Among the culture of islands and islets that comprise the Visayas, one province stands out: Cebu, a unique blend of tropical paradise and business haven. Dubbed variously as "the next great economic miracle", " Asia's newest boomtown" and "the Queen City of the South", Cebu basks in its enviable status as the most popular tourist and business destination in the Philippines.
Sheltered by the other Visayan islands of Negros, Panay, Leyte, Samar and Bohol, this thin sliver of land is blessed year-round with clement, tropical weather--all the better to enjoy its pristine, sun drenched beaches, washed by the balmy blue waters of the Cebu and Tanon Straits. A plethora of neighboring islets fringed with coral and white sand shores add appeal to an island-hopping vacation.
Yet, Cebu's attractions do not only cater to the itinerant sun-worshipper or beach-lover. The business traveler to this bustling port of call may not have time for more than a day's trip around town. Still, Cebu's cityscapes have their own brand of cosmopolitan charm touched with a unique island warmth. Luxurious accommodations, complete sports facilities, cuisines from the native to the exotic, vibrant nightlife : Cebu will not be found wanting in all the amenities of a growing, booming metropolis.
Bohol, just across the Tanon Strait from Cebu, is a mysterious land of wondrous geological formations, lush forests alive with rare species of flora and fauna, and idyllic seaside towns with Antillan houses that cluster around centuries-old churches. Outlying islands are marine sanctuaries with a wealth of coral reefs harboring a colorful world of tropical marine life.
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Cebu : Past and Present
As early as the 13th century, Sugbo, how the island of Cebu was called, was already an important crossroad of pre-colonial Southeast Asian trade.
In1521, Ferdinand Magellan made it a base for the exploration and conquest of the islands. However, his efforts were thwarted when he was killed in a battle on the nearby island of Mactan by its chieftain, Lapu-Lapu, who became the first Philippine hero to repulse foreign domination.
The second wave of Spanish conquistadores led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi founded their first settlement, Villa San Miguel, on Cebu in 1565. Later, the name was changed to Villa de Santissimo Nombre de Jesus, after an image of the Santo Nino or Boy Jesus found among the ruins of a vanquished native village.
In 1860, the demand for sugar cane, tobacco and hemp paved the way for the opening up of the countryside. And with Cebu's central location in the south, goods entered and exited through its ports. By the mid-19th century, Cebu had caught up with the outside world. Cities thrived with newly-established industries, and suburbs flourished. With the American rule came improved infrastructure, more modern ports and facilities.
Today, Metropolitan Cebu is a 33,000-hectare complex of three cities and six municipalities. Its population of more than a million is a cosmopolitan mix of Filipinos with Chinese, American and European influences. The prevailing dialect is Cebuano or Bisaya, the vernacular, but English and Tagalog are widely spoken.
As in the past, the island province preserves with pride its role as the crossroads of international trade. The recently-expanded and modernized Mactan International Airport services flights from all over the world. Ocean-going vessels dock at the similarly modernized ports.
Accommodations within the city range from the luxury of first-class hotels to comfortable pensions and lodging houses at affordable rates. Resorts provide out-of-town accommodations with adequate facilities for a variety of land and water sports.
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Historical & Cultural Heritage
As the site of the oldest Spanish settlement in the country, modern Cebu retains traces of its colonial heritage. Centuries-old churches and Antillan houses, hig-rises and modern buildings jostle for space along the tree-lined streets.
Fort San Pedro, the smallest and oldest bastion in the country, was built in 1738 to repel Muslim raiders. At times, it served as a stronghold for Filipino revolutionaries, as a US army barracks, and as a prison camp during the Japanese occupation. Today, it is a historical park.
Lapu-Lapu's Monument in Mactan Island, was erected in honor of the first Filipino Chieftain who fought for his people's freedom. Adjacent to Lapu-Lapu's monument is Magellan's marker, a tribute to the Portuguese explorer slain by Lapu-Lapu on that same spot.
Casa Gorordo, once the residence of the first Catholic bishop of Cebu, has been restored as a reminder of a more gracious bygone era. Its opulent halls house cultural and historical relics of the 18th century, a collection of old prints, and contemporary works of art. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm. A modest entrance fee is collected.
The Osmeña residence holds some of General Douglas MacArthur's memorabilia and the personal mementos of Sergio Osmeña, the first President of the Philippine Republic after World War II.
The University of San Carlos Musuem within the city proper houses a wide collection of interesting finds from all over the country. Its exhibits of religious relics, archaeological and ethnic artifacts, botanical and zoological specimens and other finds are a must for history buffs and curio enthusiasts.
Magellan's Cross, the replica of which contains the remnants of the original one planted by Ferdinand Magellan on Cebu's shores, stands within a wayside shrine commemorating the conversion of the first Filipinos to Christianity. Ceiling murals depict the first Catholic mass celebrated on Philippine shores.
The Cebu Capitol, seat of provincial government, is a magnificent edifice of pre-war vintage. From the Avenue of Flags, its dome can be seen rising white against the backdrop of mountains in the distance.
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