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The Old Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur - An exemplification of preserved historic architecture

Old Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur
Cover photo featuring ground floor plan of the property and location map (A. Arciaga III, 2020)

This article features the Old Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur, one of three and the largest thereof, of the buildings which now comprise the NM Ilocos Regional Museum Complex. The complex is located along Calle Burgos in the Historic Town of Vigan – a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ilocos Sur. The present building is an exemplification of preserved historic architecture adaptively reused for the future.

Old Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur entrance
The entrance of the property (A. Arciaga III, 2020)

The original structure was built in 1657, constructed to house the Municipal Jail of the locality, the Carcel de Vigan. The building was made Carcel Provincial (Provincial Jail) when Ilocos Sur became a province in February 1818. Since then, the property has been scene and setting for certain historical events in Philippine history, including being taken over by American forces in 1899 after becoming a revolutionist stronghold. The jail was also the birthplace of the Sixth President of the Republic: Elpidio Quirino, who was born within the penitentiary on November 16, 1890, while his father was the warden. In 1948, the building was converted into a memorial library in honor of President Quirino’s mother, Gregoria M. Rivera.

Old Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur
View of the Old Provincial Jail from Calle Burgos, facing North (A. Arciaga III, 2020)

The structure is of brick-and-mortar masonry, with an outercoat of white plaster. Roofing material of the carcel has been restored to red clay barrel roof tiles, in the Spanish style. Furthermore, while a majority of the jail features of the property have been adapted into its current function of an art museum, several inmate cells have been preserved in-situ, contributing as exhibits in and of themselves, along with the cast-iron bars adorning the original structures’ fenestrations and doorways.

penitentiary cells Old Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur
Preserved penitentiary cells within the restored building (A. Arciaga III, 2020)

The property as a whole covers an approximate ground area of 2400 square meters. Architecturally, the preserved plan of the Old Provincial Jail is that of a large, winged penitentiary, situated along the North-South line, while the plan itself is symmetrical along the West-East axis. The central component of the structure is two-stories high, with adjacent wings protruding from the central structure to the North, South, and West. These protruding wings from the North and South are of single story and also each extend perpendicularly to the West, forming an enclosure to the structure’s two courtyards, these courtyards being visible from the two-story central structure, a design feature to monitor then-prisoners of the jail. 

Old Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur
View of the South courtyard (A. Arciaga III, 2020)

This historic structure functioned as a provincial jail until June 30, 2014, when inmates moved to the new provincial penitentiary in the adjacent town of Bantay. Then donated by the Provincial Government of Ilocos Sur to the National Museum of the Philippines, renovations and restoration to the property were completed by the end of the same year, the Old Provincial Jail was re-inaugurated on January 30, 2015 as a component of the Ilocos Regional Museum Complex. 

The structure currently has three main galleries that feature the cultural heritage of Ilocos Sur – “The Basi Revolt” Gallery which holds the series of 14 paintings on the September 1807 uprising that were collectively declared as National Cultural Treasure in 2009, as well as ethnographic and botanical items associated with basi, the traditional sugarcane wine of the Ilocos; the Elpidio Quirino Memorabilia; and the North Wing Gallery for changing exhibitions.


Text and illustrations/photos by Ar. Armando Arciaga III | NMP AABHD

© National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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