One of the treasured Filipino traditions of Pasko (Christmas) is the daygon, or caroling. Children, teens, adults, or even the elderly, whether singly or in groups, approach a residence and sing beautiful Christmas songs. After a song or two, the household rewards the performers with money, food, clothes, or other items. Listening to these gentle melodies on the second floor of a Spanish bahay na bato must be a totally awesome experience.
Albeit the absence of the daygon, we decided to visit some of the carefully preserved ancestral homes that make Vigan world-famous. These houses hold a lot of tales and memories.
Elpidio Quirino National Museum
Our first stop was the Elpidio Quirino museum, right inside downtown Vigan. Quirino was a Filipino statesman of Ilocano roots. He served as the Philippine Republic’s president from 1948 to 1953. This museum is lovingly dedicated to him.
A beautifully manicured and airy garden greets guests as they enter the facility. As you can see, the garden is quite simple, almost having a Zen-like quality in it. The fountain, which is non-operational, is its centerpiece. We can imagine important guests enjoying the garden while talking about politics and business.
Note the short leafy plants below the large ipil tree near the fence. Those are giant yams, or bigaa in the local dialect. It is believed that Vigan derived its name this plant, which was abundant in the area.
These elegant horse-drawn carriages were the BMWs, Cadillacs, and limousines of yesterday. Much the chauffeured cars of the present time, the kutsero sits at the front while the VIP sits right behind him. Poor horse though, considering the four-wheel design.
The photo below shows a replica of Mr. Quirino’s office. As you can see, it is quite simple and warm considering the usually elaborate interiors of Spanish-era establishments.
His humility and high degree of professionalism earned him a slot in the Philippine independence commission that was sent to Washington, DC. He and his team’s task was to secure the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act to American Congress.
That’s a reproduction of Mr. Quirino’s bedroom. Just like his office, the furnishings are relatively simple despite their elegance. Note the beautifully polished and gleaming wooden floors.
Hold on. Are you wondering why we are saying that all these places are just re-creations? You’ll know in a little while.
Canes, hats, and shoes—those were elegant fashion accessories in the 1800s! Mr. Quirino must have been a stunning figure during his time.
The Elpidio Quirino National Museum also has a modern air-conditioned conference room that can accommodate large groups of people. It’s the only place here that is modern.
We went down to the museum’s ground level, the middle of which is occupied by a plain, grassy courtyard. Note the old clay roof shingles, which survived the onslaught of time thanks to the LGU’s wholehearted effort in preserving the place.
Something struck us. The layout of this place seems very familiar; it is quite similar to the Museo Sugbo in Cebu, which was originally a provincial jail.
Well, it really was. It turned out that the Elpidio Quirino Museum was originally a provincial jail in the Spanish times. In fact, in November 16, 1890, then-president Quirino was born on the second floor of this facility. His father, Mariano Quirino, was in fact a jail warden. Little did they know that their child, Elpidio, will become the country’s president 58 years later.
Who would have thought that a president was born in jail? That is one for the history books!
The provincial jail of Vigan served its purpose until 2014 when the LGU, in cooperation with the National Museum of the Philippines, decided to convert the dilapidated structure into Ilocos Sur’s art center. Initially, the National Museum returned more than a dozen paintings of esteemed Ilocano artist Esteban Pichay Villanueva back to Vigan. The paintings, which are now displayed in a wing in the former jail, depict scenes of the 1807 Basi Revolt.
In the following months, more artwor ks and artifacts were displayed in the museum. Many of the old items in the exhibit are used to highlight the production of basi, a traditional Ilocano alcoholic beverage made from fermented sugarcane.
When the Spaniards opted to monopolize the production and sale of basi, the locals took arms and fought their Spanish conquerors. Thus began the infamous Basi Revolt.
This giant wooden contraption is called a dadapilan, a sugarcane presser. This heavy implement is used to extract sugarcane for the production of molasses, vinegar, and basi.
Our next stop was the famous Crisologo Museum, formally called the Vigan House National Institute Branch. This is the lovingly preserved ancestral home of Floro Crisologo, a well-loved Ilocano statesman known for his landmark bills and laws.
