Discovering Philippines

Philippines is Not Only Manila

Cebu, the great capital of the south, Cavite, the port of Manila, Vigan, with its typical urban layout, Zamboanga, with its fort, Nueva Segovia, Nueva Cáceres...

At the end of the 16th century, with few exceptions of any significance, almost the whole Philippine archipelago, which was divided into twelve provinces, each governed by their respective lord mayors, was now part of the Spanish Crown possessions.

Internal communications were difficult as a result of the country's particular geography, which meant that the islands were somewhat disconnected from one another and their cities, which were little more than villages, were isolated urban centres.

The Spanish population on the islands was low until the mid-19th century, and this meant that intense urban planning work could not be undertaken in the Philippines. However, the Spaniards founded other cities following a common model, although these were treated with less importance than the capital.

Cebu (1565) was the first city to be founded by the Spaniards in the Philippines. Legazpi appointed the mayors and the spiritual mission was left in the hands of the Augustinian friars. The most outstanding buildings are the Cathedral and the "Basílica del Santo Niño", which became the shrine for the image which was left there by Magellan and which was later recovered by Legazpi.

Sited on Manila Bay, the city of Cavite was used as a fortified point for defending the capital. A dockyard was established there for shipbuilding. Its fortress, the San Felipe castle, was built between 1609 and 1616.
Some of the island cities were fortified, as in the case of Iligan to the north, and Zamboanga in Mindanao, with its "Nuestra Señora del Pilar" fort; others founded in the 16th century, such as Nueva Cáceres in Camarines, which became the episcopal see, and Nueva Segovia, have long since disappeared; others such as Vigan still preserve their typical urban layout and features.

The San Pedro fort in Cebu. Relación de las Islas Filipinas by Fernando Valdés Tamón. 1739. Biblioteca del Palacio Real The first Spanish fort to be built in the Philippines was constructed in Cebu in order to defend the town of San Miguel, founded by Legazpi in 1565. In 1738, the San Pedro fort still had its original isosceles triangle shape. The San Pedro fort in Cebu


The town of Cebu in 1880. SHM At the end of the 19th century, Cebu was an unpaved town with a spacious and well ordered street layout; its buildings were mainly of a rustic type but there were also important constructions such as the Cathedral, the Augustinian monastery and the Government house.

House of the general Government of the Visayan islands, in Cebu. Ramón La Hermosa in Colección de planos... 1876. BETSICCP, Madrid The Visayan islands are scattered between Luzon and Mindanao; the largest of these are Bohol, Leyte, Panay and Cebu. This was where Legazpi landed in 1565 and where over a period of time general Spanish rule over these islands was established. House of the general Government

Cathedral Ground plan of the Cathedral planned for Cebu. Juan de Ciscara. 1719. AGI The diocese of Cebu was created in 1595, at the same time as those created for Nueva Segovia and Nueva Cáceres. Tradition has it that the Cathedral, which was completed at the end of the 18th century, was the resting place for the cross planted by Magellan on his arrival at the island.

Plan of Cebu in 1841. MN Cebu, which was situated on the west coast of the island of Cebu, was the first Spanish enclave and had a magnificent port which was protected from the wind by the nearby islands of Mactán and Opón.

Plan of Cebu

Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zamboanga

Fort of "Nuestra Señora del Pilar" in Zamboanga, as it was in 1719. Juan de Ciscara. 1719. AGI The San José fort in Zamboanga - later renamed "Nuestra Señora del Pilar"- was built in 1635 and was the most important on the island of Mindanao. It was demolished in the 17th century and rebuilt in 1718 as part of the defence system of the Visayan islands.

Zamboanga and its surrounding area. SHM Tandag, Iligan and Zamboanga were the first three Spanish redoubts constructed on Mindanao, an island whose Moslem population carried out frequent attacks on the neighbouring Visayan islands. Zamboanga

Plan of Jolo Plan of Jolo. J. Castro. 1881. SHM Jolo was the former residence of the sultans of this island, which historically was a focal point for piracy besides having a hostile Moslem presence. In 1876 it was taken by the Spaniards, who built the fort of Alfonso XII and set up a military government on the island.

Plan of Iligan. 1898. SHM On Mindanao, the southernmost island in the archipelago, the Spaniards only managed to control some points along the coast. In Iligan, to the north, a fortress was built in the first third of the 17th century, and the town grew up around this. Plan of Iligan


The port and point at Cavite, with their fortifications in 1659. AGI Cavite was built on a narrow sandy tongue of land. Early in the 17th century the castle of San Felipe was built here to defend the harbour mouth.

The town of Cavite, and the San Felipe Castle. Richard Carr. 1663. AGI Over the years, the growth of the unstable sandy arrow-shaped land spur on which Cavite was built left the original fort of San Felipe removed from the sea, making the construction of a new platform equipped with artillery necessary.

The town

Plan of the port and waterfront Plan of the port and waterfront at Cavite, drawn up at the orders of Fernando Valdés Tamón. 1730. SGE During the 18th century, the river port at Manila had insufficient water depth to permit large ships such as the Acapulco galleon from entering and leaving, and so they anchored at Cavite, where there was a shipyard for ship construction and repair.

Project for the defence of the town of Cavite drawn up by Francisco Sabatini. Circa 1765. SGE

Project for the defence

Parish church Parish church in Cavite. Luis Céspedes in Colección de planos correspondientes a varias de las construcciones realizadas o proyectadas por la Inspección General de Obras Públicas de las Islas Filipinas. 1876. BETSICCP, Madrid During the second half of the 19th century, the Philippine city which looked most European was Cavite. It boasted excellent buildings made of stone, the most outstanding of these being the so-called "casas reales", and some churches.

Project for a cemetery in Cavite. Tomás Cortés. 1841. SHM Up until the 19th century, Cavite was a strategic point of the first order as witnessed by the fact that all attacks on the capital were aimed first at this town. Cementery

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Discovering Philippines Copyright © 2004 Robert S. Gardner