The city in question being Cebu city, the oldest Spanish city in the Philippines, with the oldest street (Colon Street, curiously named after Christopher Columbus – Colon in Spanish – who never sailed anywhere near the Philippines).
This, then, is a city with history. We thought we could cope with a morning of history and culture, but before that there was shopping to do. The first call of the day was at Tabo-an Market to stock up on a product for which the Visayas (the island region in the centre of the Philippines of which Cebu City is the ‘capital’) is famous – fish. Obviously fresh fish would not be very practical, but this is dried fish, available in many different varieties. Mary Ann bought several kilos of dried fish as pasalubong (souvenir of a journey) for the folks back home in Pampanga. Dried fish can be very smelly (Sophia, Nathaniel and Dan stayed well away, in the air conditioned minibus) but fortunately all the bags were heat sealed by the stall keepers.
Mission accomplished, we hadn’t got very far before we passed another an even larger market – the famous Carbon Market. A row of stalls were selling handicrafts and parols (the stars that decorate every Filipino home at Christmas.) Mary Ann bought a straw hat and a couple of parols.
Just a few minutes from Carbon Market and at the heart of the old city is Cebu City Hall. In front of City Hall an octagonal rotunda houses Magellan’s Cross – or rather a replica of Magellan’s Cross, although it is supposed to contain some fragments of the original. Ferdinand Magellan was the Portuguese-born explorer in the service of the Spanish crown who was attempting to find an east to west route to the kingdoms of South East Asia. En route he landed in Cebu and there in 1521 planted his cross, converting the local ruler Rajah Humabon to Christianity.
Among the objects that Magellan brought on his voyage was a statue of the Holy Child, or Santo Nino. This was presented to Hara Amihan, wife of Rajah Humabon, following her conversion to Christianity and baptism, In the event Magellan was killed (of which more later) and the statue remained in a box until it was discovered 44 years later during the time of Legazpi, first Spanish Governor of the Philippines. The Santo Nino is housed in the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño where it is the subject of considerable devotion.
Our final stop on our historical tour of Cebu was the restored Fort San Pedro. There has been a fort on the site since the time of Legazpi, although the present structure is mainly 19th Century. Constructed to an unusual triangular plan, the fort has been used as a barracks, a school and even a zoo. Today it is scheduled as a historical park, with the main courtyard laid out as a garden. We found it a very attractive and peaceful place and enjoyed walking around the bastion walls, despite the fierce temperature of the midday sun. Historical curiosity satisfied, we retreated to the modern comforts of an air conditioned shopping mall for lunch.
For more photographs of Cebu visit here.