Zamboanga Hermosa Festival—also known as Zamboanga La Hermosa Festival, Fiesta Pilar, or simply Hermosa Festival—is a month-long cultural festival and religious fiesta in the city of Zamboanga, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines every October 12.
It is one of the most important cultural events in the city, proudly presenting a fusion “tradition and modernity.” It is held in honor of the patroness of the city, Our Lady of the Pillar.
October 12th is a special nonworking holiday in the city by virtue of Republic Act No. 7350, otherwise known as “An Act Declaring October 12 of Every Year as a Special Non-working Holiday in the City of Zamboanga.” The law was signed by Corazon Aquino on April 2, 1992.
Hermosa Festival comes from the Spanish word hermosa, which means beautiful.
Devotion to Nuestra Señora La Virgen del Pilar
As early as 1569, Spanish colonizers chose Zamboanga as the location from where they would launch their assault against rulers of Mindanao and bring the huge island into their sphere of influence. That year, they built a garrison in La Caldera.
Three decades on, the fort was abandoned due to intense opposition by the natives. The colonizers returned, bringing with them soldiers from other islands, and fought against Islamic forces.
Together with their militaristic aim was the goal of spreading Christianity, making Zamboanga one of the few settlements for converted populace in Mindanao.
Jesuit missionaries alongside the Diocese of Cebu requested the colonial government for the erection of a fort. Fort San Jose, which would later become Fort Pilar, was erected in 1635. Christianized natives along with hundreds of colonizers led by Captain Juan de Chavez made their settlement.
On June 23 of the same year, the cornerstone of the fort was laid by Jesuit priest Fr. Melchor de Vera. The act also formally established Zamboanga as an extension of the Spanish colony and the beginning of its founding.
The fort was strengthened to repel domestic and foreign attacks. Workers from as far as Luzon and Visayas were sent to help the construction effort.
The fort had seen bloody encounters between the Spaniards and the Muslims throughout colonial history. In 1646, it was attacked by the Dutch forces.
However, in 1662, the Spaniards regrouped in the capital to combat the threat posed by Chinese leader Koxinga, leaving behind the fort with much diminished defense.
The fort was assaulted continuously, and the remaining Christian population was led by the Jesuit missionaries who were left behind. They undertook several rebuilding works to defend against the attacks.
The Spanish military came back in 1718 and continued to carry out reconstruction of the edifice.
It was around this time that it was renamed Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza (Royal Fort of Our Lady of the Pillar of Zaragoza), taking inspiration from the patroness of Spain.
Our Lady of the Pillar was said to have appeared before St. James the Greater. The Lady’s apparition encouraged the apostle, who faced many hardships in spreading the gospel in Spain, to continue his missionary work.
The image of Nuestra Señora La Virgen del Pilar was installed at the topmost level of the facade of Fort Pilar in 1734. It is a depiction of the crowned Blessed Virgin and Holy Child. She is garbed in white and blue, and her garment is ornamented with gold trim.
According to the lore, several miracles and apparitions of the Blessed Virgin were recorded upon her installation, inspiring devotion among Christians. Over time, the wall where the image of the patroness was installed became a pilgrimage site and shrine for the devotees.
The fort was in a state of disrepair and abandoned after the war. On August 1, 1973, it was declared a National Cultural Treasure by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 260.
The Philippine government, through the National Museum of the Philippines, implemented a restoration program to save the historical and religious edifice from further ruin.
Zamboanga Hermosa Festival Activities
Activities for the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival are a combination of church-related services and city government initiatives. Novena prayers and masses are offered for nine days from October 3 to 11. The Feast of Our Lady of the Pillar and the Pontifical Mass are held on October 12.
Major activities include the trade fair called Cosechas de Zamboanga, talent contests, various competitions, fun run, exhibits, beauty pageant (Miss Zamboanga), and parade.
How to reach Zamboanga City
Zamboanga City is accessible through Zamboanga International Airport, land-based trips through regular passenger buses, and sea ports.
- ZAMBOANGA HERMOSA FESTIVAL. Tourism Promotions Board Philippines. Retrieved September 26, 2023
- ABOUT ZAMBOANGA HERMOSA FESTIVAL. Ciudad de Zamboanga. Retrieved September 26, 2023
- Republic Act 7350. Supreme Court of the Philippines. Retrieved September 26, 2023
- History of Zamboanga – circa 1500s. Zamboanga.com. Retrieved September 26, 2023
- History of Zamboanga – circa 1800s. Zamboanga.com. Retrieved September 26, 2023
- Presidential Decree No. 260. Official Gazette of the Philippines. Retrieved September 26, 2023
- Eberhard Crailsheim. Missionaries and Commanders: The Jesuits in Mindanao, 1718–68. Journal of Jesuit Studies 9 (2022) pages 207 to 228. Instituto de Historia, Madrid, Spain. Retrieved September 26, 2023