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A trip to Iloilo would not be complete without a visit to its many attractions - from ancestral houses to historic monuments to Spanish period churches.
Whether you're here for an extended trip or only have a day or so to spare, City Tourism Benito Jimena recommends that you start at the City Gallery located at the ground floor of Iloilo's new and modern City Hall.
Located close to the main entrance of the City Hall building, the City Gallery was opened to the public on June 1, 2012. It showcases the city's glorious heritage and noble past as well as Ilonggo creativity, industry and continuing achievements.
More importantly, though, it gives visitors a quick glimpse of what Iloilo is about and lists the points of interest that they can include in their trip.
From there, too, guests can ask for assistance in going up to the rooftop for a 360 degree view of Iloilo, its river, the heritage buildings, and Guimaras.
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Museo Iloilo provides a perfect backdrop for tourists who want to have some landmark photos of their visit. Inside the museum are artifacts ranging from ancient to early 19th and 20th century, which were Iloilo’s golden years.
Scientifically dated fossils, shells, rocks, Stone Age flake tools, native pottery, and ornamented teeth, among others, indicate the age of Panay Island. Collections of photos and literatures of old Iloilo are on display, and there is an exhibit as well of some paintings of modern local and national artists.
A few steps away from the museum is the Capitol complex showcasing both the old and new capitols of Iloilo. The new Capitol is the center of governance of the province and, as one of the tallest structures in the area, offers breathtaking views of Iloilo City and Guimaras.
The old Capitol building known as Casa Gobyerno is undergoing restoration works to bring back its former glory. Worthy of note is the Arroyo Fountain, which marks Kilometer 0 for the whole island of Panay, in front of the old Capitol.
The fountain is also a rotunda where streets coming from and leading to various districts of Iloilo convene and part ways. It’s also the start/end of the historic Calle Real – the original commercial center of Iloilo City.
Iznart Street comprises half of Calle Real and it is among the streets that teem with commercial establishments. Halfway through it is a controversial landmark just referred to as “The Obelisk” constructed by a private organization.
The JM Basa stretch reflects the city's colonial past. Spanish and American period buildings dot the street and house commercial establishments. With the renewed interest in heritage, some of the old buildings are being restored to return them to their former glory.
Among the most illustrious in Iloilo City is the heritage district of Jaro. Home of the national hero Graciano Lopez y Jaena, the district pays him tribute through the numerous streets and buildings named after him and statues built in his honor.
The Jaro Cathedral is the seat of Catholicism in Western Visayas and is the center for Candelaria devotion in the country. Its fiesta every February 2 is marked with pageantry, gastronomy and cockfighting. A gift shop is found beside the church and blessed candles are always a good buy – for pasalubong or personal use.
A street separates the church from its belfry, which is built high so it can be seen almost all throughout Iloilo City.
Jaro boasts of numerous grand and stately mansions, most known of which is Nelly’s Garden. The house is a former home of one of the country’s richest families, the Lopezes. The mansion’s grandeur is matched by the vast expanse of its front lawn making it a sight to behold. Tourists can arrange for a tour a day before their visit for P200/person for a minimum of 5.
In the outskirts of the plaza is the Lizares mansion, which is now home to the Angelicum School run by the Dominicans. Made into a garrison by the Japanese during the war, this regal mansion becomes a spectacle of lights every Christmas.
Located in one of the side streets of Jaro is the 200-year-old Casa Mariquit. It is dedicated to Fernando Lopez, former vice president of the Philippines.
St. Anne’s Church, more popularly known as Molo Church, is one of the most beautiful churches in the Philippines. It was built in 1831 and is dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has 16 images of female saints arranged in two rows.
The church is of Gothic Rennaisance architecture and is the only Gothic church in the country outside of Manila, according to an article in The News Today published last July 24, 2007.
The newspaper wrote that the church was was constructed in 1831 under Fray Pablo Montaño and further expanded and finished by Fray Agapito Buenaflor in 1888 under the supervision of Don Jose Manuel Locsin.
The quiet street of San Jose in Molo is home to many ancestral houses and standing out among them is the ancestral house of former governor Don Raymundo Melliza.
Now known as the Arcenas-Lazaro ancestral House, this 19th century lavish residence is now being developed into a museum of sorts highlighting its connection with national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal.
The road which Jose Rizal took from the vicinity of Calle Real to Molo is now named after him and it traverses the Tanza and Baluarte sections. The house is just a block away from the church.
Although its founding as La Villa Rica de Arevalo happened in 1581, this town's history began much, much earlier, when Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi came and established in the island of Panay a second settlement to Cebu in 1567.
Enshrined in this parish is the third oldest Sto. Niño image in the country, after the Sto. Niños of Cebu (1565) and Tondo (1572).
Although the Arevalo church is the Sto. Niño's official home, the image is being kept at the convent for safekeeping and only brought out during religious celebrations. The convent, which is of Spanish colonial design, is believed to be even older than the Arevalo church which has already been heavily renovated.
The church though is still considered unique because it is situated right in the middle of the district plaza, unlike the others that are only built beside or near their town squares. Another distinct feature of the church is its altar, which is supported by Solomonic or helical columns inspired by the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Like any other Spanish period homes in the Philippines, the ancestral house of the Avanceñas - now known as Camiña Balay Nga Bato - is a two-storey structure that delineates the ground floor as a store or depository and the upper level as the living area.
Present owners Gerard and Luth Camiña continue to live in the house and have transformed the lower level into the Lola Rufina Heritage Curio Shop.
The shop is a memorial to Rufina Avanceña Melocoton, the daughter of couple Fernando and Eulalia Avanceña who had this house by the river built from 1860-1865. The house is a few minutes walk from the Arevalo church.