During a recent trip to Cebu I revisited my favorite tourist spot there, the Fuerza de San Pedro (Wikipedia page here). With a few more photos now in the gallery, I’m ready to do a post on it. To be honest, Cebu is not chock-a-block with historical sites despite having been squarely in the picture when the Spanish first arrived lo these many years ago. Ferdinand Magellan met his end in 1521 on Mactan Island, adjacent to Cebu City, after (unwisely) picking a fight with the local inhabitants. Nothing daunted, the Spanish subsequently sent Miguel López de Legazpi (Wikipedia page here) to carry on the business of taking over the area. The first approach to Cebu met with hostility from the natives — small wonder, after that spot of bother with Magellan — so Legazpi went on to Samar and Bohol and returned to Cebu a few months later after having consolidated his position a bit. He overcame the resistance offered by Rajah Tupas and established a colony there in May, 1565. Four years later he transferred the settlement to Panay Island because it was too hard to obtain provisions on Cebu. One wonders if native resistance to Spanish presence on the island had some part to play in that circumstance …
Well, we all know the routine with colonization, don’t we. You barge in, throw your weight around, get a toehold, then the first thing you do is build a fortress of some sort. Nothing Legazpi did diverged from that pattern and the original Fuerza de San Pedro was the defensive fortress constructed to serve the purposes of the first colonists. The original structure was not stone, of course, but something cobbled together from locally available wood. The current stone building dates from 1738 (despite the date in the photo above) and that’s the object of our consideration here.
Let’s have a look at the portal:
Let’s deconstruct a colonial facade of 1738. We’ve got the European bit in the center, obviously, with the arms of Castile and Leon (carved quite prettily, it must be said) as the largest element. Work in stone during the colonial period was usually done by Chinese craftsmen, since they had some background in masonry and stone carving which the Filipino natives lacked. The stone used in most colonial buildings in the Visayas region is coral stone, which is the case with the Fuerza, as well. Here’s a close-up of it:
As you see, it’s like looking at the sea in solid form. It’s quite durable stuff, but it doesn’t render fine detail particularly well because it’s too coarse-grained. The geology of the islands in Visayas is almost exclusively sedimentary and of recent origin, so there are no fine limestones or sandstones available. Our colonial facade, then, uses simple architectural elements for the capitals and the pediment — straight lines, nothing fancy, despite the year being 1738 when the Baroque was at its height and architectural ornament in New Spain and Spain itself involved almost everything except straight lines.
The European elements have been taken from some standard plan — attached columns with capitals, a standard triangular pediment at the top, all quite according to Hoyle. The colonial elements show above the pediment. We have semi-circular openings and little towers and who knows how it all relates to the European elements at the center. Why do the two tallest towers jut up above the pediment? What is the point of the semi-circular openings with their round arches in a facade that has nothing else round in it? Well, we needn’t wrack our brains too hard looking for answers because in all likelihood a simple answer will do: they’re the product of the fancy of Chinese craftsmen building something they’ve never seen before. A European of classical persuasion would probably have put nothing above the pediment, which would be placed higher to form the final element in the facade. But it’s Cebu in 1738 and our Chinese workmen are doing their best, so let’s not get too fussy.
The inside of the Fuerza is a pleasant space, looking very touristy these days without any military sense about it any longer. Here are some views: