See the new rooms, and digital features and learn about interesting updates on local history at Casa Gorordo, the grand old mansion of Cebu
After a two-year renovation, Casa Gorordo, a major landmark of Cebu’s downtown area of Parian, reopens as a fine example of a modern museum — spruced up and rewired for the digital age, it showcases the history of the city that satisfies its current public.
Built in 1850, Casa Gorordo is best known as the home of the first Filipino Archbishop of Cebu, Juan Gorordo, whose family, one of the wealthy clans in the city, occupied the stately mansion from 1863 to 1979. In the 1980s, the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI) converted the home into a museum that worked like a time-machine. Visitors would go on a room-by-room tour and see how the privileged class once lived: up a grand staircase, through a sitting room with delicate fine-bone china arranged on a tea table and then into the master’s bedroom with its four-poster beds of carved hardwood.
In 2014, more research raised new information and insights into what remained one of the oldest and richest districts in the Cebu, and the museum underwent a major renovation. In December 2016, it reopened with an updated tack, in both its physical layout and its storytelling.
Joy Gerra, curatorial consultant for RAFI, says, “We’ve now shifted to showcasing the new theme, A House in Parian,” which brings the focus to the house rather than the family that once lived in it. The intent of the whole house, it seems, has changed too. The new tour begins with a video shown in the foundation of the house, in a room that once stored the Archbishop’s religious articles within walls of beautiful coral stone. The video describes the developing identity of the Cebuano as expressed by his home, his habits and his manner of dress. While lifestyle is part of this, history also comes into play.
In its new incarnation, Casa Gorordo, built in the traditional stone house architecture of the time, features transformed spaces, most notably the bathroom with a shower and sink, circa 1930s. It was around this time that Osmeña Waterworks began to bring water from the mountains down to the city, and indoor plumbing was made available to those who could afford it. Before the renovation, the museum depicted the bathing area as it was in 1865, a backhouse affair with water from an earthen jarand a toilet receptacle with no flush.
The master bedroom is open for viewing, including its tale of bloody sheets displayed especially as a badge of pride after the wedding night, to demonstrate the details of marriage consummation. “Soiled sheets would be hung prominently inside the house so all could see,” our guide Renren Alatraca shared. Other fascinating museum highlights appear in the beginning of the tour, in the ground-floor stonewall cavern in what was then known as the zaguan, a storage area for tools and small livestock. Here, a large touchscreen brings up digital displays of area maps layered over each other to show different salient points in the history of downtown Cebu.
RAFI researcher Amiel Cortes explains these points in history show significant development and change in the area. A coastal settlement that drew merchants in boats in 1614 is layered over a map of 1870, a decade after Cebu opened to world trade; followed by a map of 1920 during the American period; and finally, a 1945 map showing the damage after the war. Upstairs, a new boudoir allows visitors to play dress up in period costumes and be photographed against downtown Cebu scenes from the American occupation.
As you step out into the courtyard to claim your souvenir photo, having exited by way of a charming gift shop stocking delightful handcrafted items from the marginalized communities supported by RAFI, you can almost hear the house breathe.
Casa Gorordo Museum, 35 Lopez Jaena St, Cebu City; rafi.org.ph
This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of Smile magazine.