Last updated on September 30, 2019
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Cebu city was part of the island-rajahnate and trade center of Pulua Kang Dayang or Kangdaya (literally “[the islands] which belong to Daya”), now better known as the Rajahnate of Cebu. It was founded by a prince of the Hindu Chola dynasty of Sumatra, the half-Malay and half-Tamil, Sri Lumay. The name Sugbu (shortened form of Kang Sri Lumaying Sugbu, literally “that of Sri Lumay’s great fire”) refers to Sri Lumay’s scorched earth tactics against Muslim Moro raiders (Magalos).
On 7 April 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed in Cebu. He was welcomed by Rajah Humabon (also known as Sri Humabon or Rajah Humabara), the grandson of Sri Lumay, together with his wife and about 700 native islanders. Magellan, however, was killed in the Battle of Mactan, and the remaining members of his expedition left Cebu soon after several of them were poisoned by Humabon, who was fearful of foreign occupation. The last ruler of Sugbu, prior to Spanish colonization, was Rajah Humabon’s nephew, Rajah Tupas (d. 1565).
On 13 February 1565, Spanish conquistadors led by Miguel López de Legazpitogether with Augustinian friars whose prior was Andrés de Urdaneta, arrived in Samar, taking possession of the island thereafter. They Christianized some natives and Spanish remnants in Cebu. Afterwards, the expedition visited Leyte, Cabalian, Mazaua, Camiguin and Bohol where the famous Sandugo or blood compact was performed between López de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna, the chieftain of Bohol on 16 March 1565. The Spanish arrived in Cebu on 15 April 1565. They then attempted to parley with the local ruler, Rajah Tupas, but found that he and the local population had abandoned the town. Rajah Tupas presented himself at their camp on 8 May, feast of the Apparition of Saint Michael the Archangel, when the island was taken possession of on behalf of the Spanish King. The Treaty of Cebu was formalized on 3 July 1565. López de Legazpi’s party named the new city “Villa de San Miguel de Cebú” (later renamed “Ciudad del Santísimo Nombre de Jesús).” In 1567 the Cebu garrison was reinforced with the arrival of 2,100 soldiers from New Spain (Mexico). The growing colony was then fortified by Fort San Pedro.
By 1569, the Spanish settlement in Cebu had become important as a safe port for ships from Mexico and as a jumping-off point for further exploration of the archipelago. Small expeditions led by Juan de Salcedo went to Mindoro and Luzon, where he and Martín de Goiti played a leading role in the subjugation of the Kingdoms of Tundun and Seludong in 1570. One year later, López de Legazpi departed Cebu to discuss a peace pact with the defeated Rajahs. An agreement between the conquistadors and the Rajahs to form a city council paved the way for the establishment of a new settlement and the construction of the Christian walled city of Intramuros on the razed remains of Islamic Manila, then a vassal-state of the Sultanate of Brunei.
In 1571, the Spanish carried over infantry from Mexico, to raise an army of Christian Visayan warriors from Cebu and Iloilo as well as mercenaries from the Tagalog region, and assaulted the Sultanate of Brunei in what is known as the Castilian War. The war also started the Spanish–Moro Wars waged between the Christian Visayans and Muslim Mindanao, wherein Moros burned towns and conducted slave raids in the Visayas islands and selling the slaves to the Sultanates of the Malay Archipelago and the Visayans fought back by establishing Christian fort-cities in Mindanao, cities such as Zamboanga City.
On 14 August 1595, Pope Clement VIII created the diocese of Cebu as a suffragan to the Archdiocese of Manila.
On 3 April 1898, local revolutionaries led by the Negrense Leon Kilat rose up against the Spanish colonial authorities and took control of the urban center after three days of fighting. The uprising was only ended by the treacherous murder of Leon Kilat and the arrival of soldiers from Iloilo. On 26 December 1898, the Spanish Governor, General Montero, evacuated his troops to Zamboanga, turning over government property to Pablo Mejia. The next day, a provincial government was formed under Luis Flores as president, General Juan Climaco as military chief of staff, and Julio Llorente as mayor.