Macao – 1 day where Portugal embraces China

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Portuguese heritage, in Macau, became World Heritage for UNESCO. 

Portuguese heritage
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Many buildings are classified, but Portugal is present everywhere, even in the common buildings, pavements or small details. 

I think, those are the most difficult things to preserve

Governor’s Palace 

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Governor’s palace

The residence of the former Portuguese governor became in 1999 the official residence to the President of Regional Government. 

No visible transformations were made, and the Portuguese colonial look is clear.

Ruins of St. Paul ​

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Ruins of St Paul

I couldn’t understand why the remains of a ruined church became the image of Macao! There are several wonderful examples of Portuguese heritage in architecture, at least so interesting as that façade. Well… that’s the way it is. We were there, with hundreds moved around it all the time. The rain didn’t spoil much because the visit should always be quick. 

Built in the 16th century, it was the biggest cathedral in the east, sometimes called “eastern Vatican”. Burnt in 1835, only the façade escaped from destruction, some people believing that it was a miracle.

Mixing European, Chinese and Japanese details, it is, today, UNESCO heritage.

“Backstage” scenes Ruins of St. Paul

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Ruins of St Paul

I felt forced to look again to the façade, and to see all the devices built to support it. Of course they are indispensable, but that look makes us feel like in the back of a scenery, artificially mounted.

Maybe they should close the access to the rear of the facade, or treat (hide) visually the supports with complementary elements like paintings/descriptions of the original cathedral or its contents. The way it is now is ugly and sad.

​Portuguese consulate

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Portuguese consulate

One of the best examples of Portuguese heritage and colonial architecture, the old St. Raphael hospital is now one of the biggest Portuguese diplomatic representations in the world. 

Its actual look comes from a reconstruction made in 1939.

Cathedral

Macao

A small wooden shrine from the 17Th century, was hundred years later transformed in a stone church, once again replaced by the actual building, in 1937.

Discreet in the city, it has a beautiful decoration, and it is one of the classified monuments that compose the Portuguese heritage in Macao, human heritage for UNESCO. 

S. Domingos church

Macao

St. Dominic’s Church, in Senado square, dates from the early 17th century.  It has an imposing facade of cream-colored ​stone with white stucco mouldings and green-shuttled windows. Inside, white pillars support a flat ceiling and apron balconies trim the walls.

The great baroque altar contains a cream and white statue of the Virgin and Child and a painting of Christ. The church has a fine collection of exquisitely-carved ivory and wood saints.

St. Dominic’s Church has a violently dramatic past. In 1644 a military officer who supported the Spanish against the Portuguese was murdered at the alter during Mass. In 1707 the Dominicans sided with the Pope against Macau’s bishop in the Rites Controversy.

When local soldiers tried to enforce an excommunication order on them, the friars locked themselves in the church for three days and pelted the soldiers with stones. In 1834 the monastic orders were suppressed and for a time the church was used by the government as barracks, stable and public works office. St. Dominic’s Church was renovated in 1997 and opened to the public with a museum, on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floor. The museum shows paintings, sculptures and liturgical ornaments that illustrate the history of the Roman Catholic church in asia.

​Military Club

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Military club

Built in 1870 as the gathering point to Portuguese officers in the colony, this beautiful colonial building is now recognized by its restaurant. A few years before the end of Portuguese administration, the club was partially open to civilians, and the restaurant became famous. 

Located near Lisboa casino, is classical image contrasts with the blooming view of big and modern casinos popping everywhere.

When we were there, we didn’t know that the restaurant was open, and that its quality justified the reasonable price that is charged.

We went elsewhere, without complaints, but knowing what I do know now, this should have been our restaurant. 

See the importance of a good preparation for each trip?

​S. Francisco fort

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S. Francisco fort

I don’t remember where I read that:

“Built 1629 on the site of a battery which sank one of the warships’ The Golias’ of the Dutch invaders, the original fortress of S. Francisco stood at the end of old Praia Grande, facing the Taipa channel. Its armaments included a culverin, which could fire 35-pound iron shots a distance of one and a half miles (the width of the channel). Little more is known of the original fort or the convent of S. Francisco, which was attached to it.

