This tropical town, sandwhiched by the Pacific Ocean on the east and the mountain ranges on the west, is lived by 23,000 people — simple yet generally happy people — most of whom can ably handle directional questions in the English language commonly posed by tourists. Barcelona is a good access to Mt. Aguingay, a close cousin of Mt. Bulusan. Whether it is a thrilling climb or just a leisurely hike, access via Barcelona is the right pick.
Barcelona is known for its fruit crop and cash crop called lakatan, a specie of banana characterized by its aroma and sweetness. Through public private partnership initiated by the local government, banana cultivation became popular. The same is true with its root crops production.
Handicraft making uses raw materials locally available like bacbac or banana skin, abaca twine, and seagrass. Plant-based as they are, Barcelona’s handicrafts are biodegradable. And, because handicraft makers are home-based, they do bespoke designs by merchants who supply them with raw materials and pay them for their labor.
The tagline of the present local political leadership #MalinigNaBongtoMaogmaNaTawo or “a clean town translates to a happy townspeople” has taken roots and is in bloom. The town is clean and safe. The aesthetic scheme which is becoming visible in structures and signages and the eye-catching foliage send good vibes.
Rewind to the 1800s, Spaniard colonizers laid claim on what used to be a small settlement which they eventually christened Barcelona, after Spain’s Barcelona City in Cataluña region.
In 1874, Spanish frailes or friars caused to be built the Barcelona Church with St. Joseph [Husband of Mary] as patron saint. In building the church, natives-Barcelonanons or, malignly branded indios [by Spaniards] — the lowest-ranked group in the then Spanish racial hierarchy — who proved to be deeply religious and good Christians hence obedient, were tapped by the friars and did labor by hands. Coral rocks and lime, without concrete and steel bars, were used in building the massive structure.
The church remains unaltered until Atty. Manuel “Wowo” Fortes, then Municipal Mayor, planted the notion of restoration to the Chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Dr. Rene Escalante, who visited him at home in Macabari, Barcelona.
The collaboration reached fruition with the church being declared an important government cultural property and restoration works by NHCP started in December 2018. After two years of toil, complete restoration, inclusive of intricate handpainted ceiling done on-site by NHCP-commissioned artists, was through.
Across Barcelona Church are ruins of two buildings built by the Spaniards.
One is the Presidencia Building which was the seat of Spanish government headed by a Governadorcillo. Built along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, the Presidencia Building doubled as fortress against pirate and moro attacks. Local accounts tell that underneath the building is a tunnel that leads to the church.
In 1941, the same Presidencia Building served as garrison during the Japanese occupation of the town.
Ruins of the Presidencia Building is what remains of it today. Unlike the Barcelona Church, a good portion of the building withstood not the wrath of tropical events like typhoons, storm surge, and punishing winds coming from the Pacific Ocean.
The other building built by the Spaniards was Escuela Pia or a school building purposely to cater to their children or those of the illustrados or the few educated class in those times.
During American colonization of the town, from 1898 to 1946, the Escuela Pia acquired an English name, and was popularly called the Stone Building. It served as classrooms to school children of families from all walks of life in the central district of Barcelona until the building was condemned for reasons of safety.
Like the Presidencia Building, ruins of the Escuela Pia or Stone Building is what remains of it today.
At present, the expanse of the two historical structures and the Barcelona Church comprised the town’s heritage area called the Barcelona Ruins Park where special interest events happen all year round — such as game fishing competition, motorcycle ride, agri-trade fair, Valentine, Christmas and New Year decorations display, and cultural events including Happy Life, a community dance event for physical and mental health wellness.
Simply by walking and traversing the street delineating the area in the central district in a 15-minute tour can left anyone swayed that Barcelona Town is a storied place.
Barcelona has other emerging destinations ought to be explored like the 136-hectare Fish Sanctuary and Marine Reserve, the AgriHope Tourism Farm which is a Department of Tourism-accredited tourism farm, and the elegant Hispanic-inspired Barcelona Town Hall.
AgriHope is home to an array of flora and fauna. It provides alternative venue for outdoor adventures which can be both recreational and educational. A moment or two up the pili treehouse offers face-to-face experience with Mt. Aguingay, a close cousin of Mt. Bulusan, soothed by the flowing sounds of river and bird noises.
The theme of the Barcelona Town Hall captivates tourists. Its elegance has been captured in killer instagram photographs shared online. The Town Hall’s design and interior broke tradition by veering away from those abounding bland civic buildings.