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Historical Places, Buildings and Heritage Sites in Cebu City Philippines [Tourist Sites and Landmarks]

Cebu has the distinction of being the oldest hispanic ciudad (city) in the Philippines, founded by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565 as Ciudad de Santisimo Nombre de Jesus. It also has the oldest named street in the country, Calle Colon, which runs from the Parian district, through Cebu’s business district, crosses Sergio Osmeña Boulevard (formerly Jones), and turns to become Rizal Avenue Extension.

Calle Colon, early 1900s (Cebuano Studies Center, University of San Carlos)
Calle Colon, early 1900s (Cebuano Studies Center, University of San Carlos)

Cebu’s principal artery, Osmeña Boulevard, which runs approximately from southeast to northwest, divides the city’s poblacion into downtown, midtown, and uptown areas. Downtown Cebu, which begins from the Port Area up to General Maxilom Avenue (formerly Mango), contain sites associated with the Spanish and American colonial periods. Uptown Cebu begins from General Maxilom Avenue up to the Cebu Provincial Capitol. Midtown Cebu is where downtown and uptown meet, the area of Osmeña Blvd.

Downtown Cebu

Magellan’s Cross

Magellan’s Cross, located on P. Burgos and City Hall Lane is the oldest Spanish landmark in the city. The tindalo (Afzelia rhomboidea) cross, which Ferdinand Magellan planted on 16 March 1521, is enclosed inside an octagonal kiosk. This kiosk of piedra de visayas or tabliya (cut coral), most likely from Mactan, and roofed with tiles, was built in the 19th century to protect the historical cross from the elements. The kiosk has been restored a number of times, although the dates of the restoration are uncertain. Its ceiling has a 20th-century mural depicting the planting of the cross in Cebu, a ritual performed by the Spanish as a symbol of the acquisition of territory.

Kiosk of Magellan’s Cross (Cebuano Studies Center, University of San Carlos)
Kiosk of Magellan’s Cross (Cebuano Studies Center, University of San Carlos)

Basilica Minore of the Santo Niño

Basilica Minore of the Santo Niño on Burgos Street corner Osmeña Boulevard was built between 1711 and 1735. Its architect, Juan de Albarran, OSA, was prior of the Santo Niño in the 18th century. Albarran left a record explaining how the church was constructed, including details on how the stones were quarried from Mactan Island and brought to Cebu on abaroto (dugout) without katig (outrigger). Albarran’s writing is considered a prototype of a locally written architectural handbook. Built from coral stone and tiles, the basilica is built on the site of the first church in the Philippines in 1565. As soon as the Spanish had conquered Cebu, and Legazpi had mapped out a plan for a city, the Augustinian friars built a provisional church of wood, bamboo, and thatch to house the image of the Santo Niño found by a soldier of Legazpi in a native house. This image was believed to be the same one Magellan had given as gift to the Rajah Humabon’s wife who was baptized as Juana.

Basilica Minore of the Santo Niño
Basilica Minore of the Santo Niño (Cebuano Studies Center, University of San Carlos)

The present 18th century church complex as designed by Albarran is in the atrial style, that is, the church forms one side of a quadrilateral, while the convent three sides, all surrounding an inner patio. The church is cruciform with a bell tower built to the right of the facade. This tower of diminishing dimensions follows a common design found in Philippine colonial churches. The main nave of the church leads to the sanctuary where a multileveled retablo —divided into 17 sections or niches—stands against the principal wall. Fifteen of these house images of Augustinian saints, while the central niche is for the Santo Niño (a replica of the original) and the crucifix below it. The fifteenth and topmost depicts the piercing of San Agustin’s heart.

Formerly, the Santo Niño was housed in this retablo, but for easy accessibility it has been transferred to a side chapel inside a bullet proof glass container. On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Cebu in 1965, the church was renovated under Archbishop (later Cardinal) Julio Rosales (Bishop 1949-1982). The pilasters were embellished with gilded capitals decorated with corn cobs, the floor replaced with tiles, and stained glass windows added.

Fort San Pedro 

Fort San Pedro Cebu
Fort San Pedro (CCP Collections)

Fort San Pedro on Antonio Pigafetta Street was renovated in 1735. Its architect is uncertain. The fort traces its origins to the triangular palisade Miguel Lopez de Legazpi set up in April 1565 to protect the Spanish settlement of Santisimo Nombre de Jesus. By the 17th century, a triangular stone fort was built, attributed to the design of Gianantonio Campioni, SJ, who was at one time rector of the nearby Jesuit Colegio de San Ildefonso. Much of the present fort, however, traces to 1735, when the fort was remodeled and reinforced. The fort survived World War II, with some damage, but was restored.

