When Cebuanos speak of Argao, they refer in the same breath to the Cebu delicacies "torta" (native sponge cake) and "tableya" (native chocolate) -- products of indigenous industries started during or even before the Spanish conquest.
There is however a lot more to this first-class southern Cebu municipality than its food specialties, visitors soon learn.
Tracing its founding as a Spanish pueblo to as far back as 1608, Argao can lay claim to being one of the oldest towns in the province.
Starting in the early 1800s, its "cabecera" or town center was a church-rectory-municipal hall-plaza-complex fortified against Moro attacks by a massive rectangular wall fashioned from cut coral stones and two of its four huge entryways remain today.
TORTA AND SIKWATE. Torta, a type of native sponge cake, and sikwate, native chocolate drink, are the first things that come to mind when you say Argao. Never leave the town without trying these delicacies.
A few other early 19th century structures built inside the "El Pueblo Hispano Antiguo de Argao (old Spanish town of Argao)" or simply "Cabecera de Argao (town center of Argao)," designed according to the Spanish crown's blueprint for its settlements in the colonies, continue to be used by Argawanons.
Other than its unique historical and cultural landmark, Argao is also home to several nature sites that are every traveler's dream. It hosts caves, mountain and mountain ranges, rivers, and an accessible waterfall.
This first-class municipality is around 68 kilometers or a little over two hours of travel by car from Cebu City. A trip on the public bus takes three hours because of stops along the way.
A profile of the town by the Department of Trade and Industry describes Argao as having vast flatlands and plains along its highway. Lands in the center part of the town are mountainous and very steep, it added.
As of 1994, according to DTI, Argao has total land area of 21,044.72 hectares. Of this figure, 15,403 hectares are alienable and disposable while 5,350 hectares are classified as forest, reservation, or timberland.
Municipalities along Argao's border include Sibonga in the north, Dalaguete in the south, and Dumanjug, Ronda, Alcantara, Moalboal, and Badian in the west. East of the town is the Bohol Strait.
The "cabecera" remaining from Spanish colonial times, as it stands today in Argao, was essentially rebuilt around the church by Fr. Mateo Perez during his tenure as parish priest from 1803 to 1836, according to Paul Gerschwiler in his historical outline of Argao.
Archdiocesan records trace the existence of this present-day church -- the central structure upon which the locations of other cabecera buildings were based -- to as far back as 1788, said the book Balaanong Bahandi.
Although another church historian, Pedro Galende, attributed the current structure to Fr. Mateo Perez, which served as parish priest for 33 straight years from 1803 to 1806, the date "1738" engraved above the arch of the church's side door indicates it may have been completed during Fr. Francisco Espina's time from 1782 to 1798, the book added.
Argao was one of eight vicarages established in 1599 and, while it became a town or mission pueblo as early as 1608, it was only set up as a parish over a hundred years later or in 1733, cited the Balaanong Bahandi, adding the reason for this oversight was never adequately explained.
Indeed, pointed out Gerschwiler, there appears to be no records or evidence of the cabecera during the previous two hundred years, or when it was raided by the Moros and the extent of the destruction, except that the defense structure put up by Fr. Perez came about as a consequence of these attacks.
Argao remains primarily a farming and fishing town, although urbanization has come in the form of residents who have married foreigners and those with family members who are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
These locals have started enterprises and built modern day residences which are in stark contrast to age-old houses that dot the town center and mountainsides and indigenous livelihood started even before or during the Spanish period.
Modern-day Argao still practices traditional livelihood like farming and fishing and handicraft like weaving.
Other unique industries that the town is famous for are the making of pure tableya (bitter chocolate rounds) from cacao beans and the baking of torta (a form of sponge cake that uses tuba or coconut wine as leavening) and biscuits like broas. It is said that the fiesta celebration in Argao, which falls every September, is not complete without the torta, and many households even bake their own during the celebration.
Argao is a town steeped in history and heritage that has, at the same time, adapted very well to modern times, for it is the very first local government that has provided free wi-fi connection to residents at its plaza.
This guide to Argao is a collaboration among InnoPub Media, Smart Communications Inc., the Municipal Government of Argao, Cebu Provincial Government, Department of Tourism, Marco Polo Plaza Cebu and The Island Group.