Despite having little of its pre-colonial history remaining, the living legacy of Philippine ethnic diversity, albeit, as almost everywhere on the planet, unavoidably affected by adaptation to the modern world, is still prevalent in its remote communities, affording an isight into the pre-Christian animist world of the archipelago’s original ways of life.

 

In Luzon’s Cordillera, the ancient rituals of mummification, which date all the way from 2,000 BC until the arrival of the colonisers, are still evident in the caves of Kabayan. Another interesting funerary custom stretching into antiquity are the Hanging Coffins found in Echo Valley.

  

The UNESCO World Heritage rice fields of Batad, Bangaan, Hungduan, Mayoyao and Nagacadan are a testament to the profound ancient skills which shaped these steep hillsides, originally carved by the hands of the Ifugao people over 2,000 years ago. 


The agent of change from these ancient traditions in the Philippines is best illustrated by the Cross of Magellan, sited in a chapel adjacent to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu City, planted on the explorer's arrival, from which a wholly new future for the islands would inexorably spread. The Basilica is built on the site of the very first church, of which nothing now remains.

 

Following Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival, the Philippines was set upon the course of mass conversion to Christian catholicism, which still profoundly predominates in the lives of most Filipinos today.

 

The oldest remaining stone church in the Philippines is that of San Augustin, sited within the walls of historic Intramuros in Manila, and dating back to 1586. The church sits on the former site of two even earlier Spanish structures built of bamboo and wood before the enduring ancient stone structure was erected.

 

The San Augustin Church is one of four UNESCO World Heritage early churches in the Philippines, collectively titled as the Baroque Churches of the Philippines.

 

Two of the others are also found in Luzon, being the Iglesia de San Agustin de Paoay, in Paoay to the north of the city of Vigan, and the Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion or Santa Maria Church found to the south of that city. The other is the Santo Tomas de Villanueva, commonly referred to as the Miagao Church, situated in Iloilo on Panay Island. 


The colonial district of the city of Vigan has itself acquired UNESCO World Heritage status as the best preserved of the Spanish colonial settlements, revered for its charming cobbled streets and the fusion of oriental and European architecture styles evident in its mansions.

 

The town was originally named Villa Fernandina by the Spanish and built upon an island, before subsequent silting eventually absorbed it into the mainland, with its structural elements planted upon an earlier Fujian Chinese trading settlement named Bee Gan (Vigan).  

  

Other significant examples of Spanish colonial heritage can be found on Luzon at Malos City in Bulacan, known for its mansions and three Spanish era churches, Pila in Laguna Bay, a beautiful town with both Spanish and American heritage features, and at Taal in Batangas, where the Spanish era Basilica Menor de San Martin de Tours is the largest Church in the Philippines, and one of a number of historic features which also include its town hall and ancestral houses.

 

Elsewhere in the Philippines, aside from its famous Miagao Church, Iloilo’s Calle Real district has some lovely historic buildings, while Silay in Negros also features many heritage buildings and ancestral houses. In Cebu, Carcar has a well-preserved collection of both Spanish and American colonial buildings, including the pretty Santa Catalina de Alexandria Church.

 

Close to Manila, the seat of the Philippine Revolution is found in Kawit, at the General Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine, where independence from Spain was first declared in 1898, only to be temporarily thwarted by subsequent American ambitions on the Philippine archipelago. An important reverential homage to Philippine independence is found in Manila’s Rizal Park.

 

Before the Philippines would gain true independence, the Second World War would have a devastating effect on the country, including the virtual destruction of Intramuros, the old heart of Manila. The American Memorial Cemetery at Fort Bonifacio in Manila features galleries which trace the history of the battles in the Philippines.

  

Other historic war sites are found at Corregidor, west of Manila, the site of General MacArthur’s last stand against the Japanese. In Negros, the Cataal War Museum in Valencia has an interesting assemblage of World War II memorabilia, while on Layte, General MacArthur’s return invasion is celebrated at the Layte Landing Memorial.

  

Following the war, on the 4th of July, 1946, the Americans relinquished control of the Philippines through the Treaty of Manila, though Independence Day is still celebrated in the Philippines today as defined by Emilio Alguinado’s original declaration of the 12th of June, 1898.