The fort follows a triangular plan, as did Legazpi’s palisade. At every point in the triangle are bastions with a garita (sentry box) at the apex. The entrance to the fort is through an arched doorway cut through the side of the fort facing Plaza Independencia. Above the fort’s entrance is the casa de castellan (quarters of the fort master). The fort has a branch of the National Museum of the Philippines and its interior open space is used as a venue for public and private functions like wedding receptions. Outside the walls of the fort is a statue of Antonio de Pigafetta, the chronicler of Magellan’s voyage.

Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia on Martires (later M. J. Cuenco Avenue), a stretch of open land, shaped as an irregular quadrilateral, was once residential. It is bounded by Legazpi Externsion to the north; A. Pigafetta to the east, M. C. Briones to the south, and M. J. Cuenco to the west. The first cathedral of Cebu was apparently built in this area. Most of the residential land was assigned to the Church and divided among the secular clergy and the Jesuits and Augustinians, the two religious orders allowed to minister in Cebu in accord with the decree of 1595 dividing the Philippines into ecclesiastical divisions to which a specific order was assigned. The present plaza commemorates the independence of the Philippines on 12 June 1898.

The CSCR (Cebu South Central Road) Tunnel

The CSCR (Cebu South Central Road) Tunnel, popularly known as the subway, runs under the plaza. Begun in 2006, it was inaugurated in 2010. In the process of building a tunnel, precolonial artifacts were accidentally unearthed. This prompted a systematic archaeological excavation of Plaza Independencia, which yielded evidence of habitation. Excavation was done by University of San Carlos Department of Sociology and Anthropology in October 2007, and April and May 2008. The finds range in age from A. S. Watson and Co. glass bottles for aerated water from the 19th century, to Ming ceramics and Sukothai ware from the 1400s to 1500s, and a gold mask, probably of older provenance.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Cebu

Cebu Cathedral
Cebu Cathedral (Cebuano Studies Center, University of San Carlos)

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Cebu, dedicated to San Vitalis on P. Burgos Street between Legaspi and F. Urdaneta was built from 1734 to 1836. Its construction was a series of starts and stops. Established as a diocese on 14 August 1595, Cebu took a long time to build its cathedral. Starting with a provisional cathedral of wood, bamboo, and nipa thatch, several failed attempts to construct in stone were done in 1670, discontinued on 1689, resumed in 1699 and altogether abandoned by Bishop Sebastian de Forondo in 1719 because the cathedral was poorly designed. That year, the military engineer Juan de Ciscara was summoned to Cebu. He drew a plan for a cathedral with wide nave and lateral aisles, the main altar at the transept crossing, and an altar de perdon (altar of pardon) behind it. Ciscara’s plan proposed a coro baxo (choir stalls on the ground floor) before the main altar in the manner of medieval churches in Spain and of the cathedral of Mexico. Again, the cathedral was not completed because it was resting on soft sand and because funds were diverted to military campaigns against Mindanao.

The present cathedral was begun in 1734, construction interrupted in 1739, resumed in 1741, halted soon after and resumed 40 years later in 1784 but not completed until 1836. It is in the baroque style. After being damaged during World War II, reconstruction was completed in 1959. Jose Zaragoza was the architect for the reconstruction. In 1993, the cathedral was renovated by the Espinas, Cebu-based architects, principally by Omar Maxwell Espina, in preparation for the 400th anniversary of the diocese of Cebu.

The post-World War II reconstruction saved as much of the Spanish-era cathedral. Characteristic of the facade was the ornamented pediment whose central section was arched, flanked by lower straight sections. The interior of the cathedral had a central nave flanked by collateral aisles. To answer the need for more space, the 1993 renovation took advantage of the aisles by building raised galleries over the ground floor. In between the pillars that divided the aisle from the nave, semicircular balconies were built. Because the massive pillars left blind spots, from which one could not see the sanctuary, television monitors were added. In 2008 and 2009, restoration of the cathedral and remodeling of the adjacent convento to conform in style to the cathedral was undertaken on the occasion of Cebu’s 75th anniversary as an archdiocese. A set of retablos, based on the design in 1900, was built on this occasion. On 15 October 2013, the cathedral suffered damaged because of a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. Temporarily closed to the public, it was reopened as soon as repairs and reinforcement were completed.

