“If you could turn back time and see Parian at its most glorious, at what century would it be?”
I asked this to one of the guides at the Casa Gorordo last Friday evening. He immediately swiped back to the 17th century recreation of Cebu’s historic district in the museum’s large interactive display.
“This century,” he answered and zoomed in to the spot of the San Juan Bautista Church. “For this,” he added.
His answer did not come as a surprise as the Parian Church was once considered as one of, if not the most beautiful in these parts. But due to the power struggles among the local clergy back in the day, the magnificent structure was sadly torn apart in the late 1870s.
This historical tidbit was just among the new insights I learned from this year’s Gabii Sa Kabilin, Cebu’s annual love affair for heritage, the arts and local culture. It was launched by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI) in 2007 and was inspired from Germany’s Lange Nacht der Museen (Long Night of Museums) where museums remain open late into the night.
Since then, many have continued to flock to various museums and heritage spots in Cebu and nearby cities of Mandaue, Talisay and Lapu-lapu every last Friday of May. Tickets are sold at Php150 only and this covers all entrance fees and transportation between pick-up points. This makes the GSK a very affordable “museum buffet” so to speak.
I’ve been to a few GSKs, but it still felt like my first last Friday. Maybe because I was with my colleagues this time. Some of them have never set foot in any Cebu museum including Casa Gorordo, which housed the first Filipino bishop of Cebu. I told them that to maximize our experience, we’ll skip the farther destinations and just explore the downtown sites instead.
We breezed through the well-curated galleries at Casa Gorordo and then capped off our experience with tacky throwback photos of us in period suits and dresses. After a roadside dinner, we walked towards the 1730 Jesuit House, the oldest dated house in the Philippines.
I always learn something new every time I visit Parian’s hidden gem. But I wished though that there was someone credible who could have guided my friends through the interesting portions of the house-turned museum. Since there was none, I explained to them how the house was accidentally discovered and the transformations it underwent as it changed owners through the centuries. I unfortunately forgot to share the part as to why there’s a hardware warehouse beside it to this day.
I was surprised to see the Cebu city mayor blending in the crowd that evening. Aside from granting occasional selfie requests, Mr. Tomas Osmeña was intently listening to this bright gradeschooler who knows the house’s history better than I do. In retrospect, maybe we should have eavesdropped and tagged along in their private tour.
Since we have two more stops on our list, we then proceeded to the Sugbu Chinese Heritage Museum, the pick-up point for our tartanilla ride.
I am not a big fan of tartanillas at all but for the Gabii sa Kabilin, I made a rare exception. I am glad I did because most of us enjoyed the bumpy ride to Fort San Pedro, the smallest and oldest triangular fort in the country.
By this time, the Gabii sa Kabilin activities began to wind down but I was pleasantly surprised to see Fort San Pedro still packed at 10 PM. We even saw one of the 20 teams who joined this year’s Amazing Race-eseque Heritage Hunt.
After a quick tour around the fort, we boarded a bus to Museo Sugbo, our final stop.
One of us shared that her family used to stay a few blocks away from Museo Sugbo, which was once the Cárcel de Cebú or the provincial jail of Cebu. This was indeed a nostalgic visit for her in more ways than one.
“The galleries here are actually more relatable,” quipped another colleague on our way out.
I’d have to agree as this museum highlights noteworthy archaeological finds around Cebu, the province’s struggles and victories during World War II and a few of the many iconic Cebuanos who have made indelible yet often forgotten contributions in our collective history.
If we did not have a fun run the following morning, I would have invited my friends for a cup of joe at Casa Gorordo’s cafe. It’s the perfect full circle ending to our GSK experience.
But I realized that the whole point of the Gabii sa Kabilin is this – that we can always enjoy coffee at Casa Gorordo or visit the usual museums in the city or see the other heritage sites in Talisay perhaps, not only during the last Friday of May but also on any day of the year.
By doing these, we will continue to appreciate Cebu’s very rich heritage, gain new perspectives on old issues and learn a few surprising insights along the way.