There are several heritage places in the Philippines like Taal in Batangas, Vigan in Ilocos Sur and Silay In Negros Occidental, but not one is as colorful and as ostentatious as Carcar in Cebu. While others have maintained their original colors of white and beige shades, most of Carcar’s heritage buildings are painted in shocking pink and loud sky blue. It must have been the diverse cultural influences that shaped the city that made a strong impact on its architectural buildings and structures.
The town started as a seaside settlement known as Sialo located at the mouth of Minag-a River. Even before the Spaniards arrived, it was already doing barter trade with China.
The Spaniards came at the end of 16th century. Sialo finally became a town in 1599 and the name was changed to Valladolid. Soon, the town began growing and became prime target for Moro marauders. The natives decided to move it to a higher ground (at its present site). It became known as Kabkab after the local fern called Kabkaban that grew abundantly in the area. A priest later changed the name to Carcar, after a town in Navarro, Northern Spain.
Dominating the town landscape is the Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandia, which was built between 1860 and 1875. It exhibits a unique architecture of a simple Greco-Truscan façade with twin bell towers topped by Moorish onion-shaped domes.
Aside from being an important trading center in Southern Cebu, Carcar is also known as the province’s primary source of footwear. The industry started during the 1700s when a man named Mano Teroy made sandals inspired by the images from Last Supper. It became so popular that his neighbors followed suit.
Carcar is also famous for two cardiac delights: lechon and chicharon. Inside the public market are about a dozen stalls that the locals swear offer the juiciest and tastiest lechon in Cebu.
But more than these gastronomical attractions, a visit to Carcar is to marvel because of the many Spanish and American-era buildings and structures dotting the streets of this heritage city.
How to get there
Carcar is about 40 kilometers south of Cebu City. The quickest way to get there is to take a bus at the Southern Terminal. Look for either the bus going to Bato via Oslob or Bato via Barili, as the bus makes a stopover in Carcar. Fare ranges between P40 to P50 for non-air-conditioned or air-conditioned rides, and travel time takes between one hour and a half to two hours.
Those with private vehicles can drive south via the Cebu South Road/Natalio B. Bacalso Highway passing through Talisay, Minglanilla, Naga and San Fernando before finally arriving in Carcar.
What to see, what to do
It is easy to navigate around Carcar. From the bus station, walk east to visit the Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. An interesting attraction at the church patio are the statues of the apostles – only 11 of them – with the 12th one, that of Judas Iscariote, standing alone in front of the convent on the left. The parish convent and the Saint Catherine’s college were built during American occupation. Fronting the church is the statue of Christ the King built by an elusive Italian sculptor Dante Guidetti who lived in Cebu in the 1930s.
On the right side of the church is the Carcar Puericulture Center and Dispensary built from 1929 to 1937. This two-story former hospital looks more like a dollhouse with its artful latticework and carved barandillas. This has been converted into a museum since 2007 to house the memorabilia of the city’s prominent leaders and artists. Fronting the dispensary is the old Upland Elementary School that was built in 1905. It is now painted in pink.
There are also several monuments around the plaza square. There is the statue of Leon Kilat on a horse. Leon Kilat was a native of Negros but he became a revolutionary leader in Cebu against Spain. There is also a monument of Jose Rizal with the hero’s words inscribed in Cebuano. At the center of the Carcar Rotunda is a bandstand built during the American era. On top of the bandstand is the sculpture of two women, symbolizing America showing the Philippines the way to prosperity.
There are about 50 heritage houses around Carcar. The more prominent ones are the house of Mayor Mariano Mercado in blue built in 1906, the blue-and-white painted Yap House built in 1905 and the Silva House built in 1883 to 1898.
Unfortunately, most of these ancestral houses are privately owned, so they cannot be opened to the public. There’s only one house in Carcar that the visitors are allowed to enter: this is the Balay na Tisa. This is the house of Florencio Noel. Built in 1859 and considered the oldest in Carcar, it has retained its original ”tisa” or clay tile roof.
Where to stay, where to eat
Most of the visitors to Carcar go there on a day trip as most of the attractions can be visited in a day. But for those who wish to stay to enjoy the lively night market can find decent lodgings at Carcar Travellers Inn or at Taope Travel Lodge.
Carcar is a gastronomical paradise. There are many types of sweet snacks at the public market like the “ampao” or crispy rice bars, “bucarillo” or sugared coconut, and “gorgorias” or egg biscuits.
And then, there’s the Carcar’s famous “chicharon” or pork rind. This crispy snack is the favorite pasalubong for those visiting the city.
Lastly, there’s the famous Carcar lechon. Generously flavored with spices, lemongrass and garlic, it is said to have the juiciest meat and the crispiest skin. Available at any of the many stalls inside the public market for sometimes as cheap as less than P300 per kilo, it is best eaten with “puso” rice, atchara and eggplant salad. Carcar lechon simply makes visitors shout for “more, more!”