Magellan’s first landing in the Philippines ~ the discovery of Cebu

When it comes to Cebu, we like to assume we know everything about it because we live and grew up here. However, there’s still a lot to learn about the Queen City of the South. Aside from being an island paradise filled with beautiful beaches and waterfalls, there are a lot of historical sites that have interesting stories behind them and should be known by everyone. 

Cebu province plays a significant role in the country’s history. The first known battle against foreign invaders took place on the shores of Mactan Island in April 1521. Lapu-Lapu and his men fought the Spanish colonizers and Ferdinand Magellan was killed during the fight. 

Today, Cebu has become one of the major business districts in the country – and constantly growing as an industrial, trade, commercial, and education hub. However, when you visit or live in Cebu, you will still be able to experience a laid-back atmosphere and go to places where you can relax and unwind.

The province is filled with lots of natural and manmade attractions for you, your family, and your friends to see and experience. 

Facts about Cebu

We have gathered some interesting facts about Cebu you should know and be proud of. Read on to know more about our history…

Golden Death Masks

During the pre-colonial period, the Philippines was a rich country – abundant in gold and rich in natural resources. In 2008, on an excavation at the Plaza Independencia, a set of gold masks for the dead/ golden death masks were found. 

Cebu’s Death Mask // photo source: slideshare.net

The artifacts discovered were proof that ancient Cebuanos had burial practices and a complex culture long before we were conquered by the Spaniards. The golden death masks dated from the late 14th century to the early 15th century. The masks were first described by the Jesuit Pedro Chirino in his book – Relaciones de las Islas Filipinas – published in the 1600s in Rome.

In ancient times, Cebuanos who could afford it honored their departed loved ones with masks made from gold. The death masks were made of separate pieces to cover the eyes, nose, and mouth. They believed that gold held magical powers. It’s one of the ancient burial practices wherein they put the mask on the dead because they believed that the mask will protect them from the evil spirits that they will encounter in the afterlife. 

Pre-hispanic Filipinos had similar practices to the ancient Egyptians. They would bury things like iron tools, ceramics, and other valuable things, along with the body – to help them survive their journey in the afterlife.

READ: Sinulog: History of Cebu’s Grandest Festival

Cebu City is the Country’s oldest City

Cebu City is the country’s oldest city // photo source: mycebu.ph

Cebu City was developed by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1565 and is considered to be the oldest city in the Philippines. The city is home to some of the earliest structures and landmarks in the country. You can find the oldest street, the oldest fort, and one of the oldest schools in the country. 

The oldest street – Colon, was named after the explorer Cristobal Colon or commonly known as Christopher Columbus. You will still see some vintage architecture and building structures when you walk down the streets of Colon. Also, the road’s general design can be traced back to de Legazpi’s time. 

Cebu houses the country’s oldest Christian treasure, the relic of Sto. Niño 

The image of Sto. Niño is the oldest relic in the country // photo source: inapenafrancia360.weebly.com

It all started when a sculpture of the Holy Child named the Sto. Niño was given to the local chief and his wife by Ferdinand Magellan. This was a gift to welcome them as they were baptized into Roman Catholicism. Rajah Humabon welcomed Magellan and the men with him when they arrived in Cebu. That’s when they also baptized the chief along with other 800 subjects. 

The chief, Rajah Humabon’s name was changed into Carlos, after the grandfather of the reigning monarch, King Philip II. That’s actually where the Philippines got its name. Then the chief’s wife was baptized and given the name Juana, after King Philip’s grandmother – Queen Juana of Castille. 

The original image of Sto. Niño // photo source: wikimedia.org

The intricately dressed carved wooden image which was believed to be of Belgian origin was with Magellan on his journey filled with discovery and conquest. The wooden statue of Sto. Niño made its way from Spain to the Philippines 500 years ago, making it the oldest Catholic treasure in the islands. It’s as old as the Catholic faith in the country. 

After the death of Magellan, what’s left of his men went back to Spain. The natives returned to their old beliefs and the image of Sto. Niño became a pagan idol. However, in 1565, under the leadership of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi – the Spaniards were successful in conquering the Philippines. 

