Fort San Pedro-A Reminder of Cebu’s Colorful Past

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Fort San Pedro or Fuerte de San Pedro is known to be the oldest Spanish fortification in the Philippines. The triangular-shaped fortress whose two sides look out onto the sea, while the remaining side faces the land—a strategic position at that time to carefully observe the immediate environs, thus protecting the Spanish settlement effectively, is the smallest citadel in the country with a total interior area of 2,025 meters square.

Its towers are 30 feet high from the ground, with walls of 20 feet in height, and 8 feet in thickness. Imagine an average one-storey wall-height of a typical house in the Philippines and turn it horizontal-wise. That would serve as the thickness of Fort San Pedro’s limestone walls!

Built in 1565, with the main purpose of border defense and/or land claim, it was originally constructed out of wood in the coastal area of the present Cebu City, specifically in the adjacent grounds of the present-day Plaza Independencia under the mandate of the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first Spanish governor-general of the Philippines. Hence, Fort San Pedro served not only as a fort, but as a garrison as well to defend the [first] Spanish enclave in the Philippines—the Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus (Village of the Most Holy Name of Jesus), in what is today called as Cebu City.

Metamorphoses and Renovations

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Over the years, the citadel underwent several metamorphosis and renovations. From the initial wooden structure, the fort many years later welcomed a new anatomy of stone mortar construction, as a defense to the intermittent uprisings of the displeased natives. By 1898, Fuerte de San Pedro fell to the hands of the Cebuano revolutionaries when the Americans under the command of Commodore George Dewey subjugated the Spanish fleets in the Battle of Manila Bay, which marked the fall of Spain. The said battle resulted in the cession of the Philippine archipelago by Spain to the United States.

During the American regime, the fort served initially as the American barracks, after which, in 1937-1941, it was transformed into a school, where Cebuanos were given formal education.

During World War II, that is, from 1942 to 1945, with the successful invasion of Japan, the fort served as the Japanese stronghold. However, it was converted into an emergency hospital to accommodate the wounded in the fight to liberate Cebu from the Japanese Imperial forces later on. Then by 1946-1950, Fort San Pedro functioned as an army camp then following 1950, the Cebu Garden Club assumed the management of the fort, renovated its interiors, and laid out a mini-garden.

Despite of the heavy ruins, the fort was still functional, the upper deck, at least, were used as offices. Its almost-demise came with the announcement of then mayor Sergio Osmeña Jr. to demolish the place and erect in place of it the new Cebu City Hall; nevertheless, it was impeded by massive protests and demonstrations.

After the nearly-demise, Fort San Pedro was used again to house a zoo, which was managed by a religious sect. However, by 1968, the zoo was relocated and the serious and tedious effort to restore the ruined fort started.

Outside the walls of the existing Fort San Pedro are the separate individual statues of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, who commanded the building of the fort; and Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian chronicler who joined Ferdinand Magellan’s mission, and who was among the three people who first circumnavigated the world.

 Fort San Pedro Today

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At present, Fort San Pedro is used as a museum where it houses the Spanish memorabilia and artifacts like documents, files, and the original Spanish flag, as well as some exhibits involving the important rulers of Cebu City, some mini-galleons, and the Cebuano fighters.

Apart from that, the interior garden of the fort sometimes hosts private functions, cultural events, and wedding receptions and is also favorite spot for pre-nuptial pictorials.

And finally, with its relaxing surrounding, Fort San Pedro is also a popular destination for family bonding, romantic rendezvous, and for friendly meet up venue, as well.

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Heritage and Sites

See Also:

Cebu City–The Queen City of the SouthCebu City–The Queen City of the South

A Relic in Itself: Museo ParianA Relic in Itself: Museo Parian

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Cebu City–The Queen City of the South

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A welcome board on Legazpi Extension.

Cebu City also known as ‘Dakbayan sa Sugbo’ in Cebuano, is located in the central part of the Philippines. Being the capital of Cebu province, and of Region 7, i.e., the Central Visayas Region, it is considered to be one of the giant economic powerhouses of the Philippines, next to the Imperial Manila, with industries sprawling from BPOs, tourism, banking and finance, service, hospitality, shipping, and manufacturing enterprises. Thus, it is not a surprise when it is referred to as the ‘Queen City of the South’.

It is said that Cebu got its name from the Cebuano phrase ‘Sinibuayng hingpit’ which literally means ‘place for trade’, which was later on abridged to ‘Sibu’ or ‘Sibo’ meaning ‘trade’. Other variation of its etymology is ‘Sebu’ which suggests ‘animal fat’.  Still others, as history would point out, ‘Sugbo’ the local name of Cebu was coined after its founder Sri Lumay’s  (a prince of the Hindu Chola dynasty of Sumatran origin) winning stratagems in the extermination of the Moro pirates, as immortalized in his gallant ‘scorched earth’ war tactics called ‘Kang Sri Lumaying Sugbo’, which means, ‘that of Sri Lumay’s great fire’, hence, ‘Sugbo’ means ‘great fire’.

