. And since there was a long history of trade with the natives, Vigan became a favorite port of entry to the Philippines.

There were less Chinese mistrust in Vigan as compared to the anti-Sino mentality of the Spaniards in Intramuros probably because there were so few Spaniards and the natives had begun trading with the Chinese since hundreds of years ago. Vigan was a prime example of how Chinese assimilation into Philippine society came about.

The Chinese in Vigan lived in a settlement called Pariancillo. Their business in Vigan employed many natives or naturales and helped the town prosper. In time, the Chinese intermarried with the naturales and thus gave rise to the mestizos. These mestizos eventually became the elite of Vigan society. It was only in Vigan that there were two gobernadorcillos, comparable to our present day mayors. One was for the gremio de mestizos (guild of mestizos) and another was for the gremio de naturales (guild fo natives). The town of Vigan was divided into two sections by the boundary of Rizal Street. All lands too east of Rizal Street were part of the mestizo setion, while all landsto the west of Rizal Street were part of the naturales section.

-from The 9 Lives of Luis “Chavit” Singson by Linda C. Limpe