We are used to old things that have been restored to look like new, but sometimes there’s even more value in keeping old things looking as they are. Then you can really feel the years that passed it by, the weight of the generations that it outlasted. Then you can appreciate the essence of these things and their importance in delivering history to us who wish to relive it.
These, among others, are some of the thoughts that run across tourists’ minds as they behold the ancient relic that is the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House. Located in Cebu’s Parian District, this house is said to be the first ever Chinese house built outside of China. While it’s difficult to verify this claim, what’s for sure is that this is one of the oldest houses in the entire Philippines. It was built in the 17th Century, out of coral stone and molave (thus earning it the nickname “Balay nga Bato ug Kahoy”, which the locals still call it by). Though relatively well-maintained, the weatherbeaten house shows its age in a single glance.
The house was built by Don Juan Yap and his wife Doña Maria Florido. The “Sandiego” part of the name came when in the 1880s, the eldest daughter of the couple married Don Mariano San Diego, the then Cabeza de Barangay. The house is still in possession of the Sandiego family to this day.
History, inside and out
Entering the ancestral house serves to immerse the tourist further in history. The creak of the stairs announces one’s arrival, and one can see the many collections coming from both the house and from the possessions of the current owner. Off to one side, one can see the wide capiz windows framing the street below. This is the only sign that one has not yet travelled back in time.
The living room holds a mirror that’s over a hundred years old, and another mirror on the second floor has the distinction of once being owned by Pantaleon Villegas (aka Leon Kilat) who was a famous Cebuano revolutionary during the time of the Spaniards. The window sill on this same floor still holds a clay jar once used for storing drinking water, during a time when piping was non-existent. Around the house were images of saints, with missing ivory hands. Some were simply garbed, while others were in trappings fit for a procession. Even the house’s roof is an attraction — it is 95% original, and only God knows how many storms it has weathered!
Val Mancao Sandiego, the current owner, still visits here with his family on weekends. He has dutifully turned the whole house into a museum, which the public could visit everyday from 9AM to 6PM. There is an entrance fee of PHP 50, which is really a cheap price compared to the deep history one can unveil inside the Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House.
If you ever make your way to Cebu, be sure to drop by 155 Lopez Jaena Street in Parian. You can take a 01K jeepney from SM Cebu, get down at Shamrock, and take a short walk to the Parian Plaza. It’s impossible to miss this house from there — this house that is a veritable time capsule, with stories of centuries past.