While de Legazpi and his men were raiding the villages, they found the image again underneath the fires. The Basilica del Sto. Niño – the church where you will find the wooden statue of Sto. Niño is said to be the same spot where it was found. The basilica has burned to the ground twice and was bombed during World War II, still, the little wooden image remained untouched. 

And while Cebuanos have been devoted to the Sto. Niño, the Sinulog Festival – the feast of Sto. Niño only began in 1980. From then on, the feast became an annual celebration. It’s held locally on the third Sunday of January – it’s usually a nine-day long celebration filled with parades, music, and dancing.

Fort San Pedro is the oldest Fort in the Philippines

Fort San Pedro // photo submitted by: cy aves camp

You’ve probably passed by the Plaza Independencia a lot of times on your trips downtown. And we sometimes forget about the fort sitting right there inside – the Fort San Pedro
Fuerza de San Pedro or mostly known as Cebu Fort San Pedro was a military defense structure built-in 1565 during the early Spanish colonization. It was originally made of wood and it was built after the arrival of Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. 

Miguel Lopez de Legazpi ordered the construction of the fort when he made himself the first governor of the Captaincy General of the Philippines. And during the early 1600s, the fort was reconstructed with stone to fight off the Muslim raiders. 

Later on, in 1738, there were further renovations done to the fort, it finalized the look of the fort. It has been the same way as we see it today. Fort San Pedro is the oldest triangular-shaped fort in the Philippines.

In the course of the Philippine Revolution in the late 1890s, the fort was ambushed and seized by Filipino rebels and used the fort as a fortress. Later on, during WWII – in the early 1940s, the fort was taken over by Japanese soldiers. 

Afterward, in the 1950s, Fort San Pedro was adopted by the Cebu Garden Club. They fixed the interior and later on it was turned into a mini garden. Some of the plants that you will find inside the fort actually came from Mexico brought by the Spaniards in their galleon ships.

The “Curse” of the Lapu Lapu Monument 

Lapu Lapu monument stands in the Mactan Shrine // photo source: pinterestph

Most Cebuanos have visited the Lapu Lapu monument at some point in their lives, on a school trip or maybe when you take your relatives on a tour around the city. Did you guys know that it holds a legend? 

According to the legend, in 1933, the chief executive of Opon was Rito de la Serna and he ordered the monument in honor of Datu Lapu Lapu to be built. The native chieftain was dressed up with imperial clothes and it was holding a bow and arrow which pointed directly at the municipal hall. 

Some may consider it a coincidence that Rito de la Serna died shortly after the monument was completed and inaugurated on December 31, 1933. Soon after, Gregorio de la Serna, cousin of Rito, was elected as chief executive in 1934. However, he wasn’t able to finish his term, and he also died in 1937. 

At first, the residents didn’t connect the death of Rito de la Serna with the monument. But when those who took his seat in the municipal hall also died while in office – superstitions sprung up about the monument being the cause of their deaths. Some residents blamed the deaths on the monument’s design and said that it brought bad luck. 

Later on, after Gregorio de la Serna’s passing, municipal vice-president Simeon Amodia took over the position. He too died in the office in that same year. People noticed how the statue was carrying a bow and arrow which was pointed towards the office of the municipal president on the second floor of the town hall. And they saw it as a sign for impending death to whoever occupied that office. 

In 1937, Mariano Dimataga was elected municipal president, and the first thing he commanded when he assumed office – was to change the design of Lapu Lapu’s monument. He ordered that the bow and arrow would be changed with a pestle and a native bladed weapon called kampilan. And he also moved the office from the left to the right side of the town hall. 

Whether the superstitions were real or not, eventually the curse of the Lapu Lapu monument was broken. Dimataga went on and stayed in the office for 30 years. The monument of Lapu Lapu is still standing today, it’s located in Poblacion, across the City Auditorium. 