Both fort and convent were demolished to make way for new barracks in 1864, to house the Battalion of the First Line, brought in as defense against a Chinese attack which never came. The barracks survive today as headquarters for the Security Forces and sections of the Police Force. They present an attractive, colonial façade of pink-washed stone with white trim. Inside are offices and meeting rooms around a flag-stoned courtyard, in the spacious lobby are display cases filled with old prints and pictures of the previous fort and convent, a collection of old weapons and other.”

More than history, in the back of the Military Club, our attention is dragged by… the tree coming from the wall. But, for that, I couldn’t find any story, till now!

Chapel of our Lady of Penha ​

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Penha

The best sightseeing point of Macao before the construction of TV tower was Penha hill, occupied with a chapel built in 1867 in place of a former chapel from the 17th century.

​Nearby there’s a replica of Lourdes cave, and an image of the holy Virgin.

Guia Fort ​

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Guia

Guia, one of Macao’s hills, is topped by a fortress with two important Portuguese constructions – the lighthouse and a chapel.

​The lighthouse was one of the first to be built in eastern world, in 1622, but the actual one is the result of a reconstruction in 1864.

The chapel was built also in 1622, and it is a modest construction where recently where discovered some frescoes.

Mount Fortress – Fortaleza do Monte

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879 macau n 312

Mount Fortress, built in 1617-26, occupies a hilltop to the east of St. Paul’ s ruins, and at easy walking distance from it. Jesuits built it as part of a complex which also included the college and church of St. Paul’ s. 

The cannons were used only once, when the Dutch invaded Macau in 1622. This was also the first residence of the governors of Macau. 

Over the following decades trees grew from the platform of the fort, which was transformed into a public park where residents and visitors came to enjoy the views. The only building was an office of the Meteorological Department until 1998 when the three-level Macau Museum, focusing on the history of Macau, was built into the fortress hill.

Oriente foundation 

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886 macau n 318

In Portugal “Oriente Foundation” is a synonymous of… money. I don’t know if it is fair, I don’t know where the money comes from or where does it go. 

I know that I stood at the door (don’t know if visiting is allowed and interesting) some minutes and saw no note or coin entering or leaving.

Nah! I need to review my concepts.

​Kun Iam 

Macao

Statue


The Kun Iam is a statue, 20 meters high, that was founded in a famous foundry in Nanjing, China and was transported to the Center in Macau to be set-up. ​

Grand Canyon

The project of Kun Iam Ecumenical Center designed by a Portuguese Architect, Cristina Rocha Leiria, was planned for construction by Macau Government in 1997, while preparing the transition to Chinese sovereignty. The big Kun Iam statue, of 20 meters suffered several modifications, but it keeps an oriental look according to the eyes of a European. It doesn’t look like, but it is also Portuguese heritage.

A Ma temple

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Older than Portuguese colonization, “A Ma” temple was accepted by the Portuguese, and respected as a reference of Chinese culture and religion.

​Several pavilions climbing a steep hill are dedicated to different deities, attracting lots of Chinese devotes to ceremonies hard to understand by westerns.

A Different Look

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856 macau n 296

After being a Chinese reference under Portuguese government, the A Ma temple presents, today, complementary signs of Portuguese culture and history, in a crossed and very respectful interaction. 

It’s funny, the way that the same monument, working always the same way and respecting the same religion acts as a Chinese reference under Portuguese, and a Portuguese reference under Chinese.

A world of Smoke

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852 macau o 632


In some Portuguese churches (and mainly in Fatima) we are used to the continuous views of wax burning, with the resultant smell and smoke. In Chinese temples they “exaggerate”. 

The smoke is permanent and abundant, with mixed smells, but always turning the air hard to breath. In A Ma temple the rule is followed, but most of the smoke is produced in the open air, easing breathing.

​Camões Garden

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889 macau n 320a

It must be a pleasant place to go in a hot day, this shady garden. Supported in a myth (the shipwreck of Camões, the top Portuguese writer of ever, in Macao coast and his struggle to save the manuscript of “Lusíadas”) this garden has a remarkable example of Portuguese cobblestone walkways surrounding Camões statue.

​Sorry we were there under a strong rain…

​Holy House of Mercy

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911 macau n 342

Created in 1498 , “Santa Casa da Misericórdia” is a still running institution for charity, that spread all over Portugal and colonies. In 1569, the Jesuits created a dependency in Macao, close to the “Senado”, that even after the transition to Chinese government still helps the poor.

​There are some interesting paintings inside.