Colegio de San Ildefonso (GMC Plaza)

Colegio de San Ildefonso, presently GMC Plaza on M. J. Cuenco, is the oldest school in Cebu, established by the Jesuits. In the 17th century it had its school buildings constructed by Gianantonio Campioni, an Italian Jesuit and architect. After completing the Church of San Ignacio in Intramuros in 1632, he was assigned to Cebu as rector of the colegio. In 1768, the Jesuits were expelled from Cebu. The colegio was acquired by the diocese of Cebu and, in 1783, Bishop Mateo Joaquin Arevalo reopened it as the Colegio Seminario de San Carlos Borromeo, a diocesan seminary. It was entrusted to the Dominicans in 1852, but when the Dominican rector Father Mariano Cuartero was appointed bishop of the newly established diocese of Jaro in 1862, the Dominicans eventually turned over the colegio to the Vincentians or the Padres Paules in 1867. Under the Vincentians, the colegio was improved and expanded and the chapel of the school renovated. Land was also reclaimed by building a breakwater along the shore and filling the area behind it. Under the Vincentians, the colegio began to accept lay students as non-boarding students, who were not candidates to the priesthood.

The old colegio was a long building, originally two stories; but by 19th century it was three stories tall. The lower floor of the building was for classes and the upper floor for boarders and the priests who run the school. On the southern end of the school building and perpendicular to it was the school chapel. When the Jesuits left it, the school chapel was a two-story structure with a triangular pediment. In the 19th century, the chapel was increased in height and the facade renovated by the addition of a straight parapet, embellished with bas-relief. The chapel was a single nave. It had no bell tower but built along the southern wall was an espadaña belfry. The school building itself was like many Visayan conventos, an oversized bahay na bato (stone house), with a lower floor of stone and upper floors of wood.

In 1930, the colegio inaugurated a new campus on Rosario Street. In 1935, the archdiocese transferred administration to the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) and separated the seminary from the college for lay students. The lay college came to be known as San Carlos College. From then on the main campus would be at Rosario Street. The seminary remained on M. J. Cuenco until World War II, when the seminarians were evacuated to Sibonga and Argao. The old building was utterly destroyed during the war and the property sold. In 1949, the seminary moved to Mabolo, once part of the Augustinian estate that stretched to Banilad.

Patria de Cebu (Bishop’s Palace)

Built across the Cebu Cathedral, Patria de Cebu on P. Burgos Street. was the site of the bishop’s palace of Cebu, built by Bishop Santos Gomez Marañon, OSA (bishop 1829-1840). Destroyed during World War II, Julio Cardinal Rosales, then archbishop of Cebu, transferred the palace to a larger piece of property along Jakosalem Street, beside the Diocesan Shrine of the Sacred Heart (formerly Sacred Heart Parish). The ruin of the old palace was torn down and a new building, Patria de Cebu, was constructed by the archdiocese. It provided inexpensive accommodations, primarily for visiting priests and the religious who needed a place to stay while in the city. Patria is currently run by nuns and is open to the public. Patria is a straight-forward building, with Spartan accomodations. Its facade has touches of classicist architecture, but otherwise the building is a simple box.

Cathedral Museum of Cebu

Cathedral Museum of Cebu
Cathedral Museum of Cebu, 2013 (Constantine Agustin)

The Cathedral rectory or convent on Burgos Street corner Urdaneta is presently the Cathedral Museum of Cebu. Built in the 19th century while Gomez Marañon was bishop of Cebu, it is in the style of the bahay na bato, consisting of a lower story of coral blocks and an upper story of stone. The cathedral convento, which served as the residence of the rector of the cathedral and the priests assigned to it, survived World War II. Sacred Heart Parish, a personal and non-territorial parish for Filipino-Chinese founded in April 1952, opened a chapel and an office at the zaguan (ground floor) of the convento. At one time it was used by the University of San Carlos and then by a cooperative.

When a new rectory was built beside the cathedral, the convento was abandoned and eventually boarded up. In 2000, work began on restoring the rectory, supervised by Architect Melva Hava, former dean of the College of Architecture of the University of San Carlos. The convento was consolidated, its post and foundation reinforced and converted to the Cathedral Museum of Cebu. It houses a collection of church artifacts and art, originally gathered by Monsignor Virgilio R. Yap, who had opened a one-room museum at the zaguan in 1995. A room at the ground floor houses the “Carmen Collection,” which consists of a set of altar furnishings from the parish of Carmen. The ground floor has a room for conferences and meetings. The main exhibition area is the second floor, divided into four galleries depicting the growth of Catholicism in Cebu, the Church’s heritage expressed in the memorabilia of Cardinals Rosales and Ricardo J. Vidal, the photographs of historic churches in Cebu, and a collection of statuary and sacred vessels.