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Cebu was known to be a fishing village which gradually transformed in to a trading community. It has an organized social structure, headed by a rajah. A long time ago, Cebu City was a component of the island ‘Pulua Kang Dayang’ or ‘Kangdaya’ which formed part the Rajahnate of Cebu, an ancient Philippine state and was ruled by Sri Lumay  (or alternatively called ‘Rajamuda Lumaya’), a half-Tamil, half-Malay native ruler.

 Cebu’s modern history can be traced back to Spain’s first attempt to conquer lands in the Far East by virtue of its territorial expansion under the guise of finding spices at Moluccas Island, and that expedition was spearheaded by Ferdinand Magellan.

The Spaniards’ presence was first felt on April 7, 1521 upon the arrival of Magellan in Cebu. He befriended the incumbent ruler at that time, Rajah Humabon, the grandson of Sri Lumay, and converted him and his wife, Hara Amihan to Christianity including some less than 1000 natives. As a gift, he bestowed to the king and the queen the image of Sto. Nino, which is at present housed at the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino. To further mark the Christianization of the island, Magellan then planted (or as some source claimed, ordered his men to plant) the so-called Magellan’s cross, and that consequently transpired to mark Spain’s first colonization attempt of the Philippines. Shortly after though, on April 27, 1521, Magellan was killed in the famous Battle of Mactan, in the hands of Lapu-Lapu, a native ruler of the adjacent island, Mactan. It was said that after Magellan’s death, Rajah Humabon poisoned Magellan’s remaining men on account of threat of foreign occupation. Rajah Tupas, Sri Humabon’s nephew was the last ruler of Sugbo.

A few years after Spain’s first futile attempt to colonize Cebu came Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. De Legazpi brought with him the Augustinian friars that marked the first diaconate presence not only in Cebu, but all over the Philippines. By virtue of the Treaty of Cebu concluded between Rajah Tupas and de Legazpi, the formal mandate of the possession of Cebu City on behalf of the King of Spain took place. As a result, Legazpi founded the first Spanish settlement in 1565 and called the city ‘Villa de San Miguel de Cebu’, and later called Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus, thus making Cebu the oldest city, anteceding Manila for 7 years.

The growing territory was then fortified by building the military fortress ‘Fuerte de San Pedro’ (Fort San Pedro) located in the area currently called Plaza de Independencia. The fortification, despite being the smallest in size in structure, is said to be the nucleus of the Spanish settlement.

With the advent of trade exchange, the Spanish colonization became extensive. Seven years after it conquered Cebu, de Legazpi’s troops moved toward Manila.

Spain’s appetite for power was insatiable. Its further usurpation of the Philippine islands resulted to their treacherous and malicious machination of countering Filipinos against each other. Because of their greed for power, corruption was rampant, hence, coercing the Filipinos to widespread nationwide uprisings. In Cebu, General Leon Kilat led the insurrection against the Spanish conquistadors on April 3, 1898 where he staged his revolutionary war on the present-day streets of V. Rama and Leon Kilat. The three-day revolt ended, unfortunately, with the treacherous murder of Gen. Leon Kilat and the arrival of the back-up native fighters from Iloilo. Some memorabilia of the aforementioned uprising are exhibited at the Fort San Pedro Museum as well as at Museo Sugbo.

By virtue of the Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded the entire Philippine archipelago to the United States until the establishment of the Commonwealth government, which would prepare the Philippines to its full independent status. One of the highlights of this era was the ratification of the bill Commonwealth Act 58, granting Cebu City its ‘independent Chartered City’ status. The bill was authored by Sen. Vicente Rama, who then later on was considered as the ‘Father of Cebu City’. On February 24, 1937, the City was inaugurated. Sworn as the first mayor was Hon. Alfredo V. Jacinto who was appointed by Pres. Manuel Quezon. By virtue of Republic Act No. 244, the first appointed Vice Mayor was Hon. Arsenio Villanueva who took his office on July 16, 1948. The first elected Mayor though was Hon. Sergio Osmeña Jr., and Hon. Ramon Duterte as the Vice-Mayor.

Being the oldest city in the Philippines, Cebu boasts of the many historical firsts and in the country which include Colon Street as the oldest street, University of San Carlos (formerly known as ‘Colegio de San Ildefonso’) as the oldest school not only in the country, but also in Asia, Fort San Pedro as the oldest fort / fortification, and The Jesuit House Museum as the oldest documented house built in 1730, are some of the source of pride of Cebu City.

Heritage and Sites

See also:

A Relic in Itself: Museo Parian

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.