Cultural HIstory

The era before the Spaniards found their way into the Philippines, Zamboanga City then was a vast track of land and nameless. However, due to its proximity with the other islands in Southeast Asia, Zamboanga became a barter trading post among the Chinese-Malays, the native Tausugs, Subanons, Samals and the Badjaos. This barter trading took place as early as the 13th and 14th centuries. Archeological findings of pottery proves of the Chinese presence in the region. The inhabitants then were the Subanons along the river banks in the hinterlands, the Samals and Badjaos living in the coastal areas.

The origin of the word Zamboanga came from the early Malays who came to settle at the tip of Zamboanga peninsula. These Malays discovered the place to be profusely blooming with flowers and called it “Jambangan”  meaning “land or pot of flowers.” These Malays who built their settlements by the riverbanks were Subanons, meaning “people of the river.” Their chief, Sarangan lived with his family atop the legendary rock Mt. Pulumbato that lords over the city.


Mount Palumbato

However, the early Badjaos and Samals who settled on and off the shorelines confused with the name “Jambangan” and called the place “Samboangan” instead. The name “Samboangan” appeared in the 16th Century Map of the Philippine Archipelago, was said to have derived from the native word “Sabuan” meaning a wood paddle.

Zamboanga City was founded by a Spanish Mission who sailed into the southern part of the Philippines Archipelago in 1655. The group landed at Caldera Bay, a fishing village along the west coast, now known as Recodo. The Spanish settlement at Caldera later moved to the tip of the peninsula which they found to be strategically located, and a Fort was built to warned off invading natives.

The Spanish-American War in the Philippines which ended at the turn of the century took a sharp change. In Zamboanga, the Federal Government of the United States built City Hall in 1905 and was completed in 1907. It became the official residence of the Military Governor of Mindanao which included Generals like Leonard O. Wood, Tasker H. Bliss, Ralph W. Hoyt and John “Black Jack” Pershing of world war 1 fame. Today, this serves as City Hall of Zamboanga City.

Political History  

The Voyage of Exploration by the Portuguese explorer, Fernando de Magallanes (Ferdinand Magellan) under the flag of Spain sailed out of Seville, Spain on August 10, 1519. With a total of 237 men and 5 ships: Trinidad, its flag ship, San Antonio, Santiago, Conception and Victoria the Magellan Expedition almost took two years to complete its voyage bound to the Spice Islands.  On March 6, 1521, they first sighted land, the Ladron Island in the Marianas Islands

On March 28, 1521 the Expedition reached Mazzawa or Massana (Limasawa) in Leyte.  Here the Spaniards  celebrated the First Mass in the Philippines.  Magellan's devoted Sumatran slave, Enrique de Molucca, was able to understand the Malay dialect of the natives, and for the first time, Magellan knew that he had reached his goal-and circumnavigated the world and discovered the Philippines.

On April 7, 1521 Magellan and his three remaining galleons: the Trinidad, the Victoria, and the Concepcion entered Zugbu (Cebu). The Spanish Era in the Philippines began on that day, Zugbu's Rajah Humabon was baptized as Christians along with his wife and 400 of their followers. 40 years later, on April 28, 1565, the expedition of Don Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Fray Andres de Urdaneta  arrived in Zubu and marked the Christianization and colonialization of the Philippines by the Spaniards. 

It was not until 1593 when the Spaniards made their first appearance in Jambangan with a small Catholic mission established  at La Caldera, now known as Recodo. After that there were several missions sent by the Spanish Governor General but it was easily wiped out by the Sultan of Sulu army.

One of the mission was headed by Padre Juan Batista Vilancio and was abducted by the Sultan's Army and taken to Jolo. After years of capitivity he was able to escape to Manila.  Don Juan Cerezo de Salamanca, Governor-General of the Philippines, received reports relative to the Sultan's Army power concentrated about the site of the present city of Zamboanga.

After intensive preparation on April 6, 1635 an expeditionary force under the command of Captain Juan de Chaves landed at Zamboanga . There de Chaves founded the town of Bagumbayan, which was the first name by the Spaniards for Zamboanga, and from this station he soon reduced the towns of Caldera and Balvagan.

After Captain de Chaves' force of 300 well armed Spaniards and 1000 Visayans had cleared the peninsula temporarily of hostile Muslims, the construction of one of the finest forts in the East was put into execution. On June 23, 1635, the foundations of the grand fortress of  “Real Fuerza de San Jose,” was laid by Father Melchor de Vera, a Jesuit priest-engineer of the Spanish army.

