In the 16th century, a quaint part of Cebu was the home of a small community of Chinese traders. Before long, the area grew as residential headquarters of the most dynamic entrepreneurs and became a district of the wealthiest families in the city.
With origins traceable to a Catholic parish in 1614, Parian plays an important role in the 450 years of Cebu City’s history—it has shared its glory as the home of families who have made contributions to politics, education, civic works, the arts and other fields.
A living witness of how Parian’s glory is Casa Gorodo, the newly renovated enclave filled with antiques collected from ancestral homes around the country. Originally built in 1850 by Alejandro Reynes and bought by Spanish merchant Juan Isidro de Gorordo in 1863, the structure has survived two turbulent revolutionary conflicts and World War II. It has been home to four generations of the Gorordo family—the original Juan Isisdro de Gorordo would marry Telesflora Garces, who came from a Chinese mestizo family. One of their six children grew was Juan Bautista Gorordo, the first Filipino bishop of the Diocese of Cebu.
It was much later acquired and restored by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc., and converted into a museum. The house was first renovated between 1980 and 1981, and officially opened to the public on December 5, 1983. Like many other stone houses in the area, Casa Gorordo showcases how a typical Filipino home looked like in the 19th century. It then had a large zaguan (hallway) on the ground floor, where products from the Gorodo farm—like sugar, corn and fruits—were safely kept.
A common practice of the religious families of Parian, according to the Gorordos, was to keep the images and busts of the saints in the zaguan while waiting for the next fiesta and procession. Other practices of the family still being observed today are the celebration of the feast of Saint John the Baptist on June 24 and the reenactment of the Sinug, a prayer-dance dedicated to the Santo Niño.
For its social and historical significance, the National Historical Institute conferred the house-turned-museum the title National Historical Landmark in 1991. It was only in 2005 when the second major renovation to replace aging elements.
It was closed again in late 2013, and Casa Gorordo Museum finally reopened its doors to the public in November of last year. The upgrading of the museum was done to enhance and elevate the visitor experience by incorporating more interactive presentations and digital technology.
“We have upgraded to make it dynamic and interactive,” says museum curator Florencia Moreno. “By fusing the old with a little bit of new, one can expect a fun-filled experience. We want to inculcate the guests, especially the local ones, a sense of pride and appreciation of our heritage.” The museum also added the shop for pasalubongs and café for Cebuano delicacies.
The museum now has enriched artifact collections reflecting the lifestyle of Cebuanos from the late 1800s to the pre-World War II years. With everything that is kept inside, the museum is a good way to introduce how well off Filipino lived back then.
Made of sturdy materials such as coral stones, hardwoods, terracotta tiles and clay roofs, Casa Gorordo has all the typical features of a Bahay na Bato—a wooden upper floor, ventanillas and sliding capiz windows. The lower floor traditionally served as a storage space, and now houses the museum offices and an area for art exhibitions that include historical footage and photographs of Cebu. The wide staircase leading up to the living areas feature a high canopy and concrete stepboard—the size of the staircase is said to indicate the family social standing.
The second story is furnished with antiques, a mixture of Vienna bentwood imported from Europe and some locally refined in Cebu and Bohol;. The first part of the upper floor that visitors were allowed into was the caida, a hallway that stretches the length of the entire floor. Hung above these hallways are beautifully and intricately carved wooden calados—these stunning decorations serve as markers indicating a Victorian and European tradition of designing levels of intimacy and privacy. When a visitor passed under a calado, he literally crosses the line to a more private part of the house.
In the formal sala, the Gorordo family usually received guests, and was where formal and business transactions normally took place. It also has collections of costumes, books and memorabilia. Worth noting are the colorful paintings on the ceilings that made the space vibrant—this harks back to the time when there was no electricity, and people had to paint their ceilings in bright colors to create the illusion of more light.
Aside from the formal sala, there is a private one, where family members lounged with their close friends. Musical instruments such as the piano and harp, the gramophone and the card table specify that this area was mostly used for leisure and entertainment.
A room in the residence was outfitted as a chapel—Bishop Juan Gorordo would use the chapel whenever he visited home. Casa Gorordo is one of a very few ancestral houses in the Philippines with a chapel. Religion played a central role in Gorodo’s family and continues to exert palpable influence until today. It is said that a papal bull was issued in this chapel that allowed the celebration of mass here, which the bishop himself would celebrate. On ordinary days, though, this was the family’s prayer room. The altar is a reproduction of the original, a gothic altar with beautifully carved religious icons and flowers made of rare nautilus shells and tasseled damask curtain adornments.
Among its many renovations, one stood out the most—the baño or bathroom was an addition in the 1930s, when indoor plumbing was already available in the city. Although the first renovation after its acquisition had refurbished the house to look like the 1800s, when bathrooms were traditionally outside, the latest one was done to showcase the different time periods the house had seen. The tiles, lavatory, shower, medicine box and toilet were all imported from the US. The matarvan jar, though, was brought in from the old bathroom, as it still served its purpose.
The area where families had traditionally showed off their wealth was in the dining room, where many special occasions took place. These formal dinners were a way for the family to affirm its status and influence in the Parian society. The dining area in this house was well-adorned to tell visitors something about the owner’s affluence. The lancenas, the plateras and even walls of the dining area were decked with fine porcelain from China, Japan and Europe. The table is set with beautiful ceramics, glassware and silverware.
Like the bathroom, the kitchen underwent several renovations at the time the Gorodo family still lived there, making room for the coming of indoor plumbing and other technologies. The dirty kitchen was replaced by an oven and stove, which featured a drawer where you put in charcoal or firewood. The wooden counters were replaced by porcelain tiles. However, traditional kitchen implements are still being used.
With the constant changes of time, Casa Gorordo always strived to stay relevant. “We always thinking if we are effectively communicating to guests what Cebuano culture is,” says curator Moreno. “Definitely we have to stay innovative as guests’ profiles and tastes change.”
As the museum reopened its doors, it now offers a hugely amplified encounter with the house and Cebu’s glorious and interesting past. One of the upgrades in the museum aims to tell the story through modern technology, the Visual Tour Guide app. Dubbed as an eGuide, the app conveniently offers specific information about certain aspects of the house. Guests need only scan the QR codes on display by each feature to enjoy rich content.
At the ground floor, a large-format HDTV provides an interactive 3D map of old Cebu City. One can view it in four phases by years—in the year 1614, 1870, 1920 and 1945. Each period depicts the landscape, including the buildings in the area. Providing context to exhibits are social life dioramas and photographs with 3D elements, offering views of different activities in the 20th century. Audio devices installed at the exhibits play effervescent sounds to completely bring photos to life.
Another new innovation at this museum is the mini-theater, equipped with a large screen HDTV, high-definition sound and comfortable seating. Here, they screen a documentary on Cebuano architecture and its different influences over time. “Aside from the enhancements of our exhibits, the museum is now conceptualizing new programs to attract locals and instill in them a thirst for Cebuano history,” Moreno shares.
The museum offers different tour packages ranging from P80 to P180. The P180 rate includes free use of tablets, free earphones, a booklet, souvenir item and free drink at the museum café. The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays, from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
There are hundreds of stories that remain uncovered behind the walls of Casa Gorordo, and the other ancestral houses in this old district. Parian’s rich culture and heritage remains an influence in Cebuano and Filipino society—truly the stories this district tells have shaped Cebu into what it is now.
Photography by Ezekiel Sullano