Sanctity and Affluence: The Tale of Casa Gorordo

To enjoy the place I am visiting or staying at, I will first learn its local history, and learn its local customs and practices by immersing myself with the locals. I did this when I worked in Singapore, South Korea, and Cebu. 

In Cebu, I visited the Casa Gorordo to know the history of the place. But in the wonderful narrative of the house, I also learned about the Cebuano's ancient customs and practices which I believe still permeates their contemporary life.

The palatial Casa Gorordo.

Being the former house of Bishop Juan Gorordo, Cebu's first Filipino bishop, Casa Gorordo is a place worthy of a designation as national historical landmark. 

National historical marker at Casa Gorordo.

I so love this house, not only for its aesthetic appeal, but also for its narrative reflective of Cebu's finest culture. This narrative is delivered eloquently by the tour guide, as the visitors tour the house.  

The tour would usually start with an explanation of the history of the area where the house is located. The area is called Parian district which used to be an affluent neighborhood in the early 1900's.  

Furthermore, the area is said to be an enclave of the Chinese, and mestizos (mixed race), where the prominent families of Cebu such as the OsmeƱa, Borromeo, Velez, Climaco, among others, originated from.

Prominent persons who belong to prominent families in Cebu, most
notably former Philippine President Sergio S. Osmena, Sr.

The tour guide also discussed about the fabled Parian Church or the San Juan Bautista Parish Church. The church, it was said, was the most magnificent church in Cebu. 

According to Fe Susan Go in her thesis Ang Sugbo sa Karaang Panahon: An Annotated Translation of the  1935 History of Cebu, "The paraphernalia used in the mass was made purely of gold, the pews were carved by a sculptor of the Parian, the altars were covered with stone slabs with money and gold inlaid, and the church bells were big and loud. The tolling of these bells was so loud that it could be heard as far as Hilotungan and the town of Talisay."

Being such a magnificent church, it became an object of envy of the priests in the nearby cathedral that they wanted to take control of the church. Realizing that they cannot do this, they cleverly manipulated the church's eventual demolition.      

Our tour guide explaining the history of Cebu City's Parian District
using the interactive map.

On exhibit at the museum is this very expensive bicycle, which at the present would equal the price of a BMW. You would think that only the moneyed class at that time can afford one.

A 1939 Schwinn Mead Ranger Bicycle

At the ground floor of the museum, you can see some exhibits and dioramas. What particularly captured my attention was this exhibit on modes of transport in Cebu back then. I learned that there was a train which ply the Danao-Argao route.  

Modes of transportation in Cebu in the olden days. 
They have train, tram, and carabao-driven cart.

Before ascending the stairs, you can see this collection of beautifully crafted canes, which according to our tour guide, the men during those times use it for fashion, not for walking support. 

Our tour guide explaining about the significance
of canes in those days. 

On ascending the stairs, you will see a painting of the Gorordo patriarch in a statesmanly pose. On the opposite end of the stair's landing area, there is a mini sala where it is said that the lady in the house being serenaded would go to see her suitor. If she likes the man, she will let him come inside the house and would entertain him in the mini sala. Otherwise, she will throw urine at him.   

The Grand Staircase

The Gorordo Patriarch

Turning to the left from the stairs, you can see this elegant receiving area, which as our tour guide said, is "a less private place." It is equiped with princely crafted ratan furnitures and an antique piano.

The receiving area of Casa Gorodo.

An Antique Piano

What amazes me about this house are the carved wood panels. Aside from its high level of craftsmanship, I learned that it signifies the level of privacy being observed in the various sections of the house. The higher the clearance provided by the panel, the less private it is; the lower the panel, the more private the area is.  

A round table near the wood panel.

The bishop's bedroom is luxurious by the standards of his time. The room has an altar, a rocking chair, and a butaka. His bed has canopy adorned with finely crocheted curtain.  

A rocking chair made of ratan.

The antique bed of Bishop Juan Gorordo.

