Iloilo is one of the oldest provinces in the country. It is home to a lot of heritage houses, churches, and structures that date back to the Spanish period. Its gateway, Iloilo City, is one of the most exciting destinations in the Visayas. It gives a treat that can satisfy your cravings visually, mentally, and gastronomically.
Beyond the sights, sounds, and taste of the city are numerous destinations that is worth exploring that gives the province a different accent. We are all too familiar with Miag-ao Church, a UNESCO Heritage site, an hour and a half south of the city. This part of the province probably comes close to second as the most visited destination because of this Spanish-period church.
But there is more history to immerse into in Iloilo. This time Asher and I headed inland to discover the rich cultural heritage of the province that remains off-beat. We re-lived history and enjoyed the laidback provincial vibe of Janiuay, Cabatuan, and Sta. Barbara.
Janiuay is an old municipality in Iloilo that was created in 1769 and is home to two heritage structures that dates back to the Spanish period. One of these heritage structures is the Janiuay Cemetery dubbed as the most artistic cemetery in the country.
Situated on a slope, it took 9 years for its construction to be completed that started in 1874. Its main feature is the grand staircases that leads up to the grand arched gates of the cemetery. Its perimeters are bounded by a brick fence made from rocks. The main staircase has 23 steps, the rightmost has 21 steps, and the leftmost has 22 steps leading to the gates.
At the heart of the cemetery is the octagonal campo santo where the final vigil and service is held. The lancelet-shaped windows and door and the intricate artisan work inside the capilla stand out for its beauty. The centerpiece of the camposanto's interior is the Mother and Jesus image.
Janiuay Church Ruins
At the center of town, one would find the church ruins of Janiuay.
The ruins are the remains of the second church built in 1839 in Janiuay. One can see traces of its neo-classical design with its arched windows and columns. The church was built with bricks and coral stones. Unfortunately, the church fell victim to World War 2 and was never restored to its original state after the war.
A new church was built where regular services are held. The ruins have been refurbished and now has a small chapel within its walls.
Getting there: You can take a jeepney to Janiuay from the Iloilo Central Bus Line. Travel time is about an hour and a half. Tricycles is the way to go around Janiuay.
The massive church structure stands mighty and proud at the heart of town. Its walls, a meter thick and overlaid with red bricks, are eye catching as it showcases it unique mix of neo-classical and tuscan design. The Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino of Cabatuan is, not only an architectural beauty, but a mute witness to the town's rich history.
A convento once stood adjacent to the church. It was also massive that it can accomodate 3000 people at one time. However, it was burned down by the guerrillas during World War 2 and, what was left, was demolished by the Japanese. Its bricks were used for a nearby landing field.
It is the only church in the province that has 3 facades and, prior to 1948, 6 belfries. Despite losing four of its belfries due to an earthquake, the Cabatuan Church is still a site to behold and admired for its beauty and stories.
Getting there: You can take a jeep for Iloilo City from Janiuay and you can ask the driver to drop you off at Cabatuan town proper.
Santa Barbara Church and Convent
Santa Barbara is another municipality in Iloilo that is also a repository of history. It is a town that proudly displays the heroism and bravery of its locals.
At the center of its faith is the Santa Barbara Church and Convent - one of the restored and well-preserved churches in the province. Its baroque colonial design gives one a glimpse of the rich past of the town of Santa Barbara. Its facade, resembling a three-tierred retablo, is worth admiring. Its facade and altars were all patterned from the big churches of Spain.
The church complex played a vital role in the liberation of Iloilo from Spanish regime. It was within its walls where local Filipino hero, General Martin Delgado, convened revolutionaries to usher the revolt against Spaniards in Iloilo. The church was granted its historical marker in 1990 to recognize its contribution in Philippine history.
Santa Barbara Centennial Museum
Walking around Santa Barbara, one can get to see how history unfolded in this town. You walk its streets and Philippine history comes alive for its visitors to enjoy.
The local government recognizes its rich history and a centennial museum was established to preserve and highlight its contributions. The museum exhibits personal artifacts of its local hero, Major Delgado, and Philippine Revolution memorabilias.
Gen. Delgado Monument and Sta Barbara Park
General Martin Delgado is a reverred hero in the province of Iloilo. He was a revolutionary who pretended to be loyal to Spain while laying down the groundwork of the revolution. It was in October 1898 that he led the revolution and quickly took over the reigns of the town.
The monument is within the confines of the Sta. Barbara Park. Its is an open space park with a bandstand at the center of the park. This is a typical design of parks in the Visayas where the plaza is a place where locals congregate and celebrate.
The General Delgado Monument was mounted at the heart of town to honor his bravery. His bronze image facing the flag, the biggest outside of Luzon, of the country that he loved and fought for. His remains now lie under the monument that honors the greatest Visayan revolutionary.
Getting there: You can take a jeep to Santa Barbara from Infante Street (near UP Iloilo). Travel time is 30 minutes.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Janiuay, Cabatuan, and Sta. Barbara may not ring a bell, for most travellers, who have made their rounds in the province of Iloilo. These towns live under the shadows of the more popular destinations of Iloilo City and Miag-ao but has maintained its own brand of tourism. These towns may not have that eye-catching spots, at this time, but it can develop its tourism infrastructure that can earn it own tourism brand that borders on history and, for Janiuay, dark tourism.
Travel destinations, for most of the time, are often centered in major cities where development are implemented. It becomes a focal point where tourism programs are executed to the tee giving these major cities an advantage. But if we look around its peripherals, we would find rustic and raw tourism gems that are as interesting as what we usually find in mainstream tourism spots. To discover these raw destinations is every travellers' sweet spot.
Getting There: Major airlines have daily flights to Iloilo City.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.