​Leal Senado

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912 macau n 343

The “Senado” square is paved with a wave-patterned mosaic of coloured stones, created by Portuguese experts.

From the main road to the church of St. Dominic, the pavement extends to the ruins of St. Paul’s, making the heart of the city a pedestrian paradise.

​More than S. Paulo ruins, this square is, for the Portuguese, the real visual reference of Macao.

​St Anthony church

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890 macau n 321

This church stands on the site of a chapel founded in 1558, the first to be built in Macau.

The history of the present building is explained on a plaque by the door: “Built in 1638. Burnt in 1809. Rebuilt in 1810. Burnt again in 1874. Repaired in 1875”. However, there is a cross in the churchyard bearing the date of 1636. Another fire forced to another restoration in 1930 and further work was done on the facade and tower in 1940.

St Anthony is the Portuguese protector of marriages so the members of the Portuguese community selected this church for their wedding ceremonies. The sight of flowers was the base for the Chines name: Fa Vong Tong (Church of Flowers).

Kou Ho Neng mansion

Macao
Macao

This mansion was once owned by Kou Ho Neng, who built a local monopoly of pawnshops. It was built in Neo-classical style in the first half of the 20th century and it was previously used as an opium house in its early years.

To see Modern Macao

A single day trip to Macao, a rainy morning and a dark afternoon, but a pleasure to notice the way the Chinese dealt with Portuguese memories: The signs of our presence are everywhere, absolutely respected and… enhanced.

The contrast with Honk Kong is intense: while in HK you have to “dig” under skyscrapers and indistinguishable modern structures to find British remainders, in Macao, the boom of construction and the new signs of Chinese government respect the historic areas, where the colonial times are easy to feel. Good work!

Nice to see

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875 macau o 638

Whenever a country changes its sovereignty, history is affected, and the signs of the past rapidly removed and replaced by the new values and references.

​That didn’t happen in Macao. It’s easy to understand the decision to keep palaces, churches or fortresses, but the presence of a Portuguese navigator, it’s surprising. 

Chinese rulers must be saluted for this decision.

Portuguese names

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851 macau o 631

It’s also nice to see the understanding and friendship behind the transition of Macao to Chinese administration, present in the respect that the new administration shows to the colonial period.

As usual, in the old colonies Portuguese images and names were swept and replaced by local ones, but that didn’t happen in Macao.

​Portuguese and Chinese names, side by side, are a healthy sign of preservation of local identity, naturally modelled by all the influences present along its history.

​Peaceful Independence

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895 macau n 326

The transition from Portuguese to Chinese sovereignty was a model of cooperation. 

The national Chinese symbol, in a modern square, is a fair complement to the well preserved Portuguese heritage.

Lotus Bauhinia

In Lotus Square, next to the Forum, the sculpture of “Lotus Flower In Full Bloom” marks the return of Macau to China.

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894 macau n 325

The sculpture, made of gilded bronze and weighting 6.5 tons, is 6 meters high and the diameter of the flower is 3.6 meters at maximum. The major part is composed of a stem, petals and pistil, with a total of 16 components. The base of the flower consists of 23 pieces of red granite. The lotus flower, which is in full bloom, symbolizes the everlasting prosperity of Macau. There are three layers of red granite at the base, with the shape of lotus leaves. They signify the Macau Peninsula, Taipa Island and Coloane Island.

​Museum and art

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876 macau o 639

The new Macau museum is located inside the fort, close to São Paulo ruins.

The historic area around the ruins is the best place to see and to buy art and historic crafts, even inside some classified buildings

 Casinos

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The most outstanding construction in Macao is this new casino. Very colourful, with a very odd shape and enormous dimensions, it can be seen from everywhere. We didn’t enter (it was about to be finished when we were there) but… I didn’t like it. 

In the aggression to the simplicity and historic authenticity of the city created by the boom of big casinos, this is, indeed, the most pretentious and aggressive of them. Nah!

I’d rather enjoy the old Macao!

Macao
Lisboa casinos
Macao
Old Lisboa

Old Lisboa

For several decades I heard the Portuguese that visited Macao, talking about Lisboa Hotel and Lisboa Casino. They were one of the stronger references in the city.
Macao is today a clone of Las Vegas. The historic reference was supported building a big and modern new Lisboa Hotel. However, the old one was kept, and it is still there, challenging the modern investments with the power of its history.

