Quilez: A 19th Century Cebu Calesa

Casa Gorordo Museum Zaguan Exhibit

Last December, I visited the newly-renovated Casa Gorordo Museum in Cebu. I've been to the museum several times over the years, and the recent changes particularly to the exhibits in the Zaguan area enlivened the place. In the Spanish Colonial era of the Philippines, Zaguan is the lower part of the house where the carriages, food, supplies, and other household items are stored. Imagine this wide space being converted into an exhibit hall. 

On one side of the Zaguan, Casa Gorordo tells the story of transportation in Cebu by displaying replicas of a carreton being pulled by a carabao, a horse-drawn tartanilla, and miniature models of vehicles. Seeing this exhibit made me research a little about the types of transportation available to Filipinos during the 19th century.

Portion of the Transportation Exhibit

In Carlos L. Quirino's Old Manila (2nd Edition), there is a section that describes a carruaje (a more expensive four-wheeled carriage pulled by 2 or more horses and comes with a coachman and a footman); a carretela that can carry 4 passengers front and back while a calesa is for two passengers. The Cebuano tartanilla resembles a carretela. The difference is how the seats are designed. The seat rows are placed on either side of the tartanilla instead of front and back. The carreteon is more plebeian because it's an open wagon with broad wooden wheels that carry goods and things. Sometimes, it also ferries people usually farmers and their kin. 

A Philippine horse-drawn carriage. Biblioteca Nacional de Espana

Another Cebu variation of a calesa in the 19th century is called a "Quilez". It's more luxurious because of the liveried (uniformed) coachman and a canopy-covered top. When one rides a quilez, it dictates that person's economic as well as social status. Spanish writer and historian, Wenceslao Retana, entered the word "quilez" in the Diccionario de Filipinismos, Revue Hispanique published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1921. Retana attributes this word to Spanish Military Officer and Cebu Governor, German Quilez, who invented this type of carriage in 1886. The Old Manila book has an illustration of what a quilez coach looks like.

A Quilez. Photo from the Mario Feir Filipiniana Library.

Not everyone can own a carriage or a calesa. The upkeep costs are pretty high since you need to stable horses and budget for the coachman's wages. Businesses that rented and repaired coaches and carriages were in demand during this time. Cebu records of businesses in the late 1800s had Escolastico Veloso and Jose Borromeo vying for the same customers with their respective negocio de carruajes. Even Don Nicasio Chiong Veloso, one of the most successful businessmen of his time, won the public bidding to collect license fees for carruajes, carros y caballos for the three-year period of 1875-1878.

Maybe in the future, there would be a book that would deal with Filipino transportation during the Spanish Colonial period. There are lots of things to discover about how Filipinos travel from one place to another.

The Cebuano Tartanilla


Quirino, Carlos L. Old Manila (2nd Edition), Vibal Foundation

"A Chinese Life in Late Spanish Era Cebu City", Michael Cullinane, Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, vol. 43 (2015)

Integracion/Internacion The Urbanization of Cebu in Archival Records of the Spanish Colonial Period, J. Eleazar, R. Bersales, Ino Manalo Editors. University of San Carlos Press and National Archives of the Philippines Cebu and Manila 2017

Suggested Readings:

The Campana de Vuelo of Sta. Teresa de Avila Parish

A Cebu Street Named Sanciangko

La Campana de Santo NiƱo del Zebu

Unexpected Discoveries At The Casa Gorordo Museum Shop

Sergio Osmena's El Nuevo Dia First to Report About The 1901 Balangiga Massacre