When you step into Macau, you can see its duality…the fortresses, churches and food of reminds you that the city was former Portugal colony and on the other hand, Macau is also the Las Vegas of the East with its numerous casinos and gambling houses.
Come to Macau to relax in this laidback atmosphere and get lost in its architectural wonders. You can see the influence of the Portuguese in the city’s narrow cobbled alleys, grand baroque churches, balconied colonial mansions, open plazas and Mediterranean-style cafes.
With a total land area of just 21 sq km, Macau consists of a narrow peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Coloane. However, with its ever-growing popularity with tourists and entrepreneurs alike, Macau is growing and extensive land reclamation projects are underway to accommodate them all. The terrain has low hills and on the west of the peninsula, one of the main channels of the Xi He (West River) empties into the South China Sea.
A small fishing boat with some passengers sailing across the sea found itself in an unexpected rainstorm in which no one was expected to survive. Suddenly, a woman stood up and ordered the tempest to calm down and miraculously the sea became calm and the boat arrived safely at the port of Hoi Keang. The woman walked to the top of the Barra Hill where she ascended into heaven. On the exact spot a temple was built to honor her and villagers named the place A-Ma-Gao - the bay of A-Ma, after the woman who was believed to be the goddess of seafarers. The peninsula came to be called Amagao after the Portuguese landed here and was later altered to Macau.
Since the 5th century, merchant ships traveling in this region used this port as a refuge, and to fill up on fresh water and food. The Hoklo boat people were the first to show commercial interest in Macau as a trading center for the southern provinces. After being a part of the Chinese territory for ages, Macau developed as a major settlement in the 16th century, after the Portuguese established a trading post on the site, having heard of the ‘Empire of the Chins’.
The Portuguese made it their colony and started to develop economic and trade links with China and other Asian states. They also took the opportunity to spread Roman Catholicism in the region, primarily through the efforts of Jesuit priests.
An official trading arrangement was drawn up in the 1550s and the Portuguese settled on the peninsula which offered them safe anchorage and sheltered islands to the south. In return for the land, the Portuguese promised to rid the area of marauding pirates.
The port soon prospered being on the lucrative trading route between India's west coast and Japan. The wealth generated was used to create luxurious European houses, modern streets and baroque churches for the settlers. Inversely, the Portuguese fortunes were declining back home and the Dutch even made two serious attacks on Macau in 1607 and 1627.
With the introduction of licensed gambling in the 1850s, Macau's economic woes were eased and this also brought waves of refugees that boosted the tiny enclave's population.
A leftist military coup in 1974 in Portugal brought to power a socialist government determined to relinquish all its overseas possessions, however China wanted the Portuguese to continue its administration over Macau, perhaps fearing loss of foreign trade. Although there was no such movement for independence in Macau, in 1987 Portugal and China reached an agreement by which Macao would be returned to China in 1999. In 1976 Macau was defined as a Chinese territory under Portuguese administration, and was granted a large measure of administrative, financial and economic autonomy.
Macau is now considered a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China. In accordance with China's 'one country, two systems' formula, it retains a high degree of autonomy. Macau also enjoys high economic returns from its casino-led economy and tourism.
An extensive restoration program of Macau's historically significant buildings got it a UNESCO certification for its 30 buildings and squares which were collectively designated as the Historic Centre of Macau World Heritage Site.
The Historic Centre of Macau is a living representation of the city’s historic settlement, encompassing architectural legacies that include streetscapes and piazzas and these major urban squares and streetscapes provide the linkage for a succession of over twenty monuments altogether known as The Historic Centre of Macau. Some of the city’s main attractions are listed below.
The Macau Museum opened in1998 aims to preserve the cultural traditions, usages and habits of the region. The museum is spread over 1400 sq m and is divided into different sections. The museum also informs the visitor about the social, economical and cultural importance of wine in the Portuguese tradition and you could even taste different types of wine here, which would certainly enhance your experience of the tour.
Inaugurated in 1993 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Macau Grand Prix, the museum of the same name pays tribute to individuals who contributed extensively to the success of the Grand Prix. The Macau Grand Prix includes a number of automobile and motorbike races and takes place every year in November and is now an international sporting event.
The Macau Museum of Art is the only art museum in Macau inaugurated in1999, with a total area of over 10,000 sq m. The exhibits include Chinese calligraphy and paintings, ceramics, copperware, western paintings, contemporary arts, photography artworks, among other significant collections. There are five floors with seven different exhibition galleries for you to explore and the museum also regularly organizes various workshops where art courses are taught to public.
The Maritime Museum brings home the relation of Macau with the sea, and what better location for it than the Square of the Barra Pagoda, dedicated to the Taoist goddess A-Ma. The building structure itself represents a sailing ship anchored in the sea. The exhibits the traditions and the way of life of the fishermen in Macau and South China showcasing several types of ships, instruments and ways of fishing, and different varieties of sea creatures. You will also find a group of 14 copies of Portuguese traditional ships, including notes on their origins and functions. The museum also has a dedicated section emphasizing the Maritime History of China and Portugal, presenting the routes of the Portuguese Discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries. Many technical navigation instruments, including those used by the Portuguese (cross-staff, dial and astrolabe) and those invented by the Chinese (compass, balanced ship's wheel and side bulkheads) are presented here as well.
