It is utterly surprising that many tourists to Cebú do not know of the gem that is Carcar, a heritage city known for its period houses and delectable delicacies. Located south of Cebu City, the Queen City of the South, Carcar can be reached by car after a one and a half drive through well-paved roads. From the city, we passed by an impressive seaside highway, the SRP Road. The highway has a majestic view of the ocean, and it was clearly a treat for us to travel with such a sight.
We first passed-by the neo-classical Carcar Rotunda with its flamboyant pergola and white-painted lamp-posts. Nearby, we bought some of Carcar’s famed delicacies: chicharon that looked like deep-fried pork chops and Ampao, a native version of rice crispies.
Afterwards, we immediately sought out the numerous heritage houses located in the city particularly those located along Calle Sta. Catalina. The first house we visited was the Balay na Tisa [which literally means “house of tiles’]. The palatial home, which was closed, was owned by the Sarmiento – Osmeña families, two very affluent clans in the region. The house was built in 1859 and is a typical representation of the bahay-na-bato tradition found throughout the archipelago. From here, we made our way up the street where other heritage homes such as the Mercado and Noel houses stood. At the intersection of the national highway was an aqua-green house with gay tracery and iron works that now serves a commercial purpose.
The main feature, however, of Carcar was its church complex. I was really charmed by the silence and presence of beauty in the said plaza. Located at the front-center was a flamboyant monument to Rizal. Nearby is a public school house that was put up by the Americans throughout the islands. I presume it was indeed built in 1905 as the date is painted prominently on the schoolhouse.
Located east of this was the municipal hall, which is in a faux art-nouveau structure that tastefully mimics the Carcar Musuem. Located beside the municipal hall is the Carcar Museum which is housed in the former Carcar Dispensary.
The Carcar Museum’s impressively-preserved exterior and interior showcase the finest features of la arquitectura mestiza. Exquisite callado or wood tracery, Machuca tiles, stained glass windows and period furniture made of hard-wood add character to the museum. The effort of the local government to maintain a heritage structure, and at the same, preserve its town’s memory in a museum, is noteworthy and laudable. I wasn’t able to read though what made Carcar a rich city. I didn’t see any fields in the area and neither did I see a seaport nearby. For a town to have big bahay na batos, it means that the place wa/is a place of prosperity. However, I didn’t see or read anything that informed on their major industries.
We then visited the Church of Sta. Catalina de Alejandria, a church built by the Augustinians between 1860 to 1875. The church’s bell-towers are its most prominent features because they are topped with onion-shaped roofs which are uncommon here. These remind one of Orthodox churches and as such, one’s curiosity is piqued as to why these were copied for the church. Some elements of the church exteriors were Moorish in inspiration as well as neo-Gothic. Unfortunately, and quite peculiarly, the church was closed when we arrived (a little past the hour of eleven in the morning) and so, we weren’t able to see the interiors of the church. As far as I know, the church also features angels (or is it female saints?) holding up lamps on the sides of main aisle.
After lighting a few candles (sold to us by a mother-and-son tandem constantly bugging us), we headed for the Carcar Public Market for some good old Carcar/Cebu Lechon. The market was clean and it didn’t have the stench and filth of other wet markets. Likewise, they had a separate section for the lechon stalls and carinderias. Upon hearing that a kilo of lechon was only for a measly 280 Pesos, we immediately ordered and munched away on those crispy, delectable skins. Although it is customary to eat Cebu lechon only by itself or at the most, with toyo (soy sauce), Ana and I simply had to look around the market and buy our fill of Mang Tomas. Luckily, there was at least one stall selling it.
Also to be found in abundance in the market are different kakanins, puso, chicharon, ampao, etc. These we bought for pasalubongs and left with tummies filled and bodies prepared for an entire afternoon of cultural tours back at Cebu City.
Carcar has so much untapped potential. Leaving the city made me wonder why the city has yet to employ the help of massive tourism marketing and structural improvements. Carcar can be the Vigan of the South if only they ferociously promote their city that undeniably has charm and character. We should realize that cultural heritage, whether it be tangible (structures, articles of clothing, food, etc) or intangible (oral traditions, languages, songs, etc) plays a vital role in tourism, community identity and even, social development.