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Iloilo, Philippines: Old World Architecture, Seascapes and Festivals

12 Sep Posted by in Featured, Philippines, Southeast Asia | Comments
Iloilo, Philippines: Old World Architecture, Seascapes and Festivals

Concepcion, Iloilo Philippines
Image Credits: Shubert Ciencia

Long before the Spanish and American colonial era, Iloilo flourished as an important trading post dealing with Chinese and Indian merchants as evidenced by an impressive museum collection which includes Stone Age native pottery, fossils, jewelry, burial sites, and trade pottery from China, Annam and Siam. The name Iloilo is derived from the local word for nose, Ilong or Irong, a nod to its major river shaped like a nose.

The province is located in the southeastern part of Panay Island near the heart of the Philippine archipelago. This strategic location makes Iloilo a gateway to the region – a stopover for tourists heading to the beaches of Boracay and Palawan, including the nearby provinces of Guimaras, Antique, Capiz, and Aklan. Iloilo can be accessed from Manila via a 55-minute plane travel or an 18-22 hour sea travel or a 24-hour bus ride.

Present day Iloilo is famous for its beautiful old world architecture bearing a striking resemblance to that of the Latin American countries – a legacy of three centuries under the Spanish influence. Its rich heritage is echoed in the diverse festivals celebrated in the city and various towns of the province. Endowed with natural wonders, Iloilo offers an enchanting appeal from the caves and waterfalls of the Iloilo mountain ranges to a relaxing getaway at the dreamy beaches in the north.

The northern coast is dotted with islands surrounded by pristine shorelines and azure waters. The province’s seafood industry is mostly concentrated in these parts because of its rich marine resources. Southern Iloilo is a collection of coastal and interior towns bordered between long stretches of grey beaches and a mountainous terrain. The towns of west central Iloilo with a largely agro-industrial economy offer various attractions – from centuries old churches, recreational centers, to waterfalls and a mountain lake. East central Iloilo, the biggest rice producers in the province is a combination of coastal and inland towns, with hectares of fishponds, salt beds and rice fields.

Molo Church, Iloilo City

Molo Church, Iloilo City
Image Credits:George Parrilla

A drive towards the south will give a glimpse of the past through centuries old churches. The Gothic Renaissance Church of Molo, which served as a watch tower in the olden times to warn the people of raiders at the shores of Iloilo City, is a fine coral stone church with its beautiful female saints lining at every column, dubbing it as a feminist church. Further south is the Miagao Church, an Aztec-Baroque inspired church of yellowish limestone known for its intricate façade with a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child amidst coconut, papaya and guava shrubs. The church, which doubled as a fortress against the Moro invaders in the past, is now considered a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Back in the city, enjoy a steaming bowl of La Paz batchoy, a noodle soup garnished with pork innards, chicharon (crushed pork cracklings), vegetables, shrimp, chicken breast or beef loin, shrimp broth, chicken stock and miki (round noodles) or Pancit Molo, a soup with balls of ground pork and carrots wrapped in molo wrappers, chicken strips and shelled shrimps. After sunset head to Smallville, a popular night spot in Iloilo where Ilonggos and visitors go to dine, drink, and spend a fun night out in the city.

Embark on a scenic road trip to the north where the mountains, the sea and the sky meet. Explorations in the northern coast will lead to the mystic caves of Gigantes Island, the charming seascapes of Sicogon and the nearby islets, as well as the mysterious shadow of Pan de Azucar in Concepcion – a road less travelled by, uncharted by the tourist crowd and a locale brimming with enchanting folklores and legends.

Every 4th Sunday of January is the Dinagyang festival – a fusion of pagan and Christian traditions, held both to honor the Santo Niño and to celebrate the arrival in Panay of Malay settlers and the subsequent selling of the island to them by the Atis, the island’s first settlers. This is a two-day event of merry-making, street dancing, and cultural presentations where the performers are painted and dressed to resemble an Ati warrior dancing to the beat of a drum.

Paraw Regatta Festival is a race among seafarers on vibrant Paraws (sailboats) in the straits between Guimaras Island and the city of Iloilo. The paraws, used by first settlers from Borneo navigating the seas in search of a peaceful settlement have maintained the original design of the Bornean sailboats and have become an essential part of the Ilonggo seafaring life. The festival is an annual summer season event aimed at preserving the paraw as a way to commemorate the earliest period of Ilonggo history.

A local legend says that in the island of Madia-as lay a province where the sun touches the sea, as the waves graze the mountains and the wind dances with the sun’s fiery glow – perhaps it speaks of Iloilo. The province continues to keep its old world charm and natural wonders despite its rapid growth as a modern city. Within the province lingers the glory of racial diversity – a melting pot of Spanish, Chinese, Malay and American influences blending in harmony with its rich cultural and tribal ancestry.

For more information:
Explore Iloilo
Iloilo Paraw Regatta

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