Heading back to Iloilo from Guimaras, I was once again faced with the challenge of covering a large area in the next two days for my Iloilo trip. As I have mentioned earlier, I did not do a lot of research for this particular trip and I only had a list of interesting spots with me. There were no detailed plans on what to cover on what day and this made me apprehensive that I might not cover what is on my list.
The city of Iloilo is a huge city that comprises 7 districts. It is one of the old cities in the country having an existing community even before the Spanish occupation. Therefore, it was no longer a surprise that Iloilo has its own heritage sites to pitch in Philippine tourism.
One of the districts that caught my interest was the Jaro District - an old district of the city where one can find interesting historical and heritage sites. I love the romance of history so I felt that I shouldn't miss out on the history of Jaro. I decided to kick off my city tour with a walking tour of Jaro.
My first stop is really not difficult to find as it also one of the district's iconic image - the Jaro Cathedral. The cathedral stands as the center of the town and was dedicated to St. Elizabeth of Hungary. The cathedral also serves as the shrine of Our Lady of Candles, the only religious image crowned personally by the Blessed Pope John Paul during his 1981 visit.
The interior of the church may look simple from afar but a closer look would show the intricate paintings on its walls, ceilings, and dome. These paintings are the depictionsof saints and biblical scenes. One would also notice that the pillars of the church are lined up with images of saints, a very distinct feature in most of the churches in Iloilo city.
The facade of the church also has a distinct feature where stairs lead up to the external balcony of the church. The stairs lead to the shrine of the Our Lady of Candles. The church was declared a historical site in 1976 by the National Historical Institute.
Another iconic image of Jaro is the Jaro Belfry which stands across the Jaro Cathedral. The belfry is unique as it stands across rather than beside the Jaro Cathedral. It is now part of the town plaza of the Jaro.
The belfry was positioned adjacent to the old church however an earthquake that hit the city damaged the church. That calamity was survived by the Jaro Belfry, standing on its original location. It also ushered in the unique "face-off" feature of the belfry and the cathedral.
Jaro Town Plaza and the Graciano Lopez-Jaena Shrine
At the back of the Jaro Belfry is a huge open space park which houses a covered court and a mini zoo. The park is the Jaro Town Plaza. One cannot miss out on this park as it stands in the middle of town and this is where most of the residents of Jaro spend their lazy afternoons just to kill time. Similar to Bacolod, Iloilo has invested in setting up parks as part of the community design.
The park is also the home of the Graciano Lopez-Jaena Shrine. It was erected in memory of the local hero who hails from this town. He was the first and foremost Freemason hailing from Jaro after he founded the Order of DeMolay.
Magdalena Jalandoni's Residence
A few minutes walk along Commission Civil Street from the Jaro town plaza, you will find a quaint old house known as the Magdalena Jalandoni's Residence. The tourism brochures of Iloilo features the home of one of Iloilo's literature pride, Magdalena Jalandoni.
As you enter the premises, you would notice miniature sculptures depicting the arts and literature. You would also see a sign that will introduce you to one of Jaro's pride. Magdalena Jalandoni was the first recipient of the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in Literature. Reading excerpts of her biography, she really started to show her literature prowess at a very early age.
The brochure that I picked up at the airport indicated that the house still holds some of the personal belongings of the acclaimed artists. However, I was actually surprised to also find out during my visit that the house was already converted into a spa. It was sad that a heritage house would be converted to a venue for a more lucrative business opportunity.
A few blocks from the Jalandoni residences by foot is another distinct heritage site in Jaro - the Philippine-American Cemetery. It is the only cemetery of its kind outside of Luzon. It is a testimony of the long standing between Filipinos and Americans.
Casa Montinola Y Sanson
Located along E. Lopez St of Jaro is the Casa Montinola Y Sanson. The house is a heritage house that is privately owned so getting inside is really not an option especially for an unplanned visit.
It is located in one of the busiest streets of the district. The house can be associated with the Gaston House in Silay City having similar designs. The similarities is attributed to the transfer of some prominent Iloilo families to Bacolod during the height of the sugar industry in the region.
It is probably the most well kept heritage house that I have seen so far in my travels. I think it also helped that the property is also privately owned by one of the prominent families in media today - the Lopez family who hails from Iloilo.
Built in 1928, Nelly's Garden was named as such because of the huge lawn right in front of the mansion. It gives you a glimpse as to how the affluent lived back in earlier days where large mansions were built with huge manicured lawns. The heritage house is hard to miss and will surely catch your attention as its huge expanse is right smack in the middle of the business district.
Villa Lizares Mansion
The mansion was built in 1937 by Don Emiliano Lizares and the mansion's design uniquely stands out among the many mansions in the area. Now owned by the Dominicans, the mansion still exudes the old charm despite of it being part of Angelicum school.
The mansion is dressed up in lively colors during the Christmas holidays making it one of the spots to check out if you are spending the holidays in Iloilo city.
One can take a jeepney from Jaro town plaza to get to visit Villa Lizares Mansion. Just ask the driver to drop you off at Angelicum School.
Balantang Memorial Cemetery
A marker in the middle of the cemetery marks the spot where the one of the bloodiest battle was fought by the Panay Guerilla. On this hallowed grounds, Filipino guerilla fighters took their stand against the Japanese Imperial Forces during World War 2. These brave freedom fighters fought hard, despite the lack in numbers, and succeeded in putting the Japanese at bay that allowed American forces to land in Iloilo and liberate the island.
As a mute testament to this battle, a monument was erected to recognize the bravery of those who fought and those who died in the conflict.
It can be reached by taking a jeepney from the Angelicum School. It is about a kilometer away from the school.
My afternoon stroll in Jaro District of Iloilo was a romantic walking tour for me. The devotion to religion, the arts, the affluence, and to freedom was clearly shown in various ways. Whether it was built together with large mansions or winning a bloody battle to gain freedom, devotion to what one believes and stands for is crucial and important in order to achieve what one desires. I am sure that I probably missed out a lot in Jaro and I wish I had more time for intimate walks to unveil Jaro's heritage sites but it definitely made me want to comeback someday to continue my romantic walk in Jaro.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.