Leon Kilat and his supernatural powers

Leon Kilat’s monument // photo source: philstar.com

Leon Kilat is a famous character in Cebu’s history – because, at 24, he led the Cebuano Katipuneros in attacking the Spaniards back in the battle of “Tres de Abril” on April 3, 1938. They were able to drive the Spaniards away and took control over the province of Cebu for a few days. 

However, Pantaleon Villegas, or commonly known as Leon Kilat, wasn’t pure Cebuano. He was born in Bacong, Negros Oriental. His leadership and heroism aren’t something the Cebuanos should forget though. 

What made him special lies within his life story – which was part supernatural and a myth. After Kilat’s been working in Cebu for a few years, he moved back to Manila where legend told was where he got his supernatural powers or “kalake”.

It was said that Leon Kilat wore talismans or “mga anting anting”, and it was said that he was known to be a “kublan” or someone who couldn’t be shot and repel bullets. Legend holds that he also kept a mythical animal called sigbin – which gave him the power to move quickly from one place to another.

His death was tragic though, which happened a few days after the battle. Leon was assassinated by fellow Cebuano Katipuneros – led by his own aide, Apolinario Alcuitas. It was said that they got Kilat drunk and passed out before they removed his anting anting and killed him as planned. 

Brgy. Hipodromo used to be a former racetrack 

Brgy. Hipodromo used to be a racetrack called the Hippodrome // photo source: worldarchitecture.org

Barangay Hipodromo was known back then as Hippodrome – it was a haven for horse fanatics. Before the war, watching a horse race was part of the Cebuano lifestyle and this place started it all.

The starting point of the race was situated near the entrance along M.J. Cuenco Avenue. And the Pacific Foundry building used to be the clubhouse where people would watch and bet on horses.

Hippodrome closed down throughout World War II and the racetrack resumed again after the war. But they realized that horse racing was no longer profitable, so the establishment closed down permanently.

During the late 1950s, a huge fire engulfed T. Padilla and Carreta. Then, the mayor at that time opened Hippodrome to serve as a relocation site. After that, the place became an official barangay and was renamed Hipodromo. 

Museo Sugbo used to be a prison for over a hundred years

Did you know that today’s Cebu Provincial Museum called Museo Sugbo – located inside what used to be the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC)? It was called “Carcel de Cebu” – the provincial jail of Cebu.

Museo Sugbo, what used to be Carcel de Cebu

It was Domingo de Edcondrillas who designed Museo Sugbo in 1869. Apparently he was the only architect in Cebu during that time. At first, it was proposed to be the main prison for the Visayan district because of its size. Construction of Carcel de Cebu started in 1871, and it was said that the coral blocks from the wreckage of the Parian Church were used to build parts of the jail. 

For 135 years, the carcel didn’t just house the criminals but also the Katipuneros during the revolution. They were locked up in the carcel without trial and eventually executed in the Carreta Cemetery. 

Throughout the early American period, the carcel was used as a stable for horses used in the races held at the Hippodrome. Then, eventually, it was used again as a prison for the city and the whole Cebu province as well. The Japanese also imprisoned the Guerillas here after they were tortured by them. 

The prison was first given the name Cebu Provincial Jail in the American period up until the post-war, and then they changed its name to Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC).

Fast forward to December 2004, the CPDRC was moved to a bigger and more modern location. The carcel was then renovated into a warehouse of Cebuano Heritage which made it today’s Museo Sugbo. 

Animals that went extinct in Cebu

Did you also know that there were animals that used to be found in the Cebu province? We may be rich when it comes to nature, however, there were some animals that became extinct because their homes were destroyed. Cebuanos failed to save the following species: the Cebu warty pig and the Cebu hanging parrot

Cebu warty pig // photo source: falselogic.net

The Cebu warty pig is a type of Visayan warty pig. Its extinction was announced in 2000 – this was mainly caused by habitat destruction, animal hunting, reduced crop-raiding, as well as hybridization. 

