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The Old Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur - An exemplification of preserved historic architecture + Ilocos Regional Museum Complex

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.

Ilocos Regional Museum Complex (IRMC)

NMP Ilocos Regional Museum Complex Inauguration ceremony
Inaugural Program for the NMP Ilocos Regional Museum Complex, also launching the Old Carcel Museum, 30 January 2015

In January 30, 2015, the National Museum of the Philippines - Ilocos Regional Museum Complex (IRMC) was inaugurated together with the launching of the Old Carcel Museum and its first permanent exhibitions - "The Basi Revolt" Paintings, and associated heritage collections in the adjacent Basi Gallery.

Old Carcel Ilocos Regional Museum Complex (IRMC)
At the rehabilitation of the Old Carcel in 2014 for the historic building's adaptive reuse into a museum, the original elevation of the pathway leading to it was also restored. The full height of the sentry post (left side of the photo) was revealed through the excavation.

View of the buidling of Padre Burgos House Museum in Ilocos Norte
Built in 1788, the Padre Burgos House Museum adjacent to the south of the Old Carcel Building is part of the Ilocos Regional Museum Complex. This nationally-marked historical structure first became a museum in 1975 and known as the Ayala Museum of Vigan. The building and its collections, along with the 14 The Basi Revolt paintings attributed to Esteban Villanueva, were donated to the Ilocos Sur Historical and Cultural Foundation (ISHCF) in 1987, and two years later, the ISHCF turned its administration over to the National Museum of the Philippines through a 50-year loan agreement. 

The President Elpidio Quirino Gallery at the second floor of the Old Carcel was opened later in the same year in 2015, so with the first temporary exhibition at the North Wing Galleries featuring World Heritage photographer Ferrante Ferranti's works in “Encounters: World Heritage Baroque Churches of the Philippines”. The Abel-Iloko Exhibition was also opened at the Padre Burgos House Museum (which is part of the museum complex) in July 2017, and several other temporary exhibitions had been hosted in the gallery of changing exhibitions at the Old Carcel since. 

two women looking at museum gallery of the Basi Museum in Ilocos
The Basi Gallery at the Old Carcel Museum, South Wing, November 2021

crowd at the Ilocos museum
Ferrante Ferranti's photographs in “Encounters: World Heritage Baroque Churches of the Philippines”, during the exhibition launching in May 2015

Apart from exhibitions, the IRMC has also hosted or conducted corollary educational activities in line with the mandate of the National Museum of the Philippines to be at the forefront of promoting the Filipino's heritage education. Local communities as well as partners from outside the region had been engaged in these programs where awareness of local and regional, nationally-significant heritage is promoted.

old woman weaving binakul Iloko exhibition
Vigan's oldest binakul weaver, Catalina Ablog, does a demonstration at the main gallery of the Abel-Iloko exhibition during the Museums and Galleries Month in October 2018

Hundreds of thousands of visitors have come to the IRMC since January 2015, with the huge numbers of visitors only cut because of the COVID19 pandemic beginning March 2020. Looking forward to the ending of the pandemic soonest, your NMP in the Ilocos will soon open its upgraded Abel-Iloko Exhibition and welcome another temporary exhibition, hopefully by May 2022.


  • The Old Provincial Jail of Ilocos Sur  - Text and illustrations/photos by Ar. Armando Arciaga III | NMP AABHD
  • Ilocos Regional Museum Complex (IRMC) - Text and photos by M.L. I. Ingel  I  NMP Ilocos Regional Museum

© National Museum of the Philippines 

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