Established in the 16th century, Vigan is the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. Its architecture reflects the coming together of cultural elements from elsewhere in the Philippines, from China and from Europe, resulting in a culture and townscape that have no parallel anywhere in East and South-East Asia.
Vigan represents a unique fusion of Asian building design and construction with European colonial architecture and planning. Criterion. Vigan is an exceptionally intact and well preserved example of a European trading town in East and South-East Asia.
Vigan is an exceptionally intact and well-preserved example of a European trading town in East and South-East Asia. The architecture is truly reflective of its roots in both materials and design, in its fusion of Asian building design and construction with European colonial architecture and planning.
The town is located in the delta of the Abra River, off the coastal plain of the China Sea, close to the north-east tip of the island of Luzon. The present-day municipality divided into nine urban districts and thirty rural villages. Almost half the total area is still in use for agriculture. The Historic Core Zone is defined on two sides by the Govantes and Mestizo rivers.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, there was a small indigenous settlement on what was at that time an island, consisting of wooden or bamboo houses on stilts. In 1572 the conquistador Juan de Salcedo founded a new town, which he named Villa Ferdinandina, and made it his capital when appointed Lieutenant Governor (Encomendero ) of the entire Ilocos region. Intended as a trading centre rather than a fortress, it was the northernmost city established in the Philippines by the Spanish. At the end of the 17th century a new form of architecture evolved, which combined traditional construction with the techniques of building in stone and wood introduced by the Spanish. Brick was introduced by the Augustinians for their churches and other buildings. In 1778, as a result of its expansion, it was renamed Ciudad Ferdinandina. The Mestizo River was central to the development of the town in the 16th-19th centuries: large sea-going vessels could berth in the delta and small craft communicated with the interior. It is no longer navigable owing to silting, and so the town is no longer an island. As the major commercial centre for the region, Vigan traded directly with China. As a stage in the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade in the Spanish colonial period, it supplied goods for shipping to Mexico, and thence onwards to Europe. This trade resulted in constant exchanges of peoples and cultures between the Ilocanos, Filipinos, Chinese, Spanish, and (in the 20th century) North Americans.
The traditional Spanish chequerboard street plan opens up into a main plaza, in two parts. The Plaza Salcedo is the longer arm of an L-shaped open space, with the Plaza Burgos as the shorter. The former is dominated by the Municipal Hall and the Provincial Capitol and the latter by the cathedral. The urban plan of the town closely conforms to the Renaissance grid plan specified in the Ley de las Indias for all 149 new towns in the Spanish Empire. There is, however, a noticeable difference between Vigan and contemporary Spanish colonial towns in Latin America in the Historic Core (known as the Mestizo district), where the Latin tradition is tempered by strong Chinese, Ilocano and Filipino influences.
The building materials used in Vigan are terracotta, wood, shells, stone and lime, all obtained from the surrounding area. The architecture of the typical Vigan house is derived from the traditional Filipino dwelling, the bahay kubo, a small one-room hut built from light woven materials (wood, bamboo, thatch), raised on stilts for ventilation and as protection against monsoon flooding. Such structures are no longer to be found in Vigan, but their influence is discernible in the much larger bahay na bato(stone house), a much more solid structure, with a stone-built lower storey surmounted by a timber-framed upper storey, and with a steeply pitched tiled roof (reminiscent of traditional Chinese architecture). The exterior walls of the upper storey are enclosed by window panels of kapis shells framed in wood which can be slid back for better ventilation. The Chinese merchants and traders conducted their business from offices and warehouses on the ground floors of their houses, with the living quarters above. This is characteristic of Chinese society. Vigan also possesses a number of significant public buildings, which also show multi-cultural influences. These include the Cathedral of St Paul, the Archbishop's Palace, St Paul's College, the Catholic Cemetery Chapel, and the neoclassical early 20th-century provincial Capitol.