THE HISTORIC TOWN OF VIGAN: SIDE BY SIDE WITH OTHER
by Engr. Ricardo Favis
What does Vigan have in common with the Pyramids of Egypt, the
Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall of China, the Vatican, Paris
and the Kremlin? Answer: all are World Heritage Sites.
But five years ago, no one would have dared to compare our small
town of Vigan with any of these famous monuments and sites. It would
have been unthinkable to place Vigan side by side with the wonders
of the world. Then came the news last 2 December 1999 that the UNESCO
World Heritage Convention has inscribed the Historic Town of Vigan
in the World Heritage List of Cultural Properties for its exceptional
and universal value.
To be able to fully appreciate the distinct honor that has been
accorded to our small town, let us travel together and explore some
World Heritage Sites whose magnificence enriches each one of us,
and whose disappearance would thus be an irreplaceable loss for
Among the Seven Wonders of the World (which caught our endless
fascination during our high school days), the Pyramids of Egypt
and the Great Wall of China are the only survivors. The Hanging
Gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse in Alexandria and other ancient
wonders no longer exist, thus depriving us the opportunity to enjoy
and to learn from them.
Great urban centers may exhibit important developments in architecture,
town planning or landscape design. Several of them are Rome, Florence,
Siena, Venice and Naples (Italy), Cairo (Egypt), Berne (Switzerland),
Codoba, Caceres, Segovia and Toledo (Spain), Marrakesh (Morocco),
Quebec (Canada), Havana (Cuba), Cracow and Warsaw (Poland), Budapest
(Hungary), Lima (Peru), Paris, Avignon and Lyons (France), Mexico
City, Prague (Czechoslovakia), St. Peterburg (Russia), Salzburg
and Graz (Austria), Kathmandu (Nepal) and Bukhara (Uzbekistan).
Some archeological sites bear an exceptional testimony of a civilization
which is living or has disappeared. This category includes Sukhothai
and Ayutthaya (Thailand), Persepolis (Iran), Carthage (Tunisia),
Petra (Jordan), Teotihuacan (Mexico), Machu Pichu (Peru), Troy (Turkey),
Delphi and Mycenae (Greece), Damascus (Syria), and Jerusalem.
Some World Heritage Sites are associated with ideas or beliefs
of outstanding universal significance, such as the case of Vatican
City (Holy See), Temple and Cemetery of Confucius in Qufu (China),
and the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha in Lumbini (Nepal).
There are also the castles and palaces that are magnets for tourists,
like the Versailles (France), Alhambra and Escorial (Spain), Grand
Palace of Brussels (Belgium), the Potala in Tibet, the summer Palace
in Beijing and the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties
(China), and the Complex of Hue Monuments (Viet Nam).
Sanaa (Yemen), Timbuktu (Mali), Taos Indian Pueblo (USA),
and the modern city of Brasilia (Brazil) are some cities with distinctive
The Office of the UNESCO Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia
and the Pacific first introduced the concept of the World Heritage
Convention at the community level in four small towns: Vigan (Philippines),
Luang Prabang (Lao PDR), Lijiang (China) and Hoi An (Viet Nam).
These towns which are pilot demonstration sites under a UNESCO Programme
on Integrated Community Development and Heritage Site Preservation
in Asia Pacific through Local Efforts or LEAP have all been inscribed
in the World Heritage List.
Aside from the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids and Necropolis
of Egypt, other famous landmarks include the Nubian Monuments from
Abu Simbel to Philae (Egypt), the Taj Mahal (India), the Statue
of Liberty (USA), the Westminster Abbey and Palace (United Kingdom),
and the Stonehenge (United Kingdom).
Religious structures and complexes include Acropolis (Greece),
Borobudor (Indonesia), Angkor (Cambodia), Mont Saint Michel (France),
Chartres Cathedral (France), Churches and Convents in Goa (India),
the Four Baroque Churches (Philippines), Piazza del Duomo in Pisa
(Italy), Cologne Cathedral (Germany), Monasteries in Mount Athos,
Chios, Chora and Patmos Island (Greece), and the Jesuit missions
of the Guarinis (Argentina and Brazil).
The Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci in the Church of Santa Maria
delle Gracie (Italy) has been single out as a masterpiece of human
creative genius. Other artistic works of outstanding universal value
include the rock paintings in the Altamira Caves (Spain) and the
rock carvings in Tanum (Sweden) and Alta (Norway).
Monuments that remind us of the horrors of war include Auschwitz
Concentration Camp (Poland), the Defense Line of Amsterdam (Netherlands),
and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Japan).
Archeological sites of scientific importance include the Peking
Man Site at Zhoukoudian (China), the Fossil Hominid Sites (South
Africa), and the Bronze Age Burial Site of Sammallahdenmaki (Finland).
The Wielickzka Salt Mine (Poland), Mines of Rammelsberg and the
Volklinger Ironworks (Germany), and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
(India) are sites that exhibit important developments in technology.
A site can also be a cultural landscape or an outstanding example
of a traditional human settlement or land-use which is representative
of a culture. An example of a cultural landscape is the Rice Terraces
of the Philippines Cordilleras.
A natural site may be a geological wonder or it exemplifies a
stage of the earths evolutionary processes, such as in the
case of the Yellowstone, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and
the Grand Canyon (USA). The Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) manifest
biological evolution and rich biodiversity. Natural sites that contain
the natural habitats of endangered animals include the Komodo National
Park (Indonesia), the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino (Mexico), Iguazo
National Park (Argentina) and the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary
Natural sites cited for their rich biodiversity and natural beauty
include the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), the Everglades (USA), The
Great Barrier Reef (Australia), Lake Baikal (Russian Federation),
and the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park (Philippines) and the Puerto
Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Philippines) for large
numbers of animals include the Ngorongoro and Serengeti Reserves
(Tanzania). A natural site may also be a scene of exceptional beauty
or spectacular view, such as Mount Taishan (China), Los Glaciares
and the Peninsula Valdes (Argentina), the Canadian Rocky Mountain
Parks (Canada), the Redwood National Park(USA), and the New Zealand
Sub- Antarctic Islands.