Like most upper-class Spanish mansions in that era, the house is a large two-floor structure. Acting as a security measure as well as foundation, the first floor is made of thick brick and coral stone. Windows have iron and steel grill. The second floor is made of hardwood, presently reinforced with concrete. Colintipay windows adorn the second floor.
Also, check out the balusters below the windows. We later learned that those are called bintanilas, and they are actually a safety feature. Children who are too short to look over the window can safely watch street parades and other activities behind the safety of a bintanilla.
Whoa! The cluttered appearance of this office reflects the life of Mr. Crisologo; he must have been an extremely busy man. And indeed he was; he had a significant role in establishing today’s Philippine Social Security System, which serves the whole Philippine Republic until this day. He also authored laws behind the founding of the University of Northern Philippines, the country’s first state university as well as the ratification of the Tobacco Law.
The ground floor offices display various Crisologo memorabilia such as plaques, certificates, bank notes, books, weapons, newspaper clippings, and old photos.
In October 18, 1970, Mr. Crisologo was standing in line in the Vigan Cathedral waiting for his turn in receiving Holy Communion. A lone gunman suddenly shot him in the head, killing him instantly. The assassin was able to escape during the ensuing panic, and up to this day, the murder remains unsolved. It was believed that the assassination was politically motivated.
Earlier in 1961, there was also an attempt to assassinate his wife Mrs. Carmeling Crisologo when she was serving as the governor of Ilocos Sur. The car she was riding on was riddled with bullets, but luckily, she survived the attempt. The old car was preserved and displayed in the museum, a dark reminder of the dangerous life of a politician.
In the early days of Ilocos Sur’s history, the province’s main industry was farming. Thus, old farming implements are displayed here to give us a glimpse of that industry. Looking at all of these and comparing them with modern farming machinery, we can only imagine the hard work the farmers of old had to do in order to grow and harvest healthy crops.
Large carabao-drawn carriages called cariton hauled crops, cargo, and people across vast fields. These are just some of the artifacts that show the rich history, ethnography, and culture of Northern Luzon.
There are so many items in the Crisologo Museum that it will take more than two blog posts to cover them. For the sake of brevity, we’ll just include some of the interesting things that caught our eyes. The rest, well, you will have to visit the Crisologo Museum yourself. After all, the place is far more mesmerizing than all the photos in this blog post.
Moving upstairs, we found ourselves in this open-air grand dining room. There’s a smaller dining room behind this one, so we believe that this larger dining room is reserved for guests and important visitors.
Old china, utensils, glassware, and ceramics are displayed all around. These are from the collections of the entire Crisologo family.
That is a huge refrigerator! Check out the antique stoves; they are far bigger than the gas-powered and electric ones we are presently using. How times change!
Now this one really piqued our curiosity. We’ve never heard of a wooden refrigerator until we saw this item. How in the world does it work?
Based on our Philippine history and culture, we are socially amiable people. We love eating, drinking, washing clothes, or even taking baths with the company of loved ones and friends.
But this is taking too far, don’t you think? This is an old toilet, and you can see three holes. Please don’t tell us that in the old times, you answer the call of nature with a seatmate!
Because there was no proper plumbing system in the old days, the waste goes directly to a cesspit below the toilet. We can just imagine the stink here. Also, there was no running water, so a banga (large clay water container) was used to store water fetched from a nearby stream.
The main living room of the mansion houses old photos, paintings, religious statues, and other memorabilia of the Crisologo family. Old fragile furnishings were lovingly dusted and polished to preserve them for generations. Going in this room was like stepping back in time; we could almost feel the spirits of dons, doñas, señoritos, and señoritas relaxing here.
We noticed several holes in the polished floor. We thought they were the results of the ravages of time, but the curator explained that the holes were there for a purpose. It turned out that these are peepholes; before a guest is allowed up the residence, the homeowners or their servants crawl on all fours and peep into the hole to check out the visitor. Yes, these holes are CCTVs!
That’s the old master’s bedroom, with a four-poster bed—fashionable at that time—being its centerpiece. Notwithstanding the bulky and intricate designs of the furnishings, it looks like any other Filipino master bedroom of today with a dressing table, closet, and side table. Yes, some things never change.
Our next stop was the elegant Syquia Mansion. This is the ancestral home of Doña Alicia Quirino, the wife of President Quirino. His wife, who originally carried the surname Si Kia, has Chinese ancestry. The family later adopted the Hispanic surname Syquia, and they had a robust business in Vigan.