Parian and the neighboring Tinago (Tinagong Dagat) developed as the enclave of the Chinese mestizos of Cebu in the 19th century. Tinago to the west of Parian was once a lagoon bordered by a swamp (pantanao). When the lagoon dried up, it was reclaimed to build M.J. Cuenco Avenue. In the early 19th century, Parian was an independent parish run by Chinese mestizo priests.

The Church of San Juan Bautista is presently the site of the Parian Fire Station on Mabini and Sikatuna Streets. The fire station occupies what was once the convento of the Parian parish church, dedicated to San Juan Bautista. Since its inception, this parish church was administered by the secular clergy. By the 19th century it was mostly under Chinese mestizo priests. Because of its close proximity to the Santo Niño church, the Augustinians contended that the presence of a separate parish church was in conflict with the territorial rights of the Santo Niño priory. In 1830, the parish was ordered disbanded and the Parian church demoted to a visita (mission chapel) of Santo Niño, but in 1848 Parian was reestablished as a parish. It came to a definite end when the church was demolished from 1876 to 1878. The convento, however, was left intact. The church was built perpendicular to the convento and the complex had an L-plan. The site of the church sanctuary is presently a chapel in which old stones are found, said to be parts of the demolished church. A 1939 photograph shows a cross on a coral stone base marking the sanctuary. The convent was attached to the sanctuary and the single-nave church occupied the whole block reaching to the triangular plaza in front of it, which is now the site of the Heritage of Cebu Monument . The church facade followed the commonly used design of a two-story structure crowned by a triangular pediment, and flanked on either side by a bell tower.

Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House

Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House
Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House, 2004 (Wikimedia Commons)

One of three bahay na bato house museums in the Parian, the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House on Mabini Street, was built in the late 17th century. Typical of the bahay na bato of the era, it had a lower floor of cut coral, an upper floor of wood, and a tile roof. Some sources say it was built between 1675 and 1700. Its original owners and builders were Don Juan Yap, a Chinese merchant, and his wife Maria Floriodo, who had three children, Maria, Eleuterio, and Consolacion. Maria, the eldest daughter, married Mariano Avendaño Sandiego, a cabeza de barangay (barangay chief) in the late 1880s Parian. The house is presently owned by Maria’s great great grandson, Val Mancao Sandiego.

The bahay’s lower floor has been converted to a gallery for the display of the family’s collection of colonial furniture and artifacts. The second floor and main living area is divided into a sala, which faces the street. Beside the sala is the dining room and at the very rear is the bedroom and the kitchen, which was built as an extension. The kitchen has a nipa roof and a bamboo floor. This extension has preserved kitchen’s dapog (fire pit) and houses cooking utensils of the Spanish colonial era.

Museo Parian sa Sugbu

The Jesuit House of 1730, presently Museo Parian sa Sugbu, on Zulueta Street was built in the style of the bahay na bato. This is the second house museum. Privately owned, this house was used as a warehouse by Ho Tong Construction, a hardware store in Cebu. Oral tradition, supported by markings in the structure, attributes this house to the Jesuits. On the lintel of the gate, the perimeter fence, and above the arch entrance of the house are the seals of the Jesuit order. Inside the house is a wooden plaque with the inscription “Año 1730,” and below it is a heraldic crescent moon, symbolic of the Virgin Mary. The house has two separate structures: the main house with two stories and built of coral blocks, and a second house, with a lower story of coral blocks and an upper story of wood. The houses are connected by a bridge. The house is slowly being restored and has opened as a lifestyle museum on the second floor and a museum on the Parian’s history and the Jesuits’s presence in Cebu on the ground floor.

Heritage of Cebu Monument

The Heritage of Cebu Monument on Mabini and Sikatuna Streets was built from 1997 to 2000 by sculptor Eduardo Castrillo. A tableau of cement and bronze, the monument depicts important landmarks in Cebu, namely: Santo Niño Basilica, Cebu Cathedral, Magellan’s cross, and the demolished church of the Parian. Also depicted is a galleon. It depicts historical figures like Rajah Humabon, Magellan, King Philip II, and San Pedro Calungsod as well as important historical events like the Battle of Mactan. It is built on a triangular piece of land, a mini plaza, which in the 19th century was directly in front of the Parian church.

