There were two ethnic groups inhabiting Panay Island before the conquest of Spain. These were the Negritos or Atis and the Visayans. The Negritos lived in the mountains and were nomadic while the Visayans lived along the coasts and rivers.
When Spaniards from Cebu set foot in Panay, some forces settled near the river called Araut or Araud and the City became the source of food supplies for Cebu. The Spaniards established a settlement in the town of Ogtong (present-day Oton). It was where the officials governed Panay Island. The Oton-Arevalo area became the nucleus of Spanish settlement and was noted for the shipbuilding and building of ships for Spanish expeditions. It was one of the important settlements, and it eventually became La Villa Rica de Arevalo.
The town was, however, razed by the invading Dutch forces in 1614. The Spanish officials built another settlement in an islet in the Batiano Estuary called Catalman. The place was called Irong-irong or Ilong-ilong, which means nose-like and is now referred to as Iloilo.
The local economy in the province of Iloilo continued to thrive in the 1700s and early 1800s. Agricultural products abound and there was a large production of textiles. On October 5, 1889, Queen Regent Maria Christina elevated Iloilo to a city through a Royal Decree.
The declaration noted the growing development in industry and commerce in the capital of Iloilo Province, the second most important after the City of Manila. The Ayuntamiento (or municipality) of Iloilo was established on February 7, 1890. On March 1, 1898, Queen Regent Maria Christina granted a special royal decree that conferred on Iloilo the perpetual title of “La Muy Noble Ciudad” or the “Most Noble City.” The Philippine flag was raised on December 25, 1898, in Plaza Libertad, the last Capital of Spain in Asia.
Until today, Jaro Cathedral still symbolizes and literally hosts the main Catholic Church’s hierarchical center of authority in this part of the country. The Jaro Belfry survived a major earthquake disaster sometime before the outbreak of World War II. Presently, it is a symbol of strong colonial heritage in the city.
“Calle Real”, or the main downtown of Iloilo City and one of the oldest established “Chinatowns does not only host the traditional trading bazaars of old entrepreneurial Chinese families but also the Old Spanish Houses of the ” Illustrados” (the rich Spanish mestizo families) that still adorn its afar end area along the road going to Plaza Libertad (JM Basa St.) These colonial houses which age more than a century since they were first built have their counterparts in the old mansions of the Montinolas, and Lizares in Jaro District.
American influences can also be seen all over the city, especially in Jaro district with street names taken from former American presidents and dignitaries like Scott, Smith, Lincoln and Washington. The Philippine American Cemetery situated along the main road of Commission Civil is a testimonial monument of a long history of Filipino-American friendship. It is distinguished as the only American cemetery outside Luzon and Metro Manila. The Filipino-American cemetery is also considered as one of the distinct heritage spots in Iloilo City.
Written historical records may only possess the information of the past but they can never take the place of living heritage as undying testimonies of a people, their struggles, aspirations, dreams and their cultural uniqueness. This is the living testimony of Iloilo City’s ancient and historical heritage.