Cebu hanging parrot // photo source: wikipedia

While the Cebu hanging parrot – has been extinct since 1943. The date of extinction was already set as early as 1906 though. These alluring parrots were colored green all over and had red spots in its forehead and neck. They vanished due to complete deforestation back in the 19th century, such a sad way to go. 

Vic Sotto’s grandfather published Cebu’s First Newspaper 

Vicente Sotto y Yap // photo source: Pilipinas Retrostalgia

Vicente Sotto y Yap was a politician and a former senator of the Philippines. He was also known as the “Father of Cebuano Journalism, Language, and Literature”. He is also the grandfather of the famous actor Vic Sotto and Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III. 

When Vicente Sotto was just 22 years old, he founded La Justicia in 1899. It was the first newspaper in Cebu that was published by a Filipino citizen; and in which he defended the matter of Philippine independence. It was, however, suspended under the orders of the American military governor. 

Later on, in 1901, he started another newspaper called “Ang Suga”, which translates to ‘the light’. It served as an outlet for Cebuano writers; they were able to publish their works through it. 

Moreover, Sotto also wrote “Ang Paghigugma sa Yutang Nataohan”, “Elena”, and “Maming”; these were made into a play. The late senator was also the author of the Republic Act 53 of the Press Freedom Law, passed in 1946, and states that journalists will be protected from being forced to disclose their news sources. 

READ: Educate Yourself On The Jayme-Moncado Colony In Sudlon

Malapascua Island is the only place in the world where you can dive with Thresher Sharks 

dive with thresher sharks in Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines // photo source: PADI blog

Malapascua Island probably has one of the richest and most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s located at the northern tip of the island of Cebu and is a famous diving site known both locally and internationally. It’s world-famous because it’s the only place in the world where you can dive and regularly see thresher sharks before sunrise. 

Thresher sharks are a type of mackerel shark that got its name from its scythe-like tail. They can grow up to a length of 6 meters and are nocturnal – which is why divers don’t often see them anywhere in the sea. 

It all began in 1997 when Dik De Boer went to visit a sunken island near Malapascua. It was then that he discovered the clever thresher shark. Apparently, the underwater island called Monad Shoal serves as the sharks’ cleaning station. It’s where they would clean their gills and remove parasites from their skin. 

Islas de los Pintados

Did you know? The Cebuano Visayans were the most tattooed people in the pre-colonial Philippines and that’s why the Spaniards called them the “Pintados”.

two heavily tattood Visayan warriors // photo source: tattoosandmore.info

In the 1500s when Spaniards first came to the Philippines, they were fascinated by seeing men with emblems all over their bodies. This sounds pretty awesome to me since I’m a fan of beautiful body art. Apparently the practice of having one’s body covered with tattoos was a custom in the Visayas region. Thus the islands in the Visayas were referred to by the Spaniards as “Islas de Los Pintados” which means the Islands of the Painted People.

A group of Spanish explorers went around the island of Cebu to study the region, the group was led by Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa. They went back and reported to Miguel Lopez de Legazpi that they discovered an island west of Cebu who was inhabited by two distinct races. One was the “Negroes in the outlands” and “the natives who were of Malay ancestry who had tattoos on their bodies. The island they were referring to is what we now call Negros Island.

The practice of tattooing wasn’t only done in Negros, it was also common in the islands nearby. Men also had tattoos all over their bodies in the islands of Panay, Cebu, Bohol, Samar, Leyte, Siquijor, Bantayan, Camotes, Mactan, Guimaras, Biliran, Panglao and other small islands.

While men would have tattoos almost covering their whole bodies, the women tattooed only selected parts of their bodies. The tattoos were designed in a manner that it practically became the clothes of the wearer. They would complement their tattoos by simple cuts of clothing and some jewelry for accent.

The tattoos a person had would reveal that person’s role and achievements in the society. This meant that the more intricate and detailed your tattoos are, the higher your rank is in the society.

It’s always good to educate yourself on some history before you start looking down on some people for having eccentric features or for loving art so much they decorate their bodies.

Let’s spread knowledge and good vibrations, I hope you all are having a good day fellow Cebuanos and whoever is reading this! Stay safe!

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