The Handover Gifts Museum of Macau is very aptly located at the area that was used for the Handover Ceremony on 20th December 1999 in which Macau was returned to Mainland China. The museum commemorates the handover and exhibits the handover gifts presented by the State Council of The People’s Republic of China, its provinces, municipalities, autonomous regions and by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The Church of St. Domingos (St. Dominic's) was built by the Portuguese Dominicans during 1590. It was originally built of wood but in the 18th century it came under the influence of the colonial baroque architecture. When the Religious Orders were abolished in Portugal in 1834, the temple received a great number of sacred art pieces and it now houses a rich collection of gold items, statues, richly ornamented canonicals, religious paintings as well as other liturgical vessels.
Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt reminds you of the history of religious missions in this region. The Crypt was built in the chancel of the ancient church that was destroyed in a fire. On its side walls the relics of the Japan and Vietnam martyrs remain till date and the list of their names can be found outside the crypt. Adjacent to the Crypt lies the Museum of Sacred Art that houses objects of high historical and artistic value, dating as far back as the 16th century. A magnificent collection of Sino-Portuguese crucifixes made of ivory, wood and silver, as well as a large number of liturgical vessels in silver are the prime attractions here.
Dr. Sun Lat Sen's Memorial House in Macau houses a number of different documents, paying homage to his stay in Macau. Dr. Sen was the driving force of the Chinese republican revolution and this place bears witness to his short but significant stay in Macau when he tried to inspire his supporters to establish a new regime in China.
The Taipa Houses constitutes the Museum, the Carmo Church, the Carmo Lirbrary and two gardens. The Taipa Houses-Museum includes five typical green houses and is considered one of the cultural relics and heritages of the Island. The museum was built in 1921 in the structure that once was the residence of the town’s very elite.
All that remains of one of the city’s greatest churches, St. Paul's is its magnificent stone facade and grand staircase. The church was built in 1602 of taipa and wood. The carved stone façade replaced it in 1627. After the expulsion of the Jesuits, the Jesuit college next to it was used as an army barracks but a fire in1835 destroyed the college and the body of the church. The surviving facade is still something to marvel at with carvings and statues of the Virgin and saints, symbols of the Garden of Eden and the Crucifixion, angels and the devil, and pious warnings inscribed in Chinese among others.
St. Joseph's Seminary and Church was opened in 1758. The structure’s cruciform shape, with a high domed ceiling combined with its prime location on a hill, with twin brick roofed towers, made it a famous landmark. It’s exceptionally fine acoustics make it an excellent venue for concerts.
St. Lawrence's Church is said to be the most fashionable church in Macau, first built of wood in the 1560's, then replaced by taipa in 1618 and finally reconstructed in stone 1803. The imposing structure stands in a luxurious palm-lined garden. The interior is richly decorated and has a magnificent wooden ceiling.
Some other churches that you may visit during your trip here are Our Lady of Guia, St. Francis Xavier (Coloane), Chapel of St. James, the Protestant Chapel, St. Anthony's Church, St. Augustine's Church, St. Dominic's Church, and St. Lazarus.
Gambling is Macau's biggest industry today, and people come from all over the region to try their luck at the many casinos here, most of which are along the waterfront on the southern side of Macau peninsula.
The Macau Tower is a 338.8 m tall structure, 3 and 8 being lucky numbers in the Chinese tradition, with a revolving restaurant at its top and a convention and shopping centre at its base. But that is not all. It also offers a set of adventure activities, from bungee jumping from 233 m above ground; a walk around the rim of the tower; and sport climbing at the tower's base. But to try these out, you need to be made of sterner stuff…and not afraid of heights!
Macau has two beaches, the Hac Sa (Black Sand), and the Cheoc Van (Bamboo Bay) for spending a lazy summer afternoon or for a romantic evening stroll.
Moving Around: there is an efficient bus service not only in the main city but also on the islands. Taxis are in plenty and if you want to try something more exotic, go for the trishaw, a hybrid of the tricycle and the rickshaw.
By Sea: Ponte de Amizade is the Hong Kong-Macau ferry terminal, and you can choose to ferry between the two cities by jetfoil, turbocat, foilcat or express ferry services.
By Air: the Macau International Airport has direct links to some major southeast Asian cities and of course mainland China.
Climate: Located in the coastal region of south the People's Republic of China, Macau has a humid subtropical climate and ample rainfall. The best season in Macau is autumn (October - December) with sunny days and relatively low humidity.
Language: The official languages are Portuguese and Chinese but other languages that are spoken are Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Hokkien, and Patua.