A flotilla of 5 ships with a crew of 237 sailed out of Seville, Spain on August 10, 1519 with Portuguese Explorer Fernando de Magallanes at the helm. In his earnest quest for the famed Spice Islands (Moluccas), the Spanish navigator traversed the Cape Verde Island of Brazil in the course of his two-year long and arduous voyage.
His patience and determination paid off on March 16, 1521 when land was first sighted by his men. The day after, Magellan learned that he committed an error in latitudinal calculations since he wound up in an obscure island named Homonhon, some 10 degrees too far northwards. Upon further exploration, it turned out that Magellan and his men discovered not only one but several island groups - an archipelago.
The Philippine Archipelago
March 29, 1521 marked Magellan's discovery of Limasawa Island in Leyte where the first Christian mass was held. The rustic comforts of Limasawa provided the long overdue respite for the weary voyagers with the help of Magellan's loyal Malay slave, Enrique de Malacca. As Magellan's interpreter, he was responsible for introducing the sailors to the locals. Food was aplenty and the voyagers were rejuvenated after a week of badly needed rest.
Replenishment of the ship's supplies proved to be easy as the mariners got their supplies from three big islands: Coulon (Leyte), Pooson (Camotes), and Zubu (Cebu). Magellan and his crew sought the graces and assistance of King Limasawa in the procurement of their supplies.
The Portuguese navigator and his men first set foot in Cebu on April l7, 1521 where their vessel was moored at the port of Cebu. Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler, described the sights and nuances of early Cebuano culture: ""The houses were built with logs and had ladders made of wood and were roofed with nipa. Many sailing vessels from Siam (Thailand), China, and Arabia were docked at the port. The people ate from porcelain wares and used a lot of gold and jewelry for decoration of their bodies and clothing. Their wines were in Jars. Men tattooed their naked bodies covering their private parts with Bahagui and silk turbans were on their heads. About their girls, they were beautiful and almost as white and as large as our girls although naked from waist up. Upper class women wore sack-like blouses called Chambara on top of a square length cloth shirt tied tightly around the waist. The women painted their lips and nails with bright colors, adorned their bodies with jewelries, but all of them were barefoot.
A religious milestone occurred in Cebu with the baptism of Zebuí»s King Humabon and wife Queen Juana and 400 of their people, signaling the spread of Christianity all over the islands. However, along with the advent of Christian proselytizing, the islanders were subjugated to the Spanish sovereignty. The Spanish reign in Cebu proved to be short-lived following the death of Magellan on April 28, 1521 in the rebellious hand of valiant Zubu warrior Lapu-lapu.
Undaunted by the fate of Magellan, forty years later Spanish colonizer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Fray Andres de Urdaneta set forth their sails to conquer Cebu. Legaspi reached Cebu on April 27, 1565 as the second Spanish conquistador. With the defeat of Rajah Tupas, leaving in his midst the village in shambles, Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus rose from the ruins. This was named after the famous miraculous image of Senor Santo Nino de Cebu that was found unscathed among the ashes of a dwelling burned by Spaniards. However, the settlement which Legaspi built as another symbol of Christianity in the island stood as an omen; portending decades of Spanish colonial regime.
Miguel Lopez de Legaspi then urged his men to construct what is now the oldest and smallest fort in the country: Fort San Pedro. As Spain intensified its colonization efforts, indignant islanders showed opposition by way of intermittent attacks against the colonizers. Thus the rebellion paved the way to the construction of Fort San Pedro, a Spanish military stronghold.
The streets of Tres de Abril and V. Rama were the sites of a fierce battle on April 3, 1898 when General Leon Kilat of Bacong, Negros Oriental spearheaded the revolution against Spanish colonialism. The Spaniards sought refuge at the Fort San Pedro and three days of relentless attacks would have spelled victory for the rebels were it not for the propitious arrival of the Spanish armada.
However, the fort fell to the hands of the native Cebuanos when Americans commanded by Commodore George Dewey vanquished the Spanish fleet in December 1898 in the battle of Manila Bay. With the American reign in full force in 1901, then Senate Pro Tempore and late President Sergio Osmena, Sr. and then Congressman and majority floor leader in the House of Representatives, Senator Manuel Briones, vigorously lobbied for Philippine independence.
Cebu metamorphosed in more ways than one, but always for the better. From a sleepy fishing village to a fledgling trading port in 1521, from the first Spanish settlement named Villa del Santisimo Nombre de Jesus in 1575 to a municipality in 1901, Cebu finally became a chartered city on February 24, 1937. Being the first and oldest city in the country, antedating Manila by 7 years, having the oldest school and oldest street, and being the cradle of Christianity in the Far East (i.e. Magellan's cross planted in Cebu as a symbol of natives embracing the Christian faith), Cebu is replete with historical firsts.
February 24, 1937 was a milestone in Cebuano history as Cebu City was granted its charter by virtue of Commonwealth Act No.58 enacted by Congress on October 20, 1936. Senator Vicente Raffia, formerly representative of Cebu's 3rd district, was instrumental as author and sponsor of the bill. It was at that time that Secretary of Interior Elpedio Quirino appointed the mayor and board members of Cebu City in his capacity as representative of Manuel Quezon.
Shortly after the landing of the Japanese Imperial Army in Cebu City on April 10, 1942, the entire province became the principal Japanese base due to its strategic location and substantial population. Cebu finally saw the light of freedom in March 1945 when American liberation forces landed in Talisay town. Liberation came in full circle in March 1946 and, to restore law and order, a civil government dubbed as the Philippine Civil Affairs Unit (PCAU) was established in the city.
In Apri1, 1965, the entire Christian world focused its attention on Cebu City, considered as the cradle of Christianity in the Far East, as it played host to the 40th Anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines. The celebration highlighted the contributions of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Fray Andres de Urdaneta in proselytizing Christianity by way of establishing a Spanish settlement in the province. In a country where Catholics predominate, the conferment of the San Agustin Church to the title Basilica Minore del Santo Nino proved to be a momentous occasion as Rome sent its representative Papal Legate, His Eminence Ildefonso Cardinal Antonuitte.