For many people, the name Macau is synonymous with one thing only: gambling. Referred to as the Las Vegas of the East, Macau has actually overtaken its American counterpart in terms of revenue and size. Prosperous Chinese mainlanders cross the border via bus; the wealthy from Hong Kong utilize the speedy ferries (and even helicopters!) to arrive at its shores. And with the biggest and best names like the Venetian, Wynn, and MGM, it’s no wonder why dollar signs dominate visitor’s minds.
Of course, there’s actually much more to Macau than high-end casinos and high-rolling gamers. Macau is also a former Portuguese colony, its original development to provide a trading port between China and Europe. It doesn’t take long to feel the Mediterranean influences that still permeate the peninsula’s streets as a result; in fact, it’s quite fascinating to experience the blending of Portuguese and Chinese cultures, jointly integrated into Macau’s street signs, food, and architecture.
Perhaps the most obvious place to observe the confluence of East and West is via a stroll through Macau’s Historic Center.
A World Heritage Site, it is at times seething with tourists; however, visitors stroll through the celebrated streets for good reason. A walk through the area will reveal pastel-colored houses, cobblestone walkways, Chinese temples and Moorish barracks—just a few indicators of Macau’s rich cultural past.
As much as we love roulette, spending the day meandering through Macau’s Historic Center was a highlight of our time in the area. Well, that and the inexpensive Portuguese wine! Beginning at the A-Ma Temple and concluding at the Ruins of St. Paul’s, walking through the historic center is relaxing and easy due to the numerous information signs that dot the path.
Here are a few of our favorite stops-and photographs-enjoyed along the way.
Older than the city of Macau itself, the A-Ma Temple consists of numerous smaller pavilions, each dedicated to various deities. Influences from Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and folk beliefs dominate.
The Moorish Barracks are just fascinating to me. Originally designed by an Italian, the barracks were built in neo-classical Mediterranean style with Moorish influences to house Indian police officers under Portuguese rule in Chinese territory. Talk about numerous cultural influences!
Home to one of the first Portuguese residential areas in Macau, Lilau Square was also a main source of natural spring water. The World Heritage Guide says there is a popular Portuguese saying: “One who drinks from Lilau never forgets Macau”. Luckily there’s still a water fountain in the square to give the romantic testament a try.
St. Augustine’s Church
A lovely church first established by the Spanish Augustinians in 1591. According to the Macau Tourism Board, in times past the church would cover its roof with fan palm leaves. The Chinese attributed these leaves to dragon’s whiskers floating in the wind, resulting in the Chinese name Temple of the Long-whiskered Dragon. Love it.
St. Dominic’s Church
With original construction completed in 1587, this is the oldest church in Macau. It’s located smack dab in the heart of Senado Square. which means you really can’t miss it.
A distinct Mediterranean feel emanates from the pastel-colored buildings and blue ceramic tiles so prevalent in Senado Square (despite the Starbucks and McDonalds that share the venue). Numerous picturesque cafes, restaurants, and shops on the alleys extending off the square add to its charm.
Ruins of St. Paul’s
Originally the church of Mater Dei, the Ruins of St. Paul’s are what is left of its façade. Today it is a symbolic alter to the city of Macau. Although most people will breeze past the details of the ruins, we recommend taking a moment to note the unique Portuguese and Chinese decorations on the structure. For example, you’ll find a pair of lions (similar to those you would find protecting the outside of Chinese temples) and Chinese inscriptions interspersed with the typical biblical scenes of Jesus, as well as the symbolic Christian dove.
Old City Walls
The Old City Walls are a remnant of the original Portuguese defense walls. Perhaps more notable than the walls themselves are the views they offer of Macau. It’s also a great place to take a water break and make funny faces at the camera.
These are just a few of the many attractions encountered while strolling through Macau’s Historic Center. As you can see from the pictures, the entire historical area is just bursting with Mediterranean influences. It’s easy to get lost wandering down the cobblestone paths; however, if you’re anything like us you might not have time for much more as you’ll be too busy stuffing your face with all the delicious Portuguese, Macanese, and even French food available. More on that coming soon!
Have you visited Macau’s Historic Center? Did you find it as memorable as we did?