If you’re in Dumaguete, the small and charming sea-walled city in the central Visyan Island region that’s one of the most visited areas of the Philippines, you have a whole lot of options. From a small but scandalous bar scene (Why Not) to plenty of island hopping (nearby Siquijor, Apo, Sumilon Resort, Bohol, and Cebu Islands), and unlimited natural beauty among the island of Negros where Dumaguete sits (like Cassoro Falls, Valencia and the mountains, Manjuyod Sandbar, etc., you really can spend an ideal few days bopping around, relaxing, and enjoying the sun, tree-lined jungle, and warm ocean.
But when it comes to visiting cultural and historical sites, Dumaguete may seem a little short – at least at first glance. When the party is over, the rainstorms thwart your plans to get out in nature, or you just want to stay put in the city for the day to chill and explore, you only have a small list.
But on the top of that list should be the Dumaguete Belfry, which is rich in historical significance if not aesthetically overwhelming.
The Belfry is a round stone watchtower, I’d estimate 60 feet high or so, that dates back to the year 1811 (although I’ve also read that it was built 50 years earlier, in the 1760s). During that time, the Spanish had colonized the Philippines, and with their 300-year influence came mass indoctrination of the Catholic religion.
It was also unsure times for small coastal cities in the region like Dumaguete, who had to constantly be ready to ward off invaders, chief among them Muslim hordes of the Moros. These marauding pirates would sweep into an unsuspecting seaside town, capture men, women, and children prisoners and take them away as slaves.
So a Catholic priest named Don Jose Manuel Fernandez ordered construction of four watchtowers in the area so residents could stay vigilant and spot attacks, and Dumaguete’s Belfry, called the Campanario De Dumaguete, was one of them.
Today, the dark, weathered, and moss-covered stone tower rises from crowded city streets (it’s right by the public market and Rizal Park), which makes it photo worthy. Unfortunately, you can’t go up the stairs to climb to the tower top to take in the view because the structure is in precarious shape. There have been efforts to restore it, which would help its status as a notable tourist destination since it’s the oldest such tower in the entire Visayan region.
But they did also build a notable cathedral in the 1800s right next door, the St Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral, and you can go in there to take in the yesteryear smoke and brimstone of original Filipino Catholicism. There, and outside right near the street, you’ll find people lighting candles, praying, and shopkeepers selling rosary beads, religious knickknacks, and other icons – as well as quite a few beggars.
But the Belfry is still worth finding as you stroll through Rizal Park and probably on your way to the crowded and chaotic public market. Take a look and then think about iconic it was to the city residents of the day as it brought Catholicism into their lives – and, more importantly, helped protected them from approaching Muslim ships on the horizon.
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