I was wanting to experience some of the more historic areas of Macau, I performed some research online and made a few notes of what I was interested in and headed off. No real agenda, just a few key names of places that would be nice to see. Here is what I discovered.
Three Lamps District
I had asked the taxi driver to take me to the three lamps district, looking for a market. He listened to me quite intently then responded with a loud ‘huh?’ He didn’t understand a word of English and my understanding of Cantonese is non-existent, luckily I had picked up a free map from the Ferry terminal earlier that day and pointed to an area on the map. He seemed to understand and ten minutes later we were there. It is not a tourist spot as such, but markets where the locals do their shopping. There are a series of lane ways, with people selling their wares on each side. There are shops, as well as temporary stalls set up. One lane would sell fruit and vegetables, most of which I had never seen before. The next lane would have an assortment of cheap clothes to buy. The central part of the district is the Rotunda de Carlos da Maia. Essentially a roundabout, although the centre is like a town square (except round), where the locals congregate. We sat there for a few minutes to rest and soak up the atmosphere before heading off and buying a home made waffle with Peanut Butter.
The Three Lamps market district
This place was a bit of an eye opener. I was walking along on of the main roads in the Three Lamps District and I recognised the building from the websites I had visited earlier that day. I remembered it because of its red bricks and that it was quite old, being built in 1936. I was all excited, thinking I had finally found a market where I could wander around and look for souvenirs. My excitement was not long lived after entering. It was a wet market, selling fruits and veg and meat. There was a vendor with live chickens, but he wasn’t selling them live. He was slaughtering them, there and then. Fresh meat. As he grabbed a distressed chicken by the throat in one hand and a cleaver in the other I was in two minds. Should I grab my video camera and capture the moment or leave before the butcher. I decided to leave as probably was not something I wanted to witness. Making my way to the second and third floor was much of the same, sorted into various types of meat sellers, poultry, beef, chicken and seafood. No refrigeration, just lots of meat being chopped up. I was not there for too long, the stench was overpowering.
The Ruins of Saint Paul’s
This is the most famous tourist attraction in Macau. I knew I was close when I started to pass coach after coach parked on the side of the thin road. I must have passed twenty while I climbed up the slow incline. Reaching the top there were hundreds of tourists, gathered around, posing for pictures in front of the remains of this Four Hundred year old Cathedral. Construction began in 1582 and lasted twenty years. Built by the Jesuits, all that remains is the front wall. It towers roughly five stories into the air and is covered with carvings of religious significance, but with an oriental theme. It sits on top of a hill in front of many steps. At the time of construction, it was one of the largest catholic churches in Asia. Unfortunately during a typhoon in 1835, it was ravished by fire with only the front façade remaining. I wandered around the place trying to imagine what it looked like in its hay day, and the history that it contained. There were people that wanted it demolished because of safety concerns when it started to lean. Luckily common sense won out and the ruins were preserved and the site was renovated, excavated and made safe in the early 1990s.
St Paul's Cathedral ruins
St Paul's Cathedral ruins
Just a stones throw from St Paul’s is Forte Monte or Mount Fortress. It was first inhabited by the Jesuits, but thePortuguese military very quickly realised the strategic importance of the location as it overlooks the bay on one side and the rest of Macau on the other, I would guess that it is on the highest point in Macau. The fort was built from 1617 till 1622 and even though it was primarily a defensive position; it has had many uses over the years, from the residence of the governor to a weather station and is now home to the Macau Museum. It is free to get into the fort and there are not as many people here as St Paul’s, and you can explore the site in relative peace, taking snapshots here and there. On top of the fort there are rows of cannons, what used to be aimed at the sea, but now aimed at casinos that are scattered all over the place.
The Macau Museum
This Museum has been built into the hill which Forte Monte stands upon. The main building of the fort which used to be the Governor’s residence is now the top of the Museum, with the rest below ground. It only costs a few dollars to enter, and showcases the history of Macau and its history. The Museum explains the history of Macau from the pre-historic settlement of the area, through to the Chinese and Portuguese influences of the times. It explains the importance of trade to Macau, specifically the spice and silk trade. There is ‘Kraak’ (Blue and White Porcelain) dating back centuries on display that was found in the area and examples of how traditional living was in the area used to be. It is worth a visit if you are interested in history. I wandered around learning about Macau and having fun with the interactive displays.
Some of the exhibits on display at the museum
A short easy stroll down the hill via cobble stoned alley ways from the ruins of St Paul’s and you arrive at Senado Square (The Senate square) A large Portuguese style Piazza, it is surrounded by heritage buildings. This is the hustling bustling city of Macau and the town centre. The area gets its name from the large building facing the square that housed the government in colonial days. One can look in almost any direction from the Piazza and be confronted with heritage colonial buildings. The Portuguese seemed to like pastels and the building are mostly pale green, red or yellow, with white trim. There is a large fountain in the centre, and the day we were there they were setting up a stage for some kind of public performance.
Historic centre of Macau
In 2005 the historic centre of Macau was inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage list. It was deemed that this area, with its historic streets, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West. Inscription on the list confirms the exceptional universal value of a cultural or natural site that deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity. As you stroll around, there are signs that explain what building you are looking at and a paragraph or two about the history of the place. Most of the buildings on the list are with-in walking distance from each other. There are also a number of maps sign posted about, guiding interested parties to the next site.
It made for an enjoyable day, walking around at my own pace, taking photographs and discovering facts about the city I was in. If you visit Macau, make sure you get away from the casinos and do a walking tour of the historic centre of Macau and look at the churches, theatres, libraries and other historic places on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
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