​Modern quarters

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893 macau n 324

The quarters near the port are quite impersonal. Modern architecture, balanced volumes, but the absence of… soul, as clearly noticed in the old quarters. 

Flanking the casinos that grow like mushrooms, this is a very busy area.

Macao’s TV tower

Vertigo

Macao tower is so high that it is used to radical sports. 

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834 macau o 624

Well, we saw no one, without surprise, because it was raining, but that was good to Fernanda, who couldn’t even look at her feet – the floor in the top area of the tower is in glass, and looking down may cause giddiness.

Going up is expensive but if you may resisit to vertigo is the perfect place to see the size and distribution of the areas and islands in Macao

Islands

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906 macau n 337

We know that Taipa and Coloane are islands tightly connected to the main land, by a modern bridge, and do know that they are different, with beaches and more free space. 

It would be interesting to visit, and in an overnight visit we would do it. 
Needing to return to Hong Kong in the same day, we just had a glimpse from the top of TV tower.

​Next time!

I recommend Hipopotamo

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898 macau n 329

Almost Portuguese food

Hipopotamo

Churrasco à Portuguesa Hipopotamo


After two weeks in China we decided to use lunch in Macao to eat Portuguese food, so we asked the driver/guide to leave us at a good Portuguese restaurant. 

He left us here. 

It was curious, because we use to say that in Portugal we have 100 ways to cook “bacalhau” (codfish), and we found there… the 101st one. It was good, the wine was Portuguese, and the “Bacalhau à Bras” served to the Chinese family at our side looked very Portuguese and… tasty. 

To do To do in Macao

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843 macau n 287

Sports in the air of Macau

From the tower several radical experiences are possible. 

We didn’t try any, because… well… it was raining, you know? Anyway, you may do it for us, just follow the link to know how.

Macao Tower

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844 macau n 288

Sights

Going up to the tower is important to have a good look over the territory. 

Mainland, the two islands and the proximity of Souzhou are easy to see from the top.

I suggest that you do it in the beginning of your visit, because it may help you to plan the day.

​Ferry

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Image5

I think that the best way to visit Macau is taking a ferry in Hong Kong

Macau has an international airport, but flying to Hong Kong is easier and cheapper.

​The ferry takes a little more than one hour, departing each half an hour and costing about US $30

Fisherman’s docks



It seems that, in the old Portuguese days, there was a fisherman’s wharf in Macao. Nowadays, the ferry terminal occupied a small area of that wharf, and casinos were planted all around. So, today, Fisherman’s wharf in Macao means gamble. 

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929 macau n 359

As a matter of fact, I think that, very soon, everything in Macao will mean gamble, and then it will be easy to speak Macanese.

Walking back to the ferry, very tired, I had an hallucination, and felt myself walking in the strip of Vegas. Fortunately the ferry was only a little after Venetian, and I didn’t realize if we had to pass Bellagio or not.

Personal memories Memories of Macao

Green spots

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883 macau n 316

The density of construction is high, in Macao, and the green areas are small. However, they are well kept and distributed, allowing a balanced look that disguises the extensive occupation of the soil. 

Even in the gardens, a Portuguese hand is still visible, respecting our memories of Macao.

​Gambling

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903 macau n 334

Eastern Vegas, they say! 

However, there’s a small difference – while Las Vegas grew in the desert from nothing, Chinese Vegas is growing in a small and very populated city, with a personality and history to preserve. 

Where will gambling lead Macao to? What will last in the end?

In a few years what will be the memories of Macao?

And gambling, and gambling…



In my university time I shared one student’s residential with colleagues from overseas, some of them from Macao. I was surprised by the coincidence that they all were gambling fanatics. Later on, I read that it was a Chinese tradition, and Macao is a remarkable confirmation. 

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925 macau o 642

Souzhou

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839 macau n 283

Only an odd border, Portuguese heritage and strong bureaucracy separates Souzhou from Macao.

One day they will become one, as fisically they already are.

​Maybe, that day, it will be interesting to compare the evolution due to centuries of different cultural influence side by side, in the same people, but today, crossing the line demands the time that we hadn’t.

​Mango: My damnation in Macao

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916 macau n 347

I have a terrible spell – wherever I go, I can’t escape the “universal trilogy” – Zara, Mango, Cortefiel. 

China gave me some rest, but Macau took me back to reality – there they are! 

As everywhere else…

Next time I will go to the North Pole.

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