Originally, Cebu was called Sugbo. Cebuanos lived in stilt houses made of bamboo, wood and nipa. Men were extensively tattooed and women were lavishly ornamented with gold jewelries, silks and lip color.
Prior to Spanish colonization, the city was the center of trade in the south, where Chinese ships arrived with silks and porcelains which they exchanged for honey, gold, wood and spices from Mollucas. Unreasonable trade restrictions of the colonizing Spanish caused the rapid decline of Cebu as a trading port. However, in 19th century, restrictions were lifted and brought back the commercial life of the city.
The Spanish troops headed by Ferdinand Magellan arrived Cebu in 1521 with a friendly reception from the island villagers. He made friends with Rajah Humabon and converted most of the locals to Christians including the leader’s family. But when Magellan reached the narrow strait to Mactan Island, the reception was not similar. He encountered a negative response and had a hard time entering the area. Lapu Lapu, the chief, resisted his entry and fought against the Spanish troops leaving Magellan lifeless on the ground. Cebu’s invasion was delayed until Legazpi and Fray Andres de Urdaneta arrived in 1566.
The historic Fort San Pedro has served many purposes to the Cebuanos. It was constructed in 1565 upon the arrival of Legazpi on the ship San Pedro but remained unfinished until 1738. Originally intended to protect the island from Muslim raiders, the port also served as the barracks and defense post of the US army during the American occupation; a prison camp during the 3 year Japanese invasion; the city zoo; and now a small park. For many centuries, renovations have removed the waterfront lying few blocks from the Fort.