Heritage travel from home: 5 virtual heritage tours to explore amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

October 7, 2020



Gabrielle De La Cruz

Heritage education has become more challenging for heritage advocates and administrators since the novel coronavirus hit the Philippines. The mandatory pause caused by quarantine restrictions directly affected the exposure of citizens to heritage buildings and cities, leaving more Filipinos with a lack of knowledge on the country’s rich culture and history. Several institutions, however, turned the imposition of the lockdown into an opportunity to maximize digital platforms. Virtual heritage museum tours were prevalent during May, which was declared as the National Heritage Month. A number of those museum tours are still available as of writing, while others have already been taken down. 

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One of the Philippine advocates of digital heritage documentation is pamana.ph, a passion project that “aims to document all heritage structures within the Philippines in 360 immersive technology.” For the past few months, the platform has been releasing virtual tours of Philippine heritage sites that users can learn from and explore. The tours contain navigation guides and informative descriptions on the heritage sites, accompanied by background music (some of which are local folk songs) to provide a complete heritage experience. Landmarks and areas to visit are located at the bottom left portion of the screen, which directs users into the location. The PDF icon at the upper right corner contains the site description, while a few other tools at the bottom left are used for display preferences. 

 Here are 5 virtual heritage tours of some of the most historical Philippine landmarks, cities, and provinces: 

1.) UNESCO World Heritage Vigan City

Included in the UNESCO World Heritage list on December 2, 1999, Vigan City stands as one of the most monumental cities in the Philippines. It boasts a number of Spanish colonial buildings and preserved historical edifices, which is described by UNESCO as “the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia.” Its notable landmarks include the Ilocos Sur Provincial Capitol, Plaza Salcedo, St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, and the famous Calle Crisologo. All of these and more can be virtually visited through the heritage tour arranged by pamana.ph. 

Vigan-Plaza Salcedo-virtual heritage tour

Creator and photographer of pamana.ph, Fung Yu, says that this Vigan virtual walk is the largest single advocacy project that he ever did, with it comprising “76 scenes that map the entire core zone of Vigan.” In case users get lost in the navigation, an assistive map is located at the upper right corner of the screen to help them find their way. With the technology allowing control of the display, users are able to zoom in on some of the well-known structures in the city to see how they have remained intact throughout the ages. 

vigan virtual heritage tour

Click here for a virtual tour of Vigan City. 

2.) The Walled City – Intramuros, Manila

At the heart of Intramuros is the restored Ayuntamiento Building, which now serves as the Bureau of Treasury in the Walled City. A complete virtual tour of the building is offered by pamana.ph, along with an external aerial view that demonstrates how it stands as a vision near Plaza Roma, an elegant scene of the sala sessiones, a number of historical images, and educational site descriptions. 

Visit the Ayuntamiento Building here.

An aerial tour of the Walled City was also produced by pamana.ph. Yu shares that this virtual heritage tour was originally published in 2016 and is now updated with new navigations, music, and audio commentaries, adding that each image is about 100 megapixels in resolution. Users are able to transfer from one Intramuros location to another, given enough exposure to historical sites such as the  San Agustin Church, Baluarte de San Diego, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, and the Fort Santiago Gate.

Enjoy the Intramuros aerial tour here

Walking through the walls of Intramuros was made possible by the Intramuros Administration, providing a virtual tour of its 17 historical museums and streets. The administration partnered with Google Arts and Culture to curate sites that can be visited by enthusiasts online, also offering a collection of art pieces such as wood sculptures and structural drawings.

Here is the link to the Intramuros Administration virtual tour.

virtual heritage tour - Intramuros

virtual heritage tour - ayuntamiento building intramuros

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3.) Pamintuan Mansion, Angeles City, Pampanga

One of the signature landmarks of Angeles City is the Pamintuan Mansion, a heritage house inaugurated as the Museum of Philippine Social History. It is said that the residence is a witness to the first anniversary of Philippine Independence, with then-president Emilio Aguinaldo staging a celebration in the area. The heritage house has stood for over a hundred years, now boasting exhibits, artworks, and collections that depict daily Filipino life, traditional clothing, local architecture, and a music room that plays local songs recorded as early as 1896. 

Discover the Pamintuan Mansion by visiting this link.

virtual heritage tour - pamintuan mansion

Atin Cu Pung Sing Sing, a famous Kapampangan folk song, accompanies the virtual tour of Pamintuan Mansion’s elegant spaces. The tour also includes a perspective from the historical roof deck, allowing users to experience an aerial view of Angeles City. With its distinct architecture, the Museum of Philippine Social History serves as a reminder of Filipino tradition, design, and the value of preserving heritage structures. 

4.San Luis Obispo Church and Baler Museum in Aurora

The San Luis Obispo Church was the site of the Siege of Baler, a momentous event in Philippine war history. According to documents, Filipino revolutionaries laid siege to the fortified church for 337 days, from 1 July 1898 to 2 June 1899. It also stands as a physical commemoration of the Philippine-Spanish Friendship day, a decree that declares how the Spanish soldiers who surrendered after the siege were treated as friends and not as prisoners of war. The virtual heritage tour mirrors the same peace through its enticing visuals and calm music. 

virtual heritage tour - Baler church

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Along with the 360-degree tour of the church is a virtual stroll in the Baler Museum, which houses artifacts on the history of Aurora. The museum narrates the story of the province through photos of the life of Former First Lady Dona Aurora, who “gave name to the region and is responsible for the right of women to vote in the Philippines.” The intricate artwork situated at the museum facade was created by visual artist Toym Imao, son of the late National Artist for Visual Arts Abdulmari Asia Imao. 

Click here for a virtual heritage tour of Baler’s church and museum.

5.) The Faro de Isla de Cabra in Lubang, Occidental Mindoro

Shedding hope for Mindoro’s heritage is the Cabra Lighthouse, one of the few lighthouses in the Philippines that still contains its original fitting and its 19th century furniture. The original lighthouse was replaced by the Philippine Coast Guard with a new solar-powered tower located next to the previous tower, which was abandoned after the replacement. 

virtual heritage tour - mindoro lighthouse

Explore the chambers of the Cabra Lighthouse here.

Interior and chamber views can be observed through the Cabra Lighthouse’s virtual heritage tour. The digital experience also covers a top view, as if one was standing at the high point of the tower. The virtual heritage tour depicts how the structure was able to withstand the challenges of time and treatment. Despite its dilapidated state and neglect of its value, the lighthouse still stands as a testament to local and national culture, a symbol of the rallying cry for better Philippine heritage recognition and practice.  

Would you know of other Philippine virtual heritage tours? Let us know in the comments. 

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