Pathways to the Past: Boljoon’s Heritage Trail
|The Patrocinio de Maria Church (1783) of Boljoon is the oldest remaining original church in Cebu.|
Established between 1598 and 1600, the town of Boljoon (pronounced Bol-ho-on) along the southeast coast of Cebu island is one of the most scenic in the Visayas. After a sharp curve around a large boulder called Ilihan Rock along the coastal road, the seaside settlement appears in its tranquil beauty, centered around an austere church, convent and watchtower, set next to the mountains. Having been born and raised in Cebu City, I’ve stopped by this town a number of times before, during our family road trips around the south. My mother’s hometown is Argao, another historic town also along the province’s southeast coast a few towns closer to the metro. Growing up, we’d frequent Argao to visit relatives – both living and deceased – especially during holidays like Holy Week and All Souls’ Day.
|19th-century graffiti of Spanish steamers
in El Grande Baluarte
Over the Christmas holiday, a visit to the south with fellow travel bloggers to swim with the whale sharks of Oslob and to hike Osmeña Peak in Dalaguete afforded me an opportunity to revisit Boljoon’s heritage. I was surprise to find many secrets of the past which I’ve overlooked in my previous visits! While the most imposing attraction would be the church complex, a marked heritage trail leads visitors to other less-visited important sites in town. Look for the explanatory signposts and route maps in each attraction. Start at the church complex, and passing through arched gate to the left of the Escuela Catolica, see other colonial edifices in town.
|Escuela Catolica as seen from the
El Grande Baluarte watchtower
1. Patrocinio de Maria Church Complex
The church complex is composed of the church, rectory, belfry, plaza cemetery, Escuela Catolica (school), El Grande Baluarte (watchtower), gates and walls. Constructed in 1783, the Church of Patrocinio de Maria is the oldest remaining original church in Cebu and was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 1999. Currently, it is on the tentative list to becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
The rectory houses the Boljoon Parish Museum (free admission, but donations encouraged) that features religious articles from the Spanish period, as well as, more interestingly, pre-colonial artifacts recovered from an archeological dig in the church grounds that yielded an extensive burial site of 53 human remains dated to the 14th to 15th centuries. Among the interesting finds are jewelry of gold and precious stones, and exquisite ceramics from as far away as Japan!
The El Grande Baluarte, a Spanish watchtower, conceals another fascinating secret. On the first level is a prison cell with several graffiti of Spanish steamers believed to be made by its incarcerated occupants during the late 19th century. The type of marine vessels drawn indicates that these drawings were made no earlier than 1848. This watchtower is kept under lock and key for most of the day; wait for the bell-ringer to open it at noon, when he rings the bells on the second level.
|Dr. Dionisio Niere House (1928) was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army during WW-II|
2. Dr. Dionisio Niere House
Built in 1928, during the American occupation, this beautiful two-storey house of wood and concrete belonged to the first Doctor of Medicine in town, Dr. Dionisio Niere. During the Second World War, it was used as headquarters for the Japanese Imperial Army.
3. Cirilo Sestoso House
Built in 1881, this pastel-colored two-storey house is the oldest in Boljoon built by Cirilo Sestoso, a gobernadorcillo during the Spanish period and one of the prominent workers who built the Boljoon church.
|A villager washing clothes at Baño sa Poblacion|
4. Boljoon Bridge
A dilapidated wooden bridge built in 1913 runs parallel to the modern one that motorists now use. Townspeople had to cut a huge boulder to divert the river which once ran through the poblacion.
5. Baluarte sa Fuente
Tucked away behind some houses off the highway and strangled by ficus trees is a two-storey octagonal watchtower built in the 1880s by military priest Fr. Julian Bermejo.
6. Baño sa Poblacion
A cold spring believed to be the spot where pre-colonial Bolhoanons first encountered the Spanish colonizers. To this day, townsfolk still bathe and wash their clothes here. Clean, fresh water still flows, as one laundrywoman pointed out to me.
7. Gabaldon Building (Boljoon Central School)
Built in 1913, the Gabaldon Building served as a garrison of the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War.
|Ilihan Rock provides a dramatic entry point upon arriving at Boljoon town proper|
8. Ilihan Rock
Ilihan Rock is a rocky peninsula that extends to the sea. Vehicles from Cebu circumvent this landmark upon entering Boljoon proper. Having been used as natural watchtower for Muslim pirates during the Spanish colonial period, this formation offers a great vantage point overlooking the Bohol Sea and the entire town of Boljoon.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take a south-bound bus passing by Boljoon (PHP 120, 2 hours) at the Cebu City south bus terminal. Alight at the church complex along the highway.