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Top Interesting Historical Places to Visit and See in Macau
Macau is the first European settlement in the Far East. It was colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century, during the great era of Portuguese exploration initiated by Prince Henry the Navigator.
The Portuguese used Macau as a staging port and as a base for introducing Christianity to China and Japan. Other European countries plotted to seize Macau from Portugal, the Dutch tried to invade the city in 1622 but failed. The Portuguese ruled for over 400 years before Macau was returned to China as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China on December 20, 1999. The official languages of Macau are Chinese and Portuguese.
When the Portuguese settled in Macau to spread Christianity, the first priests immediately started to build Catholic churches. The early churches were made of wood and matting. By the mid 17th century, plaster and stone were used in the construction of these buildings. Aside from the famous Ruins of St Paul's, many churches, squares and religious buildings constructed by the Portuguese are still standing throughout the city and are listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Macau.
The Historic Center of Macau has a concentrated collection of Asian and Western style buildings in the downtown area. These buildings showcase a great combination of Chinese and Western styles which is a result of over 400 years of cultural exchanges between the Chinese and the Western world. Different religions from Catholicism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and Matsu coexist up to the present day.
Here's the list of top places to see in Macau:
A-Ma (Mazu) Temple
This temple is dedicated to the seafarers' goddess which dates back to the 15th century. The legend tells of a poor girl named A-Ma who wanted to go Canton but was turned away by wealthy junk owners. A lowly fisherman offered to take her on board. A huge storm destroyed all at sea except the little boat that was carrying the poor girl. When they arrived in Macau, the girl was nowhere to be seen but she reappeared as a goddess. The fishermen built a temple at the place where the goddess was sighted.
Also known as Barra Temple, A-Ma temple is a short distance away from the city centre. It is the oldest temple in Macau and existed before the city of Macao came into being. Built in the 1488, it consists of prayer halls, pavilions and courtyards with winding paths that lead to moon gates and tiny gardens. There is a large rock at the entrance of the temple that displays an engraved traditional sailing junk.
The Moorish Barracks
This Moorish inspired building was designed in 1871 by the Italian architect Cassuto to accommodate about 200 Indian policemen from Goa who were sent to Macau by the Portuguese. The building is now used by the Maritime Authorities in Macau.
The owner of this large multi-room complex was Zheng Guanyin who was a renaissance man, a merchant, politician, philosopher and writer. The Mandarin House resembles a typical Chinese housing in the 19th century but it has some Western conveniences included in parts of the building.
St Joseph Seminary and Church
This beautiful church was opened in 1758 as part of the Jesuit seminary of St. Joseph and is a popular subject for artists. It is often used as a venue for concerts because of its fine acoustics. The church has a cruciform shape with high domed ceilings. There is an ancient well and plant nursery outside the church.
Dom Pedro Theatre
The Dom Pedro Theater was named after the Portuguese King Pedro V. This pastel green building was designed by Pedro Marques in 1858, which included an auditorium, a bar, a restaurant and a pool room. It was built to provide entertainment for the Portuguese population. With a capacity of 350 seats, it is believed to be one of the oldest western style theatres in Asia.
Sir Robert Ho Tung Library
This public library located at St Augustine's Square is the biggest library in Macau. The library was constructed in 1894 and was owned by Dona Carolina Cunha. Sir Robert Ho Tung bought over the building in 1918 and used it as a private residence between 1941 to 1945. After his death in 1955, the government converted the building into a public library which was officially opened in 1958.
Leal Senado (Loyal Senate) Building
The Leal Senado building was built in the late 18th century and later reconstructed in 1876 in neoclassical style. It is now used by the Instituto para os Assuntos Cívicos e Municipais (Institute of Civic & Municipal Affairs). There is a Grand Hall, chapel, conference room, cultural affairs library and gallery for cultural events. There is also an inner courtyard and a garden within the building.
Holy House of Mercy (Santa Casa da Misericordia)
The Holy House of Mercy is a neoclassical white building in Senado Square that was established in 1569 on the orders of the Bishop of Macau. It was a charitable organisation and has provided charitable assistance to the community including refuge for prostitutes. It also sold the first lottery ticket for charity in Macau. It is now a home to a small museum showcasing the society's charitable works, including the skull of its founder, Dorn Belchior Carneiro.
Lau Kau Mansion
Like the Mandarin House, the Lau Kau Mansion is a typical Chinese house with influence of Western designs in the interiors. Another interesting feature of this two-storey grey brick mansion is that it has symmetrical designs. There are two courtyards separating three main halls of the building.
St Lawrence's Church
St. Lawrence's Church was built of wood in the 1560's, it was later replaced by Taipa in 1618 and finally reconstructed in stone in 1801-1803. It was painted in cream and white colours. There are two towers, one of the towers was once an ecclesiastic prison. The interior of the church is well decorated with ornamental pillars and chandeliers hanging from the turquoise ceiling. The beams are painted in gold and white colours.
St Augustine's Church
St Augustine's Church was built by Spanish Augustinians in 1591, originally of Baroque style. The main entrance of the church has two pairs of Doric granite columns and the windows are of simple white relief plasterwork. However, the interior has elaborate decorations.
Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple
Located on the site of the old Macao bazaar Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple was originally a guild house of the Sam Kai (Three Streets) Association established between 1723 and 1795. This temple was a meeting place for merchants and the surrounding area was used as a centre of trading for the Chinese community. The temple remains an important place of worship even after the decline of the old bazaar.
St Dominic's Church
The church was built in 1587 by Spanish Dominican priests. This yellow and green church standing in the middle of Leal Senado Plaza is one of the most beautiful churches in Macau.