Casa Gorordo 

Casa Gorordo on Hernan Cortes (later Lopez Jaena) Street was built around the mid-19th century and designed by architect Alejandro Reynes (born circa 1820). This is the third house museum. The house was bought by Juan Isidro de Gorordo in 1863. Now under the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI) since 1983, the house had been restored and outfitted as a house museum that showcases the elegant lifestyle at the turn of the century. In this house was born Juan Gorordo (1862-1934), who became the first Filipino bishop of Cebu from 1910 to 1930. Casa Gorordo is a longitudinal two-story structure. Its distinctive feature is a long-trellised balcony that runs the length of the dining hall and is parallel to it. The lower floor once used for storage houses galleries, a function hall, and the administrative division of the Casa. The second floor is divided into the living room, dining room, and kitchen all in one axis. Parallel to this section are the bedrooms with doors connecting either to the living room or the dining room. A room in the house has been set up as a chapel for the times when the bishop was visiting. The house displays furniture, utensils, memorabilia, and other artifacts of the Gorordo family. Perpendicular to the Casa Gorordo, an independent two-story building in the style of the bahay na bato was added to house a museum shop and other offices.

Carcel de Cebu

Carcel de Cebu on M. J. Cuenco was built around 1871 to 1878. Its architect was Domingo de Escondrillas, the lone government architect in Cebu, who also designed the churches at Pardo, Cebu and Loon, Bohol. He designed the jail as the carcel del distrito, the main prison for the Visayas District in 1869. The plan took two years to get approval and work commenced around 1871. The jail is in a sedate neoclassical style. Its first and principal building runs parallel to M. J. Cuenco. In 1892, more buildings were added behind the main structure. A second storey was added to the main building, probably during the American colonial period. Oral tradition claims that most of the coral blocks used for the jail came from the Parian church demolished in 1878. In its 135-year history, the jail housed not only criminals but also revolutionaries. Many Katipuneros who were incarcerated there were executed in nearby Carreta cemetery.

During the early 20th century, the jail was used as a stable for horses racing at the hipodromo (racetrack) nearby. It returned to use as a jail for both city and provincial prisoners, just before World War II. During the war, Japanese incarcerated guerrillas in the jail. From the 1950s to 1976, the jail was divided into two sections: the front served as the city jail and the rear as the provincial jail. The changes in administration and use caused the jail to be named variously. Throughout the American period and the postwar years, it was called Cebu Provincial Jail replacing the old Spanish name. In the 1980s, the jail was renamed Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC). CPDRC was transferred to a more modern and spacious prison away from downtown Cebu. In December 2004, the old provincial jail was converted into Museo Sugbo, the repository of Cebuano heritage. The first four galleries of the museum were inaugurated on 5 August 2008. On 13 August 2009, the National Historical Institute marked the jail and the National Museum Cebu Branch Galleries was opened.

The City Hall

The City Hall beside the Basilica Minore de Santo Niño was built circa 1937 in the neoclassical style. A new city hall was built in front of an older municipal hall to prepare for the elevation of Cebu to the status of a chartered city of the Philippine Commonwealth. The building followed the preferred neoclassical style for government buildings. A central section rose to three stories, above which was an attic and a parapet making it taller than the flanking sections of three stories and an attic. The ornamentation of the building is sedate and controlled. Fenestrations and openings all follow a rectangular plan. A pair of Tuscan pillars flanked by two pilasters, divides the central section into three segments. A staircase spanning the width of the central section leads to a three-story vestibule, positioned immediately before the main door.

Aduana (Malacañan of the South)

Aduana (Malacañan of the South), customs house, was built in 1911. The building’s design is attributed to William E. Parsons. Done in the neoclassical style, it is one of a number of custom houses built of similar design, for instance in Manila and Iloilo. These buildings are characterized by a multistory podium for offices and a central tower. Since the aduana was built beside or near the port, the tower served as a lookout that gave a panoramic view of the pier.

Compañia Maritima Building

Compañia Maritima Building on Quezon Boulevard, between Lapu-Lapu and P. Burgos Streets, was built in 1910 in the neoclassical style. Built on reclaimed land and named the Fernandez Building when constructed, Shamrock Hotel occupied the building in the 1930s. Occupants of the building between its construction and Shamrock’s occupation are uncertain. It came to be known as Maritima when the shipping company occupied the building after Shamrock had left. It was bombed during World War II and its owner, Fernandez Hermanos, abandoned the building. It remains a derelict waiting for restoration. Rising to three stories, the building has an irregular pentagon plan similar to a flatiron plan, as it follows the layout of the streets. The top two stories have arched openings in between engaged pillars, with simplified Tuscan capitals. Above the pillars runs a band of triglyphs. The two stories rest on a first story with deeply etched horizontal lines decorating its surface. The building has a roof deck decorated with balusters.

Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum

Prewar Gotiaoco Building (Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum)
Prewar Gotiaoco Building (Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum, Ortigas Foundation Library Collection)

Gotiaoco Building, now the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum of the National Museum, located at M. C. Briones Street, was built in 1914 in the neo-Gothic style. Constructed at the initiative of a Chinese entrepreneur, Pedro Gotiaoco, the five-story commercial building was one of the first in Cebu and the first to have an elevator. An arcade at the ground floor, windows with awning type closures, the use of classical motifs and proportions are some of the neoclassical features of the building. After World War II, the building served many functions, including those of a warehouse, the office of the city government’s market operations, and a center for senior citizens. The city council of Cebu declared the building as a historical landmark on 13 February 2013. The building’s administration was turned over to the National Museum by the National Government, which owns the land on which the building stands, through the Natural Resource Development Corporation (NRDC), a corporate arm of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR). The National Museum is working with the Filipino Chinese community of Cebu to retrofit, repair, and restore the building as a museum on the Filipino Chinese community in Cebu.

Carbon Market

In the pre-World War II period when a train ran though Cebu island, from Cebu City to Carcar in the south, Carbon Market was the place where coal was deposited and to which locomotives pulled the coal cars to be loaded—hence the name. Its location near the sea made it convenient for boats to unload coal and other goods, some from neighboring islands, like Bohol. As the last stop in Cebu City, it was a convenient place for merchants to download goods and produce from the countryside, even as far as Carcar, and to upload goods from Cebu City, which were distributed along the train route. Carbon was a major trading hub in Cebu.

San Nicolas Tolentino Parish

Prewar San Nicolas de Tolentino Church (Leo Cloma Collection)
Prewar San Nicolas de Tolentino Church (Leo Cloma Collection)

San Nicolas Tolentino Parish was established in the 1574 by the Augustinians. Located south of Cebu’s historic district it was the area designated by the Spanish colonist for a village of Cebuanos. To its north was Villa San Miguel, the Spanish enclave. In 1627, it is reported that fire destroyed the parish church, most likely the first. In 1641, a new church was built. Another one was built between 1787 and 1804. The church was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt afterwards by Father Venerando Reyes, a secular priest who was in charge of the parish from before the war, 1942 to 1965.

San Jose de Recoletos University

The site of the Recoletos church is presently occupied by the San Jose de Recoletos University. The Recollect Augustinians arrived in Cebu in 1621. Bishop Pedro Arce assigned them to the Ermita district, where a small chapel, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, had been built. In 1718, a new church was built which came to be known as Recoletos. This district was once a thriving parish for the Chinese, who settled in the area because of its proximity to Carbon Market. Recoletos church had a classical Grecian portico as facade, similar in design to the facade of the parish church of San Bartolome in Malabon. In 1964, a more spacious and modern church was built and integrated with University of San Jose Recoletos. The Recoletos church, dedicated to Nuestra Señora del Carmen, faces Magallanes Street. The church’s main retablo now belongs to the Pagrel collection in San Agustin Museum, Intramuros.

Vision Theater

Vision Theater on Calle Colon was built in the 1930s in the neoclassical style by Agustin Jereza, an educator and engineer, who established Jereza Construction Co. and was responsible for many public and private projects in the Visayas and Cebu. Vision Theater, although no longer functioning as such, stands as an elegant testimony to the ornamented neoclassical style. While shops at the ground floor and the buildings beside it have obscured details of the theater, vintage photographs show that Vision had a rusticated wall at the ground floor, over which were built three more floors and a roof deck with a balustraded parapet. The central section of three bays, defined by a pair of Corinthian columns and flanking Corinthian pilasters, was flanked by bays pierced by awning-type windows. Below and above the windows were classical ornaments like swags and medallions. Above the central section is a parapet decorated with sculptures by the Italian artist Dante Guidetti. This landmark building survived World War II and is awaiting restoration as it is no longer functional as a theater.

