Cebu City: A queenly charm

Let’s get acquainted with the Queen.

She sits in the middle of the Visayas island cluster, showcasing the stellar development of a once simple settlement founded in 1565 by the Spanish conquistadores to its present aura of urbane but modern glow. She is the Queen City of the South, deeply rooted to its Spanish and religious past. She is a cultural city adorned with several museums, churches and historical sites. She is Sugbo.

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Cebu City Hall

The Queen can show you how she is deeply rooted in faith. There are old churches and Spanish structures that pronounce the strong influence of the Catholic faith. Every January, this faith is highlighted through prayers and devotion to the Holy Child Jesus at the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. Chants of Pit Senyor and Batobalani sa Gugma are heard the loudest at this time.

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Sinulog, every 3rd Sunday of January

People also troop to the streets to watch the grand parade of chant and dance in honor of the revered child. The parade – the Sinulog, is the grandest festival in the country. It is always set on the 3rd Sunday of January.

Now is the time to explore Cebu City. How to prepare for the meet up with the Queen? Here is a suggestion.

Visit Cebu City in January. Most of us probably have not moved on from the yuletide season but planning and brewing the trip to the Queen City in January must have to be done days and weeks prior to Christmas or the celebration of a new year. Accommodations and plane fare tend to spike up in the second and third week of January because of the festivities and events in relation to the highly revered Sto. Niño (Holy Child).

Cebu City is very much accessible by air, land and sea. The Mactan Cebu International Airport in Lapu-lapu City caters flights from various parts of the Philippines as well as from countries like Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, among others. The airport is on the island of Mactan which is just about 14 kilometers from Cebu City. From the airport, you can take the bus (MyBus), taxi (airport taxis are colored yellow, regular taxis are white) or shuttle vans from various hotels.

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The Marcelo Fernan Bridge spanning the Mactan Channel
Photo credits: AkosiMax

The Port of Cebu is one of the busiest seaports in the country which caters to passengers for domestic trips (Manila and mostly Visayas and Mindanao) and cargo containers for both local and international shipping. It is located along the narrow Mactan Channel. The port is located near downtown Cebu with the stretch starting with Pier 1 near the historic Fort San Pedro and Plaza Independencia up to Pier 6 near SM City Cebu which is the international point.

There are metered taxis, buses and the ubiquitous jeepneys that can bring you to any points in Cebu City.

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Magellan’s Cross
As a cultural and historical city, start exploring the City of Cebu with a visit to Magellan’s Cross.
This cross started everything ‘colonial’ in the Philippines. Magellan’s Cross is located in Plaza Sugbo which is in between the city hall and the Sto. Niño Church. It is housed in an octagonal kiosk of brick tiles and stone walls. Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer commissioned by Spain to search for new land, ordered the Spanish explorers to plant a cross upon setting foot in Cebu on March 15, 1521. The cross was planted in April 14, 1521 when the local chieftain (Rajah Humabon) and his wife (Queen Juana), along with 400-800 followers were baptized as the first Christian Filipinos.

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photo credit: akosimax

The visible cross may not be the original cross as the latter was said to be encased inside this visible wooden cross for protection and preservation. This has become a symbol of the Christianization of the Philippines. The original cross was made of Tindalo wood.

Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu
Just a few steps from Magellan’s Cross is the old church that is home to the most revered image in Cebu. The Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu is an 18th century church founded in 1565. The present site was the spot where the image of Holy Child was found at the time of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s expedition. This image was the one that Ferdinand Magellan presented to Rajah Humabon and Queen Juana when they were baptized in 1521.

The holy image is a 16th century Flemish statue of the Child Jesus, discovered by a Spanish soldier 40 years after it was presented to Humabon and Juana.

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The Spanish church is something to marvel about. The façade laid bare the stone carvings and reliefs of saints and angels. Romanesque and neo-classical in design, the church is built with the convent at its side. Every January, in the days leading up to the 3rd Sunday of the month, the church is the center of veneration and prayer to the Santo Niño. The Pilgrim Center which is in front of the basilica, is heavily filled with devotees and tourists for the novena masses. From these grounds a sea of waving hands goes with the prayer song, Batobalani sa Gugma and the chant of praise – Pit Senyor!

Fort San Pedro
A few walking steps from the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño is Fuerza de San Pedro (Fort San Pedro). It sits on the eastern side of Plaza Independencia. The 18th century fort is triangular in form with the 3 bastions namely, La Concepcion, Ignacio de Loyola and San Miguel. This fort was built to push away Muslim raiders.

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In the course of Philippine history, Fort San Pedro was the core of protection of the settlement of Sugbo (old name of Cebu). This fort was made the stronghold of the of the Katipunan (Filipino revolutionaries) during the Philippine revolution. The symbolic surrender of Fort San Pedro by the Spaniards and Cebuanos in 1898 was a result of the victory of the Americans in the Spanish-American War and the Battle of Manila Bay.

A visit to the fort provides visitors with the quick history of Fuerza de San Pedro. It also houses a museum containing a collection of Spanish documents, artefacts, paintings and sculptures.

Plaza Independencia
It is flanked by Fort San Pedro and the Malacañan Palace of the South (old Bureau of Customs building). This park had a lot of names before it was finally called Plaza Indepencia. It was called Plaza Armas in the 1600s then it became Plaza Mayor when it was expanded by the Cebu Cathedral. It was renamed as Plaza Maria Cristina to honor the queen regent and eventually changed to Plaza Libertad to assert how Cebuanos were liberated by the Americans from Spanish rule. From Plaza Libertad, it is finally renamed as Plaza Independencia.

The above mentioned tourist spots can be visited in just a few hours. Best time to do the tour is in the morning since the city is facing east. You can explore the museums thereafter.

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