Ruins of St Paul's Cathedral
These ruins attract the most number of tourists who visit Macau and is Macau's most famous landmark. The Cathedral of Saint Paul with its spectacular facade and intricate carvings was a 16th-century cathedral built from 1582 to 1602 and dedicated to Saint Paul. During that time, it was the largest Christian church in Asia. The church was destroyed by a fire in 1835. There are 66 stone steps leading up to the facade.
Na Tcha Chinese Temple
The Na Tcha Temple is a small building built with simple materials in 1888. It was constructed in an attempt to halt the plague that was rampaging at that time. This tiny building is located near the Ruins of St Paul. The temple was dedicated to Na Cha who was a child god and patron of children.
The Old City Walls
A couple of feet away from Na Tcha Temple is the old city walls which was built to help defend the city. Only a tiny section of the wall remains.
Old Protestant Cemetery
Prior to 1821, Macau authorities did not allow the burial of Protestants or foreigners within its city walls. This cemetery was established by the British East India Company in 1821 to resolve the issue. The cemetery was closed in 1858.
St Anthony's Church
The first church of Macau is said to be St Anthony's Church. It was originally built in 1588 but the present church was reconstructed in 1930.
The Mount Fortress
Mount Fortress was constructed by the Jesuits in 1617 and completed in 1626. It is located near the Ruins of St Paul's Church and was used as a principal military facility which also included a college. The cannons on Mount Fortress were used only once, during the invasion of the Dutch in 1622.
Camoes Garden and Grotto
Next to St Anthony's Church and the Protestant Cemetery is the Camoes Garden and Grotto. It is named after a Portuguese poet who was banished to Macau.
Guia Fortress and Lighthouse
The Guia Fortress was built between 1622 to 1638 on Guia Hill which is the highest point in Macau. It overlooks the city and was designed to defend Macau from attacks from the sea. It is equipped with sentry posts, ammunition depots and watchtowers.The most prominent feature of this fortress is the lighthouse which stands 15 metres high and its light can be seen for miles in fine weather.
The Guia Chapel is located near the Guia Fortress. It has an image of the Virgin Mary and a painting of St. John the Baptist. This chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of the Snow.
Visitors can travel from Macau to Hong Kong by hydrofoils or ferries from the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal.
The Macau Cathedral was built in 1576 of a wooden structure. It was reconstructed in 1849 but was destroyed in a typhoon 24 years later. The existing structure was rebuilt in 1937.
St Francis Xavier in Coloane
Painted in cream and white colours, this small chapel was built in 1928 in the small village of Coloane. It features classical oval windows and a bell tower. Some of the most sacred relics of Christian Asia is housed in this small chapel. A bone from the arm of St Francis Xavier is stored in a silver reliquary here. This relic which was initially destined for Japan, was kept at St Paul's, and then moved to St Joseph's and finally to this chapel in 1978.
This chapel was constructed in 1622 by the crew and passengers of a ship which escaped from the Dutch pirates and finally settled in Macau.
St Domingo's Church
St Domingo's Church is also known as Igreja de São Domingos in Portuguese. It is situated near the Senado Square in the city centre. The church was originally constructed with wood and established in 1587 by Dominican priests from Acapulco in Mexico. The Chinese name for the church is "Pan Cheong Tong" which means "Wooden Planks Church".
Preview of Macau
Where is Macau
More information on Macau's rich cultural and historical past can be viewed at various museums:
- Natural and Agrarian Museum
- Grand Prix Museum
- Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt
- Museum of the Holy House of Mercy
- Heritage Exhibition of a Traditional Pawnshop Business
- Fire Services Museum
- Maritime Museum
- Communications Museum of Macao
- Museum of Taipa and Coloane History
- Wine Museum
- Treasure of Sacred Art
- Handover Gifts Museum of Macao
- Lin Zexu Memorial Museum of Macao
- Museum of the Macao Security Forces
- Macao Science Center
- Macao Tea Culture House
- Dr. Sun Iat Sen Memorial House in Macau
- Macao Museum
- Macao Museum of Art
- The Taipa Houses - Museum
More places to see in Macau
Popular places for shopping in Macau are the Leal Senado Square and the Red Market, where clothings and fashion items are available. The Rua De Felicidade used to be a red-light district. It has been rejuvenated with traditional shops selling local flavours and delicacies. Tourists can find a number of restaurants, bubble tea shops and stores selling meat jerkies, cookies, cakes, pastries and beverages. The Rua De Felicidade is a few minutes' walk from Senado Square.
An Englishman by the name of Andrew Stow is behind Macau's famous egg tarts. Lord Stow’s tiny Macau bakery on Coloane Island has the tastiest egg tarts in the world. Also on Coloane Island is Fernando's Restaurant which serves classic Portuguese cuisines.
The Macau Tower (Convention & Entertainment Centre) is a free-standing tower with a height of 338 meters at its highest point. The tower has an observation deck with panoramic views, restaurants, theaters and shopping malls. For the more adventurous visitors, the tower offers a thrilling walking tour around the outer rim of the tower at a height of 233 meters above the ground.
Visitors can see pandas at the Macau Giant Panda Pavilion in Seac Pai Van Park on Coloane Island. There are also other exotic animals on display at the park which includes an information centre, kiosk and picnic area.
The nightlife in Macau are the restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs and casinos. A vast number of visitors come to Macau to try their luck at the casinos which stay open for 24 hours a day. The Portuguese government had legalised gambling activities since 1847. At present there are 33 casinos in Macau, with 23 of them situated on the Macau Peninsula and the rest on Taipa Island. The largest casino is at the Venetian Macau.
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A preview of Macau's nightlife
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