University of San Carlos (USC)

Prewar Colegio Seminario de San Carlos
Prewar Colegio Seminario de San Carlos (Cebuano Studies Center, University of San Carlos)

The University of San Carlos (USC) on P. del Rosario Street was built from 1930 to 1932 in the neoclassical style. The USC claims direct descent from the Colegio de San Ildefonso. At the boundaries of downtown and uptown, a new campus was built for the collegiate part of the Colegio Seminario de San Carlos. In response to the directive of Pope Pius XI, who was in office from 1922 to 1939, that seminaries should be exclusively for the students to the priesthood, a college for extern students was established in 1924 for non-seminarians. But the college did not have its own building until 1932, when the P. de Rosario Street building was completed. The seminary section remained at its original location near Plaza Independencia. Both schools were administered by the Vincentians who in 1934, turned over both college and seminary to the Fathers of the Society of the Divine Word.

The P. del Rosario campus building was in a neoclassical style noted for its use of pilasters and engaged columns to define the vertical movement of the facade. The main building from 1932 is presently a four-story longitudinal structure with a pitched roof, hidden by a reinforced concrete parapet. Originally, the building was two stories with tall windows and the pitched roof visible. But after World War II , when the college was reconstructed, two extra floors were added, and the central section of three bays, separated by engaged Doric columns and pilasters and capped by a triangular pediment, has been integrated into the upper story. The central section, is flanked by nine bays on either side. In the prewar building, the fifth bay was ornamented with a faux facade demarcated by two-story pilasters and crowned by a triangular pediment. This ornament has disappeared in the postwar reconstruction. Added after the war are the swags and medallions that ornament the building.

Midtown Cebu

Fuente Osmeña

Fuente Osmeña at midtown Cebu, circa 1990
Fuente Osmeña at midtown Cebu, circa 1990 (CCP Collections)

Fuente Osmeña on Osmeña Avenue corner Maxillom Avenue formerly Mango, marks midtown Cebu. The fountain dates to the pre-World War II era, but the rotunda and fountain, were named to honor prominent Cebuano politician Sergio Osmeña only in 1960, through City Ordinance No. 284, which renamed the area and the former Jones Avenue as Osmeña. Osmeña was vice-president of Manuel Quezon, who took over the presidency when Quezon died in upstate New York. The main feature of the rotunda, which is also a park, is a whitewashed fountain, where a tapering plinth raises the basin for water, which then cascades as it overflows to a large catchment below. From the center of the basin rises an ornamented spire crowned by a light.

Osmeña Residence

The Osmeña Residence on Osmeña Avenue was built in 1947. This was the retirement home of Sergio Osmeña Jr. It was in the family for four decades until sold to the College Assurance Plan (CAP). It is presently Don Sergio Osmeña Museum and CAP Art Gallery. A room named after General Douglas MacArthur commemorates the visit of MacArthur to this house. Made of reinforced concrete and wood, the house belongs to the grand style of houses of an earlier period, where classical elements like Roman arches are harmonized with other elements like the corbels from the baroque and vernacular style and the pitched roof of the bahay na bato. The longitudinal facade of the two-story building is broken by a perpendicular bay at the southern end of the building and by the stairwell, which juts out of the line of the facade and is capped by a dormer roof.

Archbishop’s Palace of Cebu

The Archbishop’s Palace of Cebu on Dionisio Jakosalem Street. was built in 1953. Its style is eclectic. Constructed during the incumbency of Julio Cardinal Rosales, the second archbishop of Cebu, the palace or palacio as it is commonly known is typical of large mansions in the Visayas that draws elements from various styles, in particular, the Romanesque with its repetitive use of the Roman arch. However, the flaring pitched roof with exposed corbels harkens more to vernacular architecture and its cast-iron ornamentation to baroque. The building has two parts: the main building, which is entered through a raised entrance and leads to the chapel wing built perpendicular to it. At the other end of the main wing is another wing that projects in the opposite direction of the chapel wing. These two attached wings gives the palace an S-plan. Diocesan offices are on the ground floor and on the upper floor are the private areas of the building.

Bradford Memorial Church

The Bradford Memorial Church on 85 Osmeña Boulevard was built in 1912 in the style of neo-Gothic, favored by Protestant Churches. The Bradford Memorial is the oldest Protestant Church in Cebu. Formerly Presbyterian it is presently under the United Church of Christ. It is named after Matilda L. Bradford, the mother of Dorothy H. Day, its donor. This single-nave church has a porch in front of its facade that serves as vestibule. The interior is plain, its ornaments are the lancet windows characteristic of the neo-Gothic style. Bradford was declared as a National Landmark through the National Historical Institute Resolution No. 4 of 20 November 1984, being the oldest Protestant church in Cebu. In 2013, the church underwent a thorough conservation and restoration in time for the May 31 cultural event, Gabi-i sa Kabilin (An Evening of Heritage).

