History of Cebu City

Cebu claims the glory of being the oldest town in the Philippines, founded by Magellan himself. Having left Spain in 1519 with five ships, Magellan landed at Cebu on 7 April 1521 with his three remaining vessels, set up a cross on the shore at a place called Zubu and, having received a friendly reception from the natives, baptised their chief, Humabon, his wife Juana and 800 of their followers. Cebu thus became the first centre of the Christian faith in the Philippines. Pigafetta, a Spanish chronicler, recorded the effect produced on the Europeans by the sight of the natives with their tattooing and their silk turbans, the handsome native women who painted their lips and nails and wore flowers in their hair, and the Arab, Siamese and Chinese vessels in the harbour.

Unfortunately for Magellan he did not receive the same friendly welcome on the small neighbouring island of Mactan. When the Spaniards attempted to land they were greeted by a hail of arrows, and in the subsequent battle Magellan was killed (27 April 1521). His body was never recovered. His opponent, the native chief Lapu Lapu, has become the Philippine national hero, the incarnation of resistance to invaders. Nevertheless the Filipinos honour the two opposing leaders jointly, and there are monuments to both of them which are erected at Punta Engaño, Lapu-lapu City. The name lapu-lapu has been given to a species of fish commonly found in the waters of the Philippines and frequently seen on restaurant menus.

After Magellan’s death the Spaniards fled only one ship with 26 survivors, returned to Spain and Humabon abandoned his Christian faith. When a further Spanish expedition led by Miguel de Legazpi and Fray Andres de Urdaneta arrived on 27 April 1565 it was received with hostile demonstrations by chieftain Rajah Tupas. After the battle which followed a soldier named Juan de Camus found in the ruins of a burned down hut a statuette of the Infant Jesus, which was presumed to be Magellan’s baptismal gift to queen Juana: this was the origin of the cult of the Santo Niño de Cebu.

The Spanish post established at this period bore the name of San Miguel, later changed to Villa Santissimo Nombre de Jesus (Village of the Holy Name of Jesus). The fort built on the coast was named after Legazpi’s flagship, San Pedro. It is not known when the town reverted to the name of Cebu. After being abandoned for a time in the face of Portuguese activity in the area, Cebu became active again in the 17th century as the trading centre of the Visayas. On 3 April 1898 rebels seized the town and laid siege to the fort, which was saved only by the arrival of Spanish warships. The leader of the rising, Leon Kilat, withdrew into the interior to wage guerrilla war against the Spaniards. Guerrilla activity continued against the American forces that landed in February 1899, and only came to an end after three years of fighting. It was resumed, under very different circumstances, during the Japanese occupation. The Japanese forces who landed on Cebu on 10 April 1942 after a bombing which caused heavy damage in the town were never able to suppress the guerrillas who had taken to the mountains and from time to time were able to carry out actions in the town itself. Cebu was liberated on 26 March 1945 after the American landing.

Mt. Manunggal trek, honours the death anniversary of President Ramon Magsaysay who was tragically killed in an air crash on Mt. Manunggal Balamban, Cebu.