A Relic in Itself: Museo Parian

Heritage and SitesHeritage and SitesEnveloped in a modest façade of the ordinary-looking Ho Tong Hardware situated at the navel of the old Parian district, the one-time center of Cebu City, the Museo Parian (a.k.a. ‘Jesuit House’) is the oldest dated house in the Philippines.

Though bearing the inscription ‘Año 1730’ written on a circular tablet carved at the top of the door separating the main receiving area and the dining area, the widely known Jesuit House’s history following the habitation of the Jesuit priests in the 18th century traces its existence way back to the Ming Dynasty, when the old Parian district (currently called Parian) was predominantly inhabited by Chinese settlers. Evidence of the house’s original Chinese ownership were confirmed by the opulent Chinese-inspired carvings on the rafter and trusses, broken ceramics, some old coins, including the old coin unearthed in one of the original posts of the house dating back to the Ming Dynasty during the extensive yet meticulous restoration works carried out by the current owner. In addition, the overall edifice of the house itself pointed out the era of its construction. It was built using coral stones from the ground up, which signified that its building was prior to the Spanish era. It is to be noted that the Spanish government restrained the construction of houses solidly in coral stones from the base to the second floor to prevent possible enormous damage, following some major earthquakes and typhoons experienced in the country.

From the unidentified Chinese owner, Museo Parian’s possession was transferred to a Spanish tobacco firm worker before it served as the home of the Jesuits in Cebu until they were ousted out of the country in 1768. Following the deportation of the Jesuits, the Spanish auctioned the house which resulted to the acquisition of Don Luis Alvarez, the great-grandfather of Msgr. Cristobal Garcia, an avid collector of ivory artifacts. Several years though, the house transferred from one owner to another until it was purchased by the Villa family, and finally by the current owner, the Sy family.

Just as the house had adjusted and accommodated its many different owners, its interiors and structure as well had metamorphosed. Over the years, it received add-ons and upgrades in the form of ‘lattice works, louvers, grilled windows minus the welding works (snaps and rivets were used to fasten the grid irons together instead), and newspapers painted with mint green coating that served as the wallpaper to cover the cracks as well as the joints. In fact, a chipped off ‘wallpaper’ in one of the rooms exposed the ‘original’ plaster of the room—a page of the Los Angeles newspaper dated 1946!

A Walk Inside the Museum

The museum’s colorful history is echoed within its walls and interior. The house-museum is actually composed of two adjacent two-story houses. The basement is divided into three parts—all served as the mini-gallery and museum. The first compartment features a model of the old Parian district, maps, and photos, while the second room accommodates the unearthed artifacts and relics plus the miniscule models of the galleons and some photos introducing some parts of the history of Cebu and the presence of the Spaniards, and finally, the third division highlights the history of the Jesuit congregation from its formation down to its presence in the Philippines.

On the second floor are the main receiving area of House A, with the master’s bedroom, and another guest room which displays the model of the structure of the house. To go to House B, one has to pass through the covered passage leading to the lanai, a place where the Jesuits used to relax for their ‘siesta’, the dining area which accommodates the long dining table made of a single hardwood trunk, a century-old cedar chest box, some antique cash register, and typewriter. In between the lanai and the dining room is the dirty kitchen with an old ‘baggera’ (traditional dish dryer).

The Museum’s Legacy

The museum’s unkempt countenance from the exterior vantage is quite deceptive that one could easily regard it as one rickety construction that needs to be demolished. However, one’s impression of the ramshackle house is guaranteed to drastically change when one gets inside and starts his/her journey of reliving the past. One could not resist the exquisite charm the house-museum possesses, as one sets out on the pleasant journey back to one’s colorful past as narrated by the walls, structure, and interiors of the fascinating Museo Parian–a relic in itself.

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