Uptown Cebu

Jose Rizal Memorial Library and Museum 

The Jose Rizal Memorial Library and Museum was built in 1938 on Osmeña Avenue in the neo-Renaissance style. Its architect is uncertain. The library began as a project of Councilor Jose Nolasco to build a monument honoring Rizal. He was able to raise 60,000 pesos through various fund-raising events. With the support of Teodoro Kalaw, the director of the National Library in Manila, Flavia S. Muana, librarian of the Cebu Branch Library, appealed to Nolasco to use the fund to build a library rather than a monument. The building was constructed in a property donated by Sergio Osmeña Sr. In 1938, an elegant three-story library was opened. The first floor was for bindery and storage, the second and principal floor was the circulating division, and the third floor was the reading room. In Apr 1942, the Japanese invaded Cebu and commandeered the library as their headquarters. The library’s collection was dumped at the Capitol building, where they were eventually lost. To flush out the Japanese, the Americans bombed the building in 1945 but did not completely destroy it. After World War II, the library was neglected. It moved to different sites, at one time the fourth floor of city hall. In 1960, the building was repaired and repainted. However, it did not occupy the whole building but shared it with other government offices, like the Civil Registry and the City Health Department.

The building was planned as a U, with the main building parallel to Osmeña Avenue, and two perpendicular wings of two stories jutting toward the street. This left the facade and main structure of the building recessed. Between the perpendicular wings was a spacious flat patio raised one floor above ground. Access was through a pair of U-type stairs. Roman arches defined the facade and in between the arches were medallions, which gave the building its Renaissance look.

Cebu Provincial Capitol

View of Osmeña Avenue with the Rizal Library, left, and the Cebu Provincial Capitol at far end
View of Osmeña Avenue with the Rizal Library, left, and the Cebu Provincial Capitol at far end, circa 1950 (Leo Cloma Collection)

The Cebu Provincial Capitol also known as Capitolyo was built in 1937. Its architect was Antonio Toledo. The building style is art deco of the stripped classicism variation. Following Roy Cabalfin’s classification of Philippine art deco, Lico describes the Cebu Provincial Capitol as stripped classicism. This style at first glance appears to be in the neoclassical idiom favored by William Parsons for government building. But the simplified columns, pediment, and friezes reveal art deco aesthetics. The capitol is built on a recessed central section capped by a dome resting on an octagonal base. From this central section run on either side wings that connect to perpendicular wings. Behind the main wing run other perpendicular wings that give the capitol its H-plan. The whole complex is built on top of a raised plaza at the end of Osmeña Boulevard, which gives it monumentality and allows it to dominate the streetscape.

Seminario Mayor de San Carlos

Seminario Mayor de San Carlos at John Paul II Avenue (formerly San Jose de la Montaña and Juan Luna Avenue) was built in 1949 in the neoclassical style. In the 1930s, the collegiate department of San Carlos moved to Rosario Street but the seminary remained in the buildings of the former Colegio de San Ildefonso. During World War II, the seminary was forced to close but in 1943, classes reopened at the parish convento of Argao for those in high school and in rented houses in Sibonga for those in philosophy and theology. In 1945, the seminario building was destroyed by aerial bombing. Cebu archbishop Gabriel Reyes rallied support for a new building at Mabolo. In 1949, priests and seminarians moved into the new seminary. The Vincentians continued to administer the seminary until 1998 when the seminary was turned over to the diocesan clergy under the archbishop of Cebu, Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal. Aseminario menor (high school department) was opened in 1952 and shared residence with the seminario mayor. In 1973, the seminario minor moved to a new building in an adjoining lot and the 1949 seminary building was used exclusively by the seminario mayor, that is, the college and theology levels of seminary training.

Carmelite Monastery on John Paul II

The Carmelite Monastery on John Paul II (formerly San Jose de la Montaña and Juan Luna Avenue) was built in 1949 in the neo-Gothic style. The monastery officially opened its doors on 13 May 1949 at Mabolo, a district of Cebu and north of downtown. The monastery consists of a cloister in the atrial style. From the atrium juts out the monastery chapel. The wing, perpendicular to the chapel, runs westward and at its end abuts another wing. Behind the main cloister is another complex of buildings. Beyond the chapel is an independent guest house. The cloister and chapel are a modern adaptation of the neo-Gothic. The characteristic lancet arch, used as the basic form of the facade, was pierced by three tall lancet windows. The center window had a rose window. The lancet shape was repeated in the windows of the church nave, the corridors, and the porte cochere.


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