The Philippines is a country characterized by a multi-diverse culture unique to this island nation of more than a hundred million Filipinos. This Southeast Asian tropical country has 7,107 islands spread across its three main geographical regions called Luzon, Visayas and Minadanao. A country rich in history and culture bound by a common trait of putting importance and value to familial bonds and relationships and are famous for their hospitality and friendliness.
The country has about a hundred ethnic groups living in the different regions and societies and has an equally diverse spoken language which has been documented to be over a hundred fifty individualized languages, although Tagalog (or Filipino for purists) remains the universal spoken language. Filipinos also count English as its second language and has been recognized as one of the most fluent English speaking nations in Asia.
The Philippines’ history of being colonized by Spain for more than three hundred years contributed to the country’s reputation for hosting some of the oldest cities in the Asian region. Visiting the oldest cities in the Philippines will allow the tourist to immerse in the country’s rich heritage and history. Before we go on be advised that the list of oldest cities provided below are not in chronological order, it simply is a reference of the oldest cities to visit in the Philippines.
The City of Cebu. Although technically not a City until its charter and incorporation in 1937, many people consider Cebu as the oldest city in the Philippines. A heated debate goes on until present time if Cebu can be considered a city during the Spanish colonial occupation specifically starting when the Treaty of Cebu was signed in 1565. The country’s history books cite the signing of the treaty as a form of official cityhood declaration as the Spaniards through their local ranking officials named their new “City” “Villa de San Miguel de Cebu’. Some historians are inclined to believe that the declaration validates Cebu’s status as the oldest city, while some scholars believe this was not the case and argues that Cebu was just a colonized settlement better referred to as a town and not an official city in the absence of a Royal Decree. Today, the City of Cebu is a bustling center of trade, finance and industry in the Visayan Region and is considered second city of the Philippines next to the capital City of Manila.
The City of Iloilo. This city is actually the main competitor of Cebu for the title of oldest city in the Philippines. A Royal Decree in 1889 signed by Spain’s Queen Regent Maria Cristina declared Iloilo as a “royal” city and is recognized by historians as a validation of Iloilo’s cityhood long before the official charter and incorporation of Cebu which was only declared in 1937 (see above). The decree by the Queen Regent was interpreted as an official act of cityhood, whereas Iloilo was issued a Coat of Arm by the Royalty where the words “La Muy Noble Y Leal Ciudad de Iloilo” were inscribed, giving Iloilo City a reason to claim the title of “Queen City of the South”, a title which also contested and used by the City of Cebu. The City of Iloilo today is an important trading and financial hub recognized as one of the top cities in the Philippines to live and invest in.
The City of Manila. Setting aside the claims of both Cebu City and Iloilo City as the oldest cities in the Philippines, the capital city of the Philippines has long been recognized as an “extension” city of the Royalty of Spain that claimed Manila back in 1571. The historical significance of Manila’s cityhood is contained in a Royal Decree signed by King Philip II declaring Manila as “Ciudad Insigne y Siempre Leal” or the “Distinguished and Ever Loyal City” which gives credence to Manila’s claim as the oldest city with official written references forming the basis of such claim. A few years after the declaration, a wall was erected to protect the city from Chinese pirates who come to pillage and destroy. The wall effectively “enclosed” the city within a defensive and fortified perimeter which led to it being called Intramuros or the city within the walls. Intramuros then was the seat of government and served as Spain’s core of power that represented its control and interests in the capital city and the whole archipelago. Today, Manila is a highly urbanized city which serves as the Capital City of the Philippines. The old stone walls can still be seen in Intramuros, now a popular tourist destination in the City of Manila.