The butaka where Bishop Gorordo would seat "na nakabukaka" (thighs 
wide open and feet are elevated probably lying on the window's apron). 

Across the bishop's bedroom is the married couple's bedroom. It has a moon-shaped mirror which signifies the purity of the bride.

A moon-shaped mirror.

It also has a canopy bed with elegantly sewed curtain. I was intrigued by what our tour guide said about the bed. As it was practiced in Cebu, whenever there are weddings, the bed is covered with two linens, one on top of the other. The newly wed would have their honeymoon here. After that, the linen on top will be removed and hanged on the window to show the blood stain to the neighbors or probably to the passersby. I just leave it to your imagination.  

Bed of the newly wed couple.

In the middle section of the second level, you will get to see this nicely designed divider and the Chinese-style coffee table and chairs. This section is more private and I conjecture that only relatives or close friends are entertained in this area with coffee, tea, or afternoon snacks. 

An exquisite divider at the backdrop of a Chinese-style coffee table.

Behind the divider is a round table where members of the Gorordo family would leisurely play native games such as sungka.

A round table used for pastimes such as native games. 

The tour guide also mentioned that Bishop Gorordo has a spinster sister. It was customary during that time that spinsters should know sewing, crocheting, and similar tasks, so that they are beneficial to the family. In the spinster's bedroom, you can still see her sewing machine.      

The bedroom of Bishop Gorordo's spinster sister.

The house also has a mini library. The desks, and bookshelves have beautiful decors collected from abroad. The books in the library are already antiquated. 

Desk at the Library

Bookshelf at the library stocked with antique books.

Decors at the library collected from abroad.

Since the house was the residence of a bishop, it has a chapel in it. I find the chapel grand by any standard, most especially because of its antique altar and statues.

The private chapel of Bishop Juan Gorordo.

There is a separate room where the residents of Casa Gorordo would groom themselves. The room is modest but equipped with elegant furnitures. 

Console Table with Mirror

A regal looking divan.

The house has an awesome bathroom. It seems like a private bath of the royals and very much ahead of its time. The bath tub though catered to small people.

An awesome bathroom.

The most private section of the house is the dinning area as indicated by the lowest clearance of the carved wood panel. The area is provided with a ten (10) seater table fittingly set for a presidential function. 
A carved wood panel with the lowest clearance signifies that 
the area beyond it is more private. 

A ten (10) seater table luxuriantly set.

You will also see in the area luxurious tableware collections which are displayed in ornate cabinets. The tablewares are varied in design. 

A furniture with tableware adornments.

An expensive cup from Japan that when you expose its bottom to 
light, you'll see the image of a Geisha.

Access way from the kitchen to the dinning area.

Collection of tablewares.

Collection of elegant tablewares.

You will find two (2) amazing things in the kitchen. The first one is a container of powdered Coca Cola. It was said that during those times, Coca Cola was being sold in powdered form. 

Powdered Coca Cola Container

Another one is an imported water container from Europe. It was said that these ceramic containers served as refrigerators at that time as it kept the water cold.

Water container which keep the water cool.

Azotea is a common feature of old houses in the Philippines, and so Casa Gorordo has it too. The azotea serves many purposes such as an area for laundry, abaca rope-making, and venue for family functions.  

Presser for washed clothes and a spin for making abaca ropes.

The Azotea

After the tour, visitors can buy nicely crafted souvenirs at the Casa Gorordo Museum Shop. There is a wide array of choices for souvenir items.

Casa Gorordo Museum Souvenir Shop and Cafe

If you get hungry after the tour, you can grab a snack at the cafe. I recommend that visitors try the native "sikwate" (hot chocolate drink).

The delicious sikwate (hot chocolate drink) at Casa Gorordo Museum Cafe.

Perhaps, one of the reasons why I love Cebu so much is that I visited Casa Gorordo earlier during my stay there. The house evoked in me and perhaps the other visitors as well, the real intrinsic beauty of Cebuano culture - that of mesmerizing elegance, natural finesse, and unparalleled warmth.