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Fort Pilar

The erection of this fortress was accompanied by serious interruptions in the way of Sultan's Army attacks. With only a portion of the massive walls in place, the Spaniards awoke one morning to meet the attack of 5,000 men army of the Sultanate of Sulu, who entered Rio Hondo and hurled themselves upon the fortification.

Upon the completion of the fortress
Zamboanga was fortified and protected. The fortress was attacked, besides the Sultan of Sulu but also by the Portuguese, the French and the Dutch, The fort was demolished in 1663 and rebuilt in 1719 by the military engineer Juan de Ciscara.   it was renamed “Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa.”  

In order to strengthen the Spanish position in Zamboanga and the neighboring regions, three companies of Zamboanga volunteers were organized in 1832. These natives together with the Spanish troopers defended the town and the province from the sporadic attack by the Moros.  (The Spaniards call the Sultan of Sulu army as Moros, a spanish of Moors. The word Moor was  derived from the word Morocco a country of darker skinned people thus the word Moro - a darker skinned people. A lighter skin variety the Spaniards called as Indio or Indian and the very dark as negro))

Half of the peninsula was made into  a corregimiento (district) de Zamboanga with its boundary reaches as far as Sindangan while half of the peninsula belong to the District of Misamis. In 1837, the government was changed to a gobierno militar. And Zamboanga was the capital of Mindanao throughout the Spanish regime, except the period between 1872 and 1875, when the government was at Cottabato. (now Cotabato)

When the American forces came in December 1899, they established a civil government in Zamboanga and also on the island of Basilan  and on  July 1, 1901, together with Basilan inaugurated  the Municipality of Zamboanga under Public Act No. 135.

Inauguration of Municipality of Zamboanga July 1, 1901


Sultan Maguindanao and Zamboanga Governor Finley at the inauguration

In 1903, during the Philippine Revolution, General Vicente Alvarez led the revolutionary forces in Zamboanga . And created part of Zamboanga peninsula as one of the seven districts into which Mindanao and Sulu were divided,. The district was called Provincia Mora and the Municipality of Zamboanga as the capital of Department of M indanao and Sulu,

On September 15,1911, the governing body of the Provincia Mora, the legislative council passed Act. No.272 converting the Municipality of Zamboanga into a city with a commissioned form of government. The ceremony  was held on January 1, 1912 with  the  appointment of American Christopher F. Bader as the first City Mayor. With the island of Basilan as part of Zamboanga thus made the City of Zamboanga the biggest city in the world in area. Two years later he was  succeeded by Victoriano Tarrosas the first Filipino Zamboangueño Mayor of the city when Bader resigned.

The Department of Mindanao and Sulu replaced the Provincia Mora in 1914, to  Zamboanga Province ,  the city stature was abolished and it was reverted to its original status of municipality administered by a municipal president and several councilors. It remained as the capital of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, with a civil government under an American civil governor, from 1913 up to 1920.

After the Department of Mindanao and Sulu was abolished in 1920, the region was placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Interior, through the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, and made the capital of the Zamboanga Province

On September 23, 1936, Commonwealth Act No. 39 converted the municipality of Zamboanga into a chartered city. It was inaugurated on February 26, 1937 with Nicasio Valderroza as the first city mayor.

In 1948 the island of Basilan was taken out of the City of Zamboanga to become a chartered city
( Basilan was later made into a province in 1973) by virtue of Republic Act No. 288 , and City of Zamboanga lost the status of being the biggest city  in area in the world.  

Zamboanga City scene in the 1900

Zamboanga City remained the capital of the the province of Zamboanga. In 1942 during  the  Second  World War, Acting Governor Felipe B. Azcuna transferred the seat of the provincial government from Zamboanga to Dipolog. Thus making Dipolog the capital-in-fact of the Zamboanga  Province and later to the Municipality of Molave.

On  June  5, 1952,  a  bill  fathered  by  Roseller  Lim  became the  republic act 711. It created the Province of Zamboanga  del  Sur with Pagadian as its capital and Province of Zamboanga del Norte  and with Dipolog as the capital town.  Thus relieving the City of Zamboanga as the capital of the province and allowed to govern on its own just like its a separate province,
The City of Zamboanga does not belong to either Zamboanga del Sur or Zamboanga del Norte.
A long way from a settlement to a  metropolis and a barter center to a  major trading  hub of southern Philippines and southeast asia.
In  November 22, 1983, the City of Zamboanga was declared a highly urbanized city in the Philippines in  accordance with the provision of the Local Government Code of 1983.

Zamboanga has an international airport and a port that can handle container ships. Total land area of 1,421 square  kilometers (548.6 sq. miles) and a population of 511,139 (c. 1995)