On our second trip to Macau we chose to spend much of our day walking through the historic center. Macau for me has a unique place among cities I’ve travelled to in Asia. Much of the Asian continent was colonized or influenced by various European countries at some point in history, and traces of this can be found in many cities, from Manila, to Jakarta, to KL, to Singapore and Hong Kong. Even places like Bangkok and Shanghai which were not directly colonized show some bits and pieces of European influence. Macau however, stands out for me. Here the old colonial times is not only seen or heard, but felt. Walking through the old city feels like closest one could get to Europe, without leaving Asian soil. While the megacasinos in Cotai get the most buzz, one would see a very different Macau while venturing it’s old narrow streets.
Largo Do Senado (Senado Square)
Senado Square is “kilometer zero” of historic Macau. It’s the city’s main town square, and almost everything else radiates from it. Around the square are various colonial era government buildings including the Leal Senado (Loyal Senate), the seat of goverment in Portugese Macau. To the northeast of the square is the iconic facade of the Ruins of St. Paul, and along the way one passes by one of the most familiar old churches (due to its proximity to the square), the Igreja de Sao Domingos (Church of Saint Dominic).
Igreja de Sao Domingos
Having been a colony of Catholic Portugal, the Roman Catholic Church has a large visible footprint throughout the territory. Indeed the Archdiocese of Macau used to cover almost all of Asia during the Portugese colonial period, with the exception of the Philippines which acquired Catholicism separately through the Spanish. Today the Archdiocese covers only Macau itself, but its previous stature manifests through the large number of churches within the city, one of which is the Igrejas de Sao Domingos a few steps away from Senado Square. It is also the oldest church in Macau, dating back to the 16th Century. The church, though far from grand in size, has a striking presence to anyone passing through, with it’s attractive yellow exterior and simple but elegant barouqe design.
Rua de Felicidade
A few blocks to the northwest of the square, and things begin to look very different. Hidden within the maze of narrow old streets is Rua de Felicidade or “Happiness Street”. And this is one of the most interesting things about Macau…a few blocks before we were in old Europe, and now we’re in Qing dynasty China. Teleported? Yeah.
As the name “Happiness Street” implies, Rua de Felicidade was once a place where pleasure, of the carnal kind, was sold. It was a red light district and a string of opium dens, back in the time when the western powers flooded China with opium leading to the infamous Opium wars (which the Qing dynasty lost).
Nowadays the opium dens are long gone and prostitution has moved to other places, but the buildings of the Rua de Felicidade have been preserved and repainted to look like how they probably did in the 19th Century. It was early in the morning when we passed by and the place was barely waking up, but several people who’ve been there write about great shops and good food. Needless to say, it’s one interesting looking street.
Largo de Santo Agostinho
And now we teleport back to old Europe. To the west of Senado Square is Largo de Santo Agostinho (St. Augustine Square), a small yet pretty little square at the top of a hill. It can be accessed through a steep, narrow road beside the Leal Senado. Surrounding the square are significant historical buildings, like the Igreja de Santo Agostinho (another church established in the 16th Century, the Biblioteca Sir Robert Ho Tung (a late 19th century mansion converted into a library), and the Dom Pedro V Theatre (the first western style theatre in China, opened in 1860).
The walk up to the square could be a bit of a workout, but what you see at the top is worth every step. If I could vote for “the prettiest corner of Macau”, this would be it.
Igreja De Sao Laurenco
Down the hill and a couple hundred meters further to the west is another old church. The Igreja de Sao Laurenco (Church of Saint Lawrence) was first established by the Jesuits also in the 16th century, though the current structure is a little younger. Of the three churches we’ve passed so far, this one I would say is the most “charming”. It sits on its own small hill, elevated several meters from the street infront of it, and surrounded by a garden, with an equally charming interior.
Largo do Lilau and Templo A Ma
Further down west is the Largo do Lilau (Lilau Square), a tiny, picturesque park that wouldn’t look out of place in as a setting for a key scene in a romantic TV series. And still further down the street, at the edge of the Calcade da Barra close to the sea is the Templo A Ma (A Ma Temple), which we were also able to visit on our first trip to Macau a couple of years ago. This interesting looking Taoist temple is dedicated to the goddess Matsu, the patroness of fishermen and seafarers whom Macau was named after.
A few steps from Templo A Ma is a major bus stop of the same name, making it a good end point from a walk through the old city.
Torre De Macau
Not exactly a part of the historical centre, but a short ride away from Templo A Ma is the Torre de Macau (Macau Tower), one of the territory’s most prominent landmarks. One can view almost all of Macau from the top, including the neighboring city of Zhuhai, China. For those fond thrilling memories, the Torre de Macau hosts the worlds highest and one of the most popular bungee jumps.
The Sheraton at Sands Cotai Central
For this visit we stayed a night at the Sheraton in the Sands Cotai Central along the Cotai Strip, Macau’s newest district dominated by new and up and coming megacasinos. Coming from the historical city centre, Cotai feels like an entirely different place. And that pretty much sums up what’s amazing about Macau. It’s such a small place (land area is barely 11 square miles), but it can fit two entirely different worlds.
* Photos taken October and November 2014, using an Olympus EPM-2 with M. Zuiko 25mm f1.8