The mansion is a typical bahay na bato, a Spanish-era residential structure with a brick-and-stone first floor supporting a virtually wooden second floor. But this one is huge; in fact, it occupies one whole city block!
An old but elegant carriage sits silently at the first floor “garage.” If you have one of these during the old days, you would be the star of the town!
Note the large stone slabs that make up the floor. These are called piedra, and they came all the way from China. These blocks were originally used as ballast material to weight down empty Chinese junks that used to haul goods from China to the Philippines.
The museum’s curator and caretaker, Rusty, welcomed us and immediately shared the timeless tale of Syquia Mansion. No words of ours are enough to retell the amazing story of this mansion; you have listen to it yourself. What we do want to share is that, according to the family’s will, the mansion was never turned over to the local government. It remains to this day a private property. In fact, Rusty himself is a 3rd generation Syquia.
From the finely crafted furniture to the beautifully painted replica of the famous painting Spolarium, the opulence of the mansion is totally overwhelming. But this is just the receiving area where guests are welcomed. No visitor is allowed farther into the mansion without the consent of the family.
If the guest is a VIP, a close friend, a loved one, or one that the family trusts, he or she can enter the grand sala. We feasted our eyes on the priceless paintings, furnishings, and decorations that are placed all around here. It is interesting to note that all the items in the Syquia Mansion are arranged to their original positions.
A narrow pasillo (passageway) circumnavigates the house. This passageway serves two purposes. One, it is used by the household’s servants to move around without distracting or disturbing visitors. Two, trusted guests who want to tour the mansion walk through the pasillo. Since it goes all around the residence, people won’t miss an inch of the the extravagance and beauty of the place.
Windows that are inlaid with translucent capiz shells allow light to come in even if the windows are closed.
The Syquia/Quirino household’s formal dining room is as grand as the family sala. This room also doubled as President Quirino’s meeting hall where he and his cabinet members gather.
Also, note the big and heavy drapes above the dining table. These are the electric fans and air conditioners of that era; servants manually pull cords to allow air to flow around the area.
Four-poster beds were quite the in-thing for upper-class families. But the canopy above the bed serves a more practical purpose. You see, the roofs of olden days, even those of rich homes, are not as good in quality as of present roofing systems. Water leaks and bird droppings often find their way through the roof. Thus, the canopy protects the person sleeping from water drops and dirt.
There are secret passages and peepholes here. Shhhhh!
The mansion’s large brick kitchen is situated at the airiest part of the house. That is definitely necessary as the ovens and stoves are wood-fired. Without a modern ventilation system, smoke fills the entire structure, necessitating the placement of the kitchen in an open-air area.
At the center of the house is a central courtyard; it is interesting because it is located in the second floor. The fountain is still operational and is still gushing water up to this day.
Our last stop where we departed from our friendly tricycle drivers is Calle Crisologo, Vigan’s most famous tourist attraction. Calle Crisologo is an old and perfectly preserved cobblestone street. Shops, restaurants, souvenir shops, and cafes, all sharing old Spanish architecture, line up the street.
Many houses and establishments along Calle Crisologo were severely damaged or destroyed during World War 2. They were later faithfully reconstructed, carefully following their original architecture.
To preserve the cobblestones and to recreate the 1700s atmosphere, no motorized vehicles are allowed to ply the entire length of the street. Calle Crisologo is only open to foot traffic. The only wheeled vehicles that are allowed to ply road are horse-drawn kalesas.
While many of the present establishments are just faithful reconstructions, some shops are actually housed in original structures. Check out the peeling plaster and the dark interiors.
Calle Crisologo is a paradise for creative artists and antique collectors. Just check out the various artwork, crafts, decors, and the antique pieces that you can find just about anywhere.
It has been years since I last tasted sorbetes, or Filipino ice cream. A common street snack, we call it “dirty” ice cream because it is made of ingredients such as yam, cheese, mango, or avocado. These are not the usual ingredients in Western ice cream. Also, unlike sorbets and Western ice creams that are made of cow’s milk, Philippine sorbetes is made of coconut milk.
Sorbetes is peddled along the streets in a cart that holds three metal canisters, each containing a different flavor of sorbetes. The cart is filled with shaved or crushed ice and sprinkled with salt to keep the temperature low.
