Historic Old City In Macau
The historic centre of Macau or the Old City is the area were the Portuguese first settled in 1557 when they made Macau a colony. The Old City was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005, making it China’s 31st heritage site. There are 22 buildings and eight squares in the old area and with cultural and historical significance.
With loads of churches, squares, lane ways and European architecture, walking through the Old City is one of the pleasures of visiting Macau. The best way to enjoy Macau’s Old City is to do a heritage walk through it slowly taking the history and feel. Listed below are the key Old City sites you should include when you visit the area.
Lou Kau’s Mansion – Built in 1889 this was the family home of Lou Wa Siou, also known as Lou Kau, a very successful merchant. Lou Kau had several very nice properties in the city and also commissioned the Lou Lim Loc Garden. This style of mansion is common through out most of China’s old town with many examples in Anhui province’s Hongcun Village. The mansion is small with only a few rooms so you’ll be in and out of there in 10 minutes at the most.
St.Dominic’s Church – This is Macau’s oldest church and was built in 1587 by Spanish Dominican priests. Considering Spaniards and Portuguese were at each others throats for much of the 15th and 16th centuries, this church has a very interesting history. The outside of the church is interesting and the inside is gorgeous.
Ruins of St.Paul’s – This was originally the St.Paul’s College and Cathedral of St.Paul built by the Jesuits at the end of the 15th century. It was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835 and is now Macau’s most famous tourist site. Only the façade is left standing now an efforts were made in the early 90’s to demolish it. Luckily sanity prevailed and the façade was reinforced with metal props/framework, the ruins were excavated and crypt beneath the ruins was uncovered. The façade was dwarfed by the original structure which was extremely large and included naves, chapels and a bell tower.
Mount Fortress – This was a fortress built by the industrious Jesuits between 1617 and 1622 and it did a good job at prevented an invasion attempt by the horrible Dutch in 1622. The fortress was equipped with a barracks, cannons and an armoury with enough ammunition and supplies to endure a two year siege. The Macau Museum was built in the site in 1998 and covers two underground levels and the ground level. When you visit the fortress, you can see plenty of battlements and cannons and the great views of the surrounding city.
A-Ma Temple – This temple was built in 1488 well before the Portuguese came to Macau and is one of Macau’s oldest and most famous temples. The temple is primarily dedicated to the Matsu, the Chinese god of seafarers and fishermen. The actual temple is a complex consisting of the Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Hall of Benevolence, the Hall of Guanyin and a Buddhist pavilion called Zhengjiao Chanlin. In true Chinese style the temple is a mixture of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism with each of the pavilions is dedicated to gods other than Matsu.
Moorish Barracks – Back in the early 1870’s the Portuguese were concerned with keeping law and order in Macau so they brought over an Indian regiment from Goa, their colony in west India. An Italian architect called Cassuto designed a Moorish style building that was completed in 1874 to be the barracks for the 200 Indian soldiers that were stationed there. The end architecture by Cassuto is a combination of Portuguese, Moorish and Indian influence that gives the barracks a unique look. The Moorish Barracks was made the offices of the Marine and Police Customs in 905 and now houses the Macao Maritime Administration. You will not be allowed inside the barracks but you can enjoy the grounds and admire the barracks from the outside.
Lilau Square – This square was the centre of the budding colony when the Portuguese first came over and is built around a natural spring which was the colony’s main source of fresh water at the time. Lilau is actually Portuguese for mountain spring. The square and the streets leading off from it have a Mediterranean feel but there is not much to actually see there and it is mainly good place for a quick rest.
Mandarin’s House – This is a large compound with an area of 4000 square meters and over 60 rooms that was the home of the Zheng clan. The structures in the compound are mostly southern Chinese in influence with some obvious western influence. The compound was originally built in 1869 by Zheng Wenrui and expanded by his son Zheng Guanying. At the time of construction the compound had unobstructed views of the inner harbor and hills across the river making it Macau’s top residential real estate. Mandarin’s House is an excellent example of Chinese architecture (despite Portuguese influence) and one of the Old City’s best sites. Walking through the compound and admiring the contents such as antique furniture will give you an excellent insight to upper class Chinese life style of that era.
St.Lawrence’s Church – The original church was built by the Jesuits prior to 1560 and the current church was completed in 1846, making it one of Macau’s oldest churches. The building itself is a typical 18th century neoclassical structure and layout / shape of the building is based on the shape of a Latin cross. St.Lawrence’s Church is similar to the more popular St.Dominics Church (see above) and St.Augustine’s Church but has (depends on your opinion) a larger and more attractive interior. This church is normally quiet so a great way to enjoy it is to go inside, grab a pew and relax enjoying the tranquillity, woodwork, stained glass windows and beautiful interior.
St. Joseph's Seminary and Church – The seminary was established in 1728 and the actual church itself was built in 1758. This church’s main claim to fame is it was the main base for missionary work in China, Japan and the surrounding area when the Portuguese missionaries set out to convert the heathens. This is one of the sites you can cross of your list if you are running short of time or have had enough of churches.
St. Augustine's Square – The square is basically a large area of cobblestone pavement at the intersection of a number of streets that reflects Portuguese streetscapes. You’ll end up passing through the square as you visit the nearby sites such as St.Augustine’s Church and St. Joseph's Seminary and Church.
Old City Walls – Back in 1569 the Portuguese settlers carried out their customary habit of constructing a defensive wall around the early settlement. The wall was meant to defend against Chinese invaders, pirates and the marauding Dutch. History buffs will be pleased to know that it was made out of a mixture of clay, sand, rice straw, rocks and oyster shells. There is only around 12-15 meters of wall to see and it is very easy to miss. Not a very impressive site.
Dom Pedro V Theatre – This building is actually a theatre and being built in 1860, it is one of the first western style theatres built in China. It is no longer used as a theatre but is still an important part of the local community and is used for important public events, celebrations and announcements. The inside is nice with an open waiting room and a balcony level but the main attraction is the outside façade which is another neoclassical design with three six meter tall archways.
Senado Square – This large square (3,700 square meters) was the home of the legislative assembly under Portuguese rule hence the name and was used by the Macau government for reviewing troops on inaugurations. The current mosaic of waves you see in the squares paving stones was done in the early 90’s and the square a popular venue for public events and celebrations. The square is a great place to visit surrounded by colonial (neoclassical again) architecture, hordes of fast food sellers, loads of shopping stalls and centers and a excellent place to feel the pulse of the Old City.
Guia Fortress – This is a lighthouse, chapel and fort complex in the St.Lazarus Parish at Guia Hill, the highest point on the Macau peninsula. The lighthouse is 15 meters high and built in 1865 with the actual fort itself being built between 1622 and 1638. The Guia fortress together with Mount Fortress helped save Macau from the failed 1622 Dutch invasion. A cable car runs from the entrance of Flora Gardens (Macau’s largest public park) to the fortress but you are better of walking because the surrounding views of Macau are excellent.
Sam Kai Vui Kun (Kuan Tai Temple) – Sam Kai Vui Kun was built in 1750 and was initially a meeting place for Chinese merchants. The name Sam Kai Vui Kun literally means “community hall for three streets” and it was a flourishing commercial center until the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Macau was opened in 1912. The temple was originally dedicated to the Guan Yu (Kuan Tai) the god of martial arts and wealth which is the connection between the temple and a place of commerce. The actual buildings are small and it follows the Jin Dynasty planning with a gate wit three halls on a north south access and halls on either side. You can see this kind of layout on temples throughout China.