Vigan is an island, which used to be detached from the mainland by three rivers – the great Abra River, the Mestizo River and the Govantes River. It is unique among the Philippine towns because it is the country’s most extensive and only surviving historic city that dates back to the 16th century Spanish colonial period.
Vigan was an important coastal trading post in pre-colonial times. Long before the Spanish galleons, Chinese junks sailing from the South China Sea came to Isla de Bigan through the Mestizo River that surrounded the island. On board were sea-faring merchants that came to barter exotic goods from Asian kingdoms in exchange for gold, beeswax and other mountain products brought down by natives from the Cordilleras. Immigrants, mostly Chinese, settled in Vigan, intermarried with the natives and started the multi-cultural bloodline of the Bigueños.
In the book, The Philippine Island, Vol. III, p. 276, Blair and Robertson, two letters of Governor General Guido de Lavezares to King Philip II of Spain mentions: “It seemed best to send Captain Juan de Salcedo with 70 or 80 soldiers to people the coast of Los Ilocano on the shores of the river called Bigan.” Salcedo then sailed from Manila on May 20, 1572 and arrived in Vigan on June 12, 1572.
Thus, after the successful expedition and exploration of the North, Don Juan de Salcedo founded “Villa Fernandina de Vigan” in honor of King Philip II’s son, Prince Ferdinand who died at the tender age of four. From Vigan, Salcedo rounded the tip of Luzon and proceeded to pacify Camarines, Albay, and Catanduanes.
As a reward for his services to the King, Salcedo was awarded the old province of Ylocos which then composed of the Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, La Union and some part of Mountain Province as his Encomienda and was accorded the title as Justicia Mayor de esta Provincia de Ylocos.