History left a legacy in Vigan, the ancestral houses that survived four centuries of Spanish colonial rule, 45 years of American occupation, and three years of Japanese invasion.
In its heyday, Vigan was the center of activities in the North. The ancestral houses accommodated the cream of society, who derived income from export of indigo dye to Mexico through the galleon trade. When the galleon trade was abolished at the turn of the 19th century, Vigan faded from the limelight.
In the 1950s, Vigan became known for its Virginia tobacco, which was introduced in the Ilocos by American businessmen. In the 1960s it was rocked by anarchy and violence of warring political clans. Bad peace and order drove away business. Unemployment grew and Vigan further declined. The ancestral houses, whose basements once buzzed with business activities, were abandoned by owners and left to caretakers.
In 1995, the newly elected local government thought it was time to do housekeeping to bring back investors. At a planning workshop conducted in June, the local government, joined by representatives from government agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders, drew up a common vision for Vigan. It led to the formulation of Vigan Heritage Conservation Program, a massive campaign to renew Vigan, which at that time was a second class municipality.
The first step taken was to rebuild the public market, which burned in 1994, with a loan from Philippine National Bank. After its completion in 1998, the market's income grew from P200,000 to P1.2 million a month.
The program also embarked on a massive information campaign to raise awareness of Vigan's rich history and heritage. The program galvanized cooperation among various stakeholders, including regional government agencies. International linkages inevitably brought in foreign assistance. The government of Spain sent its experts in March 1999 to draw the master plan for the "revitalization of the historic center of Vigan." The plan was completed in August 2001 and was turned over to Vigan.
In addition, Vigan was inscribed on December 4, 1999 in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Sites and Monuments. On October 9, 2000, after Senate approval, Vigan became a city.
At the heart of Vigan Heritage Conservation Program is the rehabilitation of the historic district. Ordinances were enacted to put in place implementing mechanisms for the program, including the creation of core and buffer zones in the historic district to regulate urbanization, creation of the multi-sectoral Vigan Conservation Council, and others.
The city government also allocated from the internal revenue allotment (IRA) a share of 1% each for the development of arts and culture, livelihood, scholarship program, agriculture, and collective negotiation agreement.
Rehabilitated ancestral houses are now used as souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels, enhancing the city's tourism program. Other infrastructures and projects are in place to support the conservation program. Among them are potable water system, integrated water system, fisheries project, food processing and metal craft, health and sanitation, master plan project, and solid waste management. These will help develop Vigan as a major tourist destination and a center of culture and trade.
Vigan's economic growth shows great promise. When it started the program in 1995, it was a second class municipality with a budget of P24 million. In 1997, it became a first class municipality with a budget of P54 million. In 1999, when it became a Unesco world heritage site, it had a budget of P63 million. In 2001, after it became a city, it had a budget of P134 million. Last year, its budget as a heritage city was P141 million.