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Discover Iloilo City’s rich culture and history through its museums, galleries, and more

As a city that has long been recognized for its culture, heritage, and hospitality, Iloilo is now a strong candidate to get a new title under its belt—the Museum Capital of the Philippines. Iloilo City is currently home to over 20 galleries and museums showcasing a rich variety of subjects, from vibrant contemporary art, to Philippine maritime history, to the rich craft of Spanish brandy-making.

In the photos: Museum of Philippine Maritime History

The recent VISIT ILOILO campaign spearheaded by the Iloilo City local government led by Mayor Jerry E. Treñas highlighted these institutions, with the goal of encouraging more tourists to come and explore the vibrant city. “Our VISIT ILOILO campaign is an invitation for everyone to experience Iloilo’s rich history and premier attractions first-hand—especially our museums. I believe we may have the most number of museums in a single city, and that’s something to be truly proud of,” shared Allan Tan, President, Iloilo Festivals Foundation, Inc. (IFFI).

In the photo (L-R): Allan Tan, President, Iloilo Festivals Foundation, Inc. (IFFI) and Mayor Jerry E. Treñas of Iloilo City

Museums showcasing Iloilo’s rich history

One of the first American structures built in the Philippines was the National Museum Western Visayas-Iloilo Provincial Jail. The jail, also known as the Iloilo Rehabilitation Center (IRC) and Prison of Iloilo, was built in 1911 and used for incarceration until 2006. Designed by Architect William Parsons, the jail was recognized for its exceptional architectural, cultural, and historical value, and the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) declared it an Important Cultural Property (ICP) in 2016. 

Another one of the must-visit museums in Iloilo is the Museo Iloilo, which pays tribute to Ilonggo heroes and local ancestors. Built in 1971, this museum embraces the distinction as the first government-sponsored museum outside Metro Manila.

Iloilo

In the Photos (L-R): Museo Iloilo signage and the collections of Roman Catholic images

Casa Gamboa, an initiative of the Tinukib Foundation, was opened to honor Patrocino Gamboa, also known as “Tia Patron,” one of the first revolutionaries in Panay Island to battle against Spain, and a founder of the Comite Central Revolucionario Visayas. Some of Tia Patron’s instrumental contributions to Philippine history was nursing wounded and sick soldiers on the battlefield; collecting contributions from donors; gathering food, medical supplies, and ammunition for the revolutionary forces; and preparing a replica of the Philippine flag for the inauguration of the revolutionary government of the Visayas in 1898 during the “Cry of Santa Barbara” in Iloilo.

Speaking of Santa Barbara, located beside this municipality’s historic church and convent is the Santa Barbara Centennial Museum. Built by the Philippine Centennial Commission in 1998, the museum details Santa Barbara’s rich history and culture through antiques, artifacts, and photos. It features two wings: the left wing that showcases historical displays, and the right wing for changing exhibits. 

Galleries, museums featuring art and craftsmanship

Adoro Art Gallerie is one of the newest additions to the city’s growing portfolio of museums and galleries. The Adoro is situated in Iloilo Prime estates. It is managed by the Valencia Family Foundation and showcases the collection of Ilonggo Ed Valencia, one of the country’s top art collectors. The Valencia family dubbed the gallery “Adoro” after the Spanish/Portuguese term for “I adore.”

The Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art (ILOMOCA) is also among the most visited museums in the city, where works of local and foreign artists are showcased. This three-story museum features separate galleries – the Hulot Exhibit, The Gallery, Adoracion Valencia Gallery, and The Box.

Iloilo

Along the Festival Walk Parade, meanwhile, is the Brandy Museum, which allows visitors to dive deep into the world of Spanish spirits. Admission is free and open for all who would like to be transported into a Spanish bodega and learn more about the craft of distilling liquor. 

Iloilo’s ancestral houses-turned-museums

On Santa Isabel Street in Jaro is the 215-year-old Casa Mariquit, an ancestral home owned by two of the most influential old families in Iloilo, the Javellanas and Lopezes, and which served as both a bank and a residence. The two-story house later became a home for Ramon Javellana’s granddaughter, Maria “Mariquit” Javellana, whom the house was eventually named after. Mariquit’s husband was Fernando Lopez, Sr., who served as vice president of the Philippines for three terms under President Elpidio Quirino and former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Visitors can view antique home decor and furniture, as well as paintings, old cameras, and framed black and white photographs of Lopez with historical figures, such as Saint Pope John Paul II, who actually visited the house. 

There’s also the Camiña Balay nga Bato, a century-old ancestral house that serves authentic tablea chocolate and the town’s famous pancit molo. They source ingredients for their delicacies not just within Iloilo City but also from the owner’s farm in Guimaras. Constructed during the 1860s, it is one of the most prominent ancestral houses in Iloilo that showcases a collection of ancient and historical artifacts.

More reasons to visit Iloilo

Through VISIT ILOILO, tourists can also look forward to their fill of the city’s signature delicacies. Iloilo City was officially recognized as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in 2023, thanks to the city’s efforts to champion heritage cuisine. One must simply try the Kansi at Ani by Park Inn by Radisson, as well as their version of the KBL (Kadyos, Buko, Langka) Brazo Cup, and Batuan Ice Cream with homemade Piaya. A trip to Hotel del Rio, the oldest hotel in Iloilo City is also not to be missed and also the Richmonde Hotel with their Bandi premium donuts and ensaymadas. Moreover, no one should leave Iloilo City before visiting Glory’s Cafe and trying its famous Sansaw, a local Iloilo drink made from caramel and coconut milk with boba pearls—considered as Iloilo’s very own version of milk tea.

Iloilo

Online travel agency Agoda has also recently tagged Iloilo as the most affordable tourist destination during the summer months of April and May in the Philippines, securing its spot in the Top 8 across the Asia-Pacific region. Last year, Bacolod City in Negros Occidental had been the only Philippine destination in the rankings. International hotel chains abound in Iloilo City, such as Courtyard by Marriott that offers premium accommodation at local rates. If y

It is also worth noting that in 2023, Iloilo recorded a significant number of tourist arrivals, with about 886,000 visitors coming into the city, based on data from the Department of Tourism. Cebu Pacific has flights to Iloilo daily, and booking for flights and travel needs are made easy through Southwest Travel and Tours.

“VISIT ILOILO is more than just a showcase of our heritage, food, and festivals. It is our way of building our legacy and giving back to the Ilonggos, whose collective efforts have molded Iloilo into what it is and what it’s yet to become. We are very excited to share who we are not only to the whole country, but to the rest of the world,” Tan adds.

Aside from IFFI, among the multi-sectoral groups supporting the campaign include DOT-Region 6, the Tourism Promotions Board, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Iloilo, and the Iloilo Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, and Exhibitions (MICE) Alliance.

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