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Vigan City Heritage City in the Philippnes


Vigan City is the capital of the Province of Ilocos Suril. It is on the west coast of Luzon, the Philippines, facing South China Sea. Vigan City is an excellent example of the direction Penang can develop as a heritage city. Here is the story of Vigan City and how they became a respected heritage city

vigan city Philippnes

Practically located in a delta, it is an island bordered by three rivers. One of the stories about the origin of its name is from the word: Bigan, (Bee Gan) meaning beautiful shore in Hokkien.

Chinese traders had been here long before Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1572. Another story about its name came from the plant Bigaa, a kind of yam that used to grow in abundant along the river. This plant is featured in the city's official seal.

Vigan used to be a vibrant city under Spanish rule for about one hundred years but over time, the place suffered decline when the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade stopped.

Later,  due to political unrest and also a series of unfortunate events the place became akin to a ghost town. However, a lot of the monuments, unique building and architecture survived and the people realized only they could bring back the city back to its feet again by using their own heritage to its advantage.

vigan city PhilippnesVigan is a good example of how sustainable cultural practices could turn a drab town into a UNESCO World Heritage Site and make it even better over the years. Since its inscription in 1999, by using a holistic approach to tackle related issues one by one, Mayor Eva Marie Singson-Medina and her team managed to make the city livable again as well as to instill a sense of pride to the residents.

They have won numerous awards such as the most child-friendly city and the cleanest and greenest city. As a result, other neighboring municipalities also joined Vigan to be under the same jurisdiction and Vigan City became a fine example for other heritage sites in Asia Pacific like George Town to follow.

The city title was reinstated in 2001, based on the Royal Decree of September 7, 1758 issued by King Fernando VI of Spain. This title was not taken lightly as the citizens work really hard to make it worthy as one. Based on the presentation by Mayor Eva Marie Singson-Medina during the heritage conference held in George Town, the participants were shown an overview what were done to improve the situation over there.

Four main objectives were identified:

  • to instill a sense of pride to the locals
  • to study and enforce building guidelines
  • to create local and international relationships with other cities
  • to develop Vigan as a tourist destination by selling Biguenos local products and promoting unique heritage.

Here is the list of some of the actions taken, by category:

Reviving both tangible and intangible heritage.

vigan city Philippnes

  • For example, Vigan made their cottage industries such as making terracotta tiles alive again. Now chiseled street signs are made of their trademark red clay. Locally produced interlocking homogenous bricks now line their pavement.
  • Old and dilapidated mansions and houses are restored. The city came up with a clear guideline how these buildings should be repaired. The guideline was urgently published after there were incidences of houses being wrongly demolished or incorrectly re-built. Homeowners' manuals are distributed for those who are rebuilding their houses.
  • Events and festivals make their presence in Vigan's annual calendar. Old traditions and food are brought back and the people made the effort to join and celebrate.

vigan city PhilippnesInvolving the community to be part of the task force and practicing transparency and integrity by using the latest technology

  • Womenfolk work with heritage police to be eyes and ears to non-conforming practices
  • Fingerprint identification system was implemented to replace a typical punch card system
  • Financial transaction is computerized and is accessible by an authorized network
  • "Tele-eyes" are installed at strategic location to provide real time traffic situation and the information is accessible via the Internet

Going back to history and to the basics by active recycling projects and greening effort (My personal favorite parts)

  • Vigan City rehabilitated its rivers. Now the rivers become nice places for recreation and also used as a mean of transportation. Heritage river cruise becomes one of the tourism products.
  • Scooter engines were retrofitted to reduce emission pollution
  • Styrofoam containers are recycled into tabletops for kindergartens
  • Paper is recycled to be made into briquettes as an alternative fuel to charcoal

Creating relationship worldwide with other cities

  • Signing sisterhood agreement with cities which have Spanish colonial roots
  • Sending delegates to learn from other cities with established heritage sites

Vigan City does a whole lot more than the items I listed above. It also does not rest on its laurel, new things are added in to bring in more prosperity even as we speak. What is clear is that, it does not take a lot of money to make all these changes if local expertise and products are utilized fully. The citizens work together and are very determined to change their beloved city and they should be proud of the results.

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