Sunday, September 3, 2023

Why Silay City Is Called "The Paris of Negros"

Silay City, a quaint city in the island of Negros stands out with its unique title which has been around for a century, "The Paris of Negros".  Silay City now stands as the gateway to the Philippines' Sugarlandia as the airport to Negros Occidental is located here.  Travelers who come in by aircraft to visit Bacolod or the rest of the island deplane at the New Bacolod-Silay Airport.

It's amusing though that people wonder why Silay City is called "the Paris of Negros".  A quick Google search churns out that Silay City is dubbed as the Paris of Negros because of its European-inspired houses which have been declared historical landmarks.  While indeed there are more than 30 homes declared as historical landmarks by the National Historical institute, and these homes showing European touches to their architecture, this is still not the reason why Silay was called the Paris of Negros.

Some have taken it literally so as to look for a replica of the Eiffel Tower within city limits to even question why such a name was pinned on Silay - which at the time of being called as the Paris of Negros was not yet a city.

As an art and culture writer, I always had it at the back of my mind that the name was always rooted in its being a center for culture and the arts.  However, I never really verified this first hand from the two main people who could shed light on this matter.

I took time out of my sched in the years before the pandemic to talk to none other than Mr. Ramon Hofilena, the respected authority in Negros when it comes to art and culture.  At that time, I had just come back from Paris and as I marvelled at the Parisian way of life most especially during the Belle Époque, or the Golden Age.

I asked Tito Mon (as I fondly called him), "Tito Mon, so why was Silay called the Paris of Negros?".

His answer came with a correction, "It was actually called The Little Paris of Negros".  Apparently through the years, the term just shrank to Paris of Negros.  But Silay's name was really "The Little Paris of Negros".  Paris was at that time the cultural epicenter of Europe.

Artists of all disciplines from over the world converged in Paris.  Even the recently opened exhibit at the Ayala Museum featuring Juan Luna's "Hymen, oh Hyménée!", submitted by Luna to the Exposition Universelle in 1889 in Paris, France, where it garnered a bronze medal attests to that glorious period and Paris' prominence as a center of culture.

As recorded by the late Beth Day-Romulo in article about Silay in Reader's Digest, "Silay's love of art, beauty and culture goes back many years. In the 19th century, ships sailing from Silay to Europe brought back Paris gowns and Spanish jamón serrano and fino sherries to the homes of the wealthy sugar barons. Their houses occupied entire city blocks and were furnished with imported crystal and silver. One planter kept his own resident orchestra. Another had a troupe of players to perform for his guests."

Furthermore, I asked the same question from the late Monsignor Guillermo "GG" Gaston.  "Why was Silay named the Paris of Negros?".  I got the same answer.  It was "the Little Paris of Negros".  Silay became a spawning ground for music and art. Every home which could afford it had its own grand piano, and the sons and daughters of leading  families were taught to stage a song, dance or musical recital on request. Over the years several artists from Silay have performed in Europe.

Talking about Silay, the Little Paris of Negros, over breakfast with Monsignor Guillermo Gaston

On the flip side, the older citizens of Silay love to reminisce about the old Silay.  Performers from Europe would come to Silay and not Bacolod. Operatic voices from the West were well heard in Silay.  This passion for music and the arts gave Silay – and the Philippines – its first international star: Conchita Gaston, the mezzo soprano who in the post-war years performed in major operas in Europe. Ms. Gaston was reportedly the first Filipina to cut a record in America.

Silay's being the a center of culture is only one side of the story to its being the little Paris of Negros.  Paris is also known as an intellectual hub.  Likewise, there are countless intellectuals who have come from Silay. There's Soledad-Lacson Locsin who translated the Noli Me Tangere into English, and National Artist for Architecture, Leandro Locsin.  In the area of the culinary, the high priestess of food writing is none other than Silaynon, Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez.  There's more to mention but time and space will not allow it on this blog.

At the end of it all, you now know why Silay is "The Little Paris of Negros".

About the Author

Lloyd Tronco

Author & Editor

Lloyd Tronco. Artist. Writer. Entrepreneur. Undiagnosed ADHD. INTJ.


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