Oh, did we mention that the Calle is also a gastronomical haven? If you want authentic Ilocandia food, then this is the place to be.
The magic of Calle Crisologo comes alive during dusk. As the Vigan sun sets, lamps are switched on, turning the old cobblestone street into a beautiful avenue that glows softly. In the old days, oil-fueled lamps and torches were used to illuminate the Calle.
The only thing that we didn’t like here is that some restaurants thoughtlessly began setting up dining tables in the middle of the street. Doing so completely destroys the ambiance and the atmosphere of Calle Crisologo.
After a light dinner, we exited Calle Crisologo to check out Vigan’s famed dancing fountain in Plaza Salcedo. Unfortunately, the fountain was under repair. Shucks! Well, not to worry because the there are multicolored neon lights that light up the Ilocos Sur Capitol. We joined a few kids who were playing with balloons in the park.
Before heading back to our hotel, our adventurer buddy Halourd taught Lorraine how to use her new DSLR. The subject they chose to shoot was the softly lighted Vigan Cathedral, canonically named the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. Along with the rest of Vigan, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site declaration of the historic town.
Built in 1790 and finished in 1800, the church features Baroque style architecture with large buttresses on both sides to protect the structure from earthquakes. Romanesque-, Neo-Gothic-, and Chinese-inspired elements are also evident.
Our city tour around nostalgic Vigan was a true time machine. It was a totally different experience than just reading about Vigan in school text books, travel magazines, trip guides, and websites. The tour was not just a glimpse of history; we truly stepped into the origins of Spanish-influenced history and culture. Visiting Vigan allowed us to truly learn, appreciate, and admire what we truly are—world-class and unique Filipinos.
9:00 AM – arrival in Manila, head to Partas Bus Terminal
12:00 NN – lunch
1:00 PM – ride Partas bus to Vigan
10:00 PM – arrival at Vigan, check in, late dinner
11:00 PM – freshen up, lights out.
6:00 AM – wake up, bath, prepare for Vigan tour
7:00 AM – start Vigan City Tour (outskirts)
1:00 PM – continue Vigan City Tour (city proper/old houses)
3:30 PM – late lunch
4:00 PM – explore Crisologo Street, shopping, wait for sunset
7:00 PM – end of city tour, dinner, go back to hotel
9:00 PM – pack up, lights out
- P 825 per person – bus fare (air-conditioned deluxe Partas bus with fully reclining seats) from Manila to Vigan
- P 500 per tricycle – Vigan City Tour (3 people per tricycle)
- P 20 per person – Syquia Mansion entrance fee
- Donations – most of Vigan’s attractions have no entrance fees. However, donations of any amount are required.
* Rates are subject to change without prior notice. We did not include our expenses for meals, snacks, souvenirs, accommodations, tips, and other fees in this rate sheet as you may have different needs, preferences, itineraries, and sharing scheme from us.
- Hidden Garden – every day, 6 AM to 7 PM
- Bell Tower of Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Caridad – every day, 6 AM to 7 PM
- Pagburnayan Pottery Making – every day, 8 AM to 6 PM
- Elpidio Quirino National Museum – Monday to Saturday, 10 AM to 5 PM
- Crisologo Museum – every day, 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM
- Syquia Mansion – every day except Tuesday, 9 AM to 5 PM
1. For a time-saving and hassle-free city tour, negotiate with a tricycle driver. He can take you to the city’s best attractions and waits for you while you do enjoy your tour. Compare that to constantly waiting and hailing for a ride from one attraction to the next. A benchmark rate would be around P 500 to P 600 per tricycle.
2. Do not to touch paintings, jars, and other artifacts that are displayed in the museums. These are very fragile, and a careless touch or bump can irreparably damage precious items. If you are bringing kids, keep them in check.
3. Listen to the stories of the guides and curators. The tales they share are the heart of Vigan.
4. Start your tour early. The earlier you begin, the more places you can visit, and the longer you can stay and enjoy in any one place.
5. Pack light but bring the following
- water (at least one liter)
- extra dry clothes
- hat, umbrella, or sarong
- raincoat or poncho
- extra money for emergencies
- personal medicines and toiletries
6. Observe the Leave No Trace principle. Do not litter.