Macau’s old centre

Crossing the bridge from Cotai to the main island of Macau I looked out the window scanning the water for pirate ships that used to control the waters in and around Macau until China gave Portugal the right to settle  in Macau in exchange of cleaning the area of pirates. Macau was handed back to China on 20th December 1999, ending 400 years of Portuguese administration.

Once on the mainland, the flashy new casinos, Wynn and the Hyatt sit side by side along with Macau’s original casino the Lisboa, not to be outdone  the Lisboa has opened a new casino The Grand Lisboa. Today was not a day to be spent trying to win a fortune but to navigate the Historical centre of Macau which was listed in 2005 as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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The new Grand Lisboa

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The old Casino Lisboa

The historical centre of Macau starts from Senado square with its swirling waved pattern mosaic of coloured stones, leads to the church of St Dominic and extends to the ruins of St Paul. The Senado square is enclosed by buildings of the Leal Senado, the General Post Office and the St Dominc church. The Leal Senado was the seat of Macau’s government during its time as a Portuguese colony. The building was erected in 1784  after the handover in 1999 it became the headquarters of the Institute of Civic and Municipal Affairs.

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Senado Square

St Dominico’s church was built in 1587 by three Spanish Dominican priests and was where the 1st Portuguese newspaper was published on Chinese soil in 1822. The square with its Neo classical architecture, European buildings painted in a mustardy, yellow and the fountain in the centre makes a picturesque, charming square

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St Dominico’s Church

Religion, Christianity plays a big part of Macau’s culture and the countries biggest attraction is the ruins of Saint Paul’s, a 16th century complex featuring the St Paul’s college and cathedral of St Paul, located on a small hill with mount fortress overlooking the ruins.

St Paul’s was built from 1582 to 1602 by the Jetsuits was the largest Catholic church in Asia unfortunately it was destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835. The only remains of the complex is the facade of the church, with intricate carvings of Jetsuit images with oriental themes, such as a woman stepping on the head of a seven headed serpent, Jetsuit Order, the conquest of Jesus and a dove with wings outstretched on top. The main attraction may leave people disappointed but for me with all the history and importance of religion being spread in unknown territory it was  an appeasing site.

Many people actually miss what I believe is the best attraction in Macau, the Crypt of St Paul’s just behind the ruins which wasn’t uncovered until the ruins were excavated in 1990-1995. The crypt holds relics of the Japanese Christian martyrs and the rather macabre vault with their remains full of skulls. The Japanese Christian’s were exiled to Macau and helped build the church. Even though very little of this is taught in Japanese schools it seems to be a major historical event in Japanese history.

At first , the missionaries had the support of the Shogunate which thought would help trade with Portugal but with the Japanese seeing what had happened with the Spanish in the Philipines and the christian religion spreading fast, they decided to outlaw Christianity and anyone practicing would be put to death. On February 5th , 1597 26 Christians were raised to the cross in Nagasaki and pierced with spears. The remains were sent to Macau and put in the church’s crypt. 250 years later missionaries returned to Japan to discover Japanese Christians survived underground.

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Facade of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Monte Fort overlooked all of this, sitting above with views out to sea, built to defend itself because the Jetsuit were concerned about invasion by its unchristened neighbours. The fort was designed to withstand a siege for over two years but the cannons were fired only once during an aborted attempt by the Dutch to invade Macau in 1622.

The Monte fort now houses the Museum of Macau. It has a vast collection of historical and social memorabilia, maps of the trade route, origins of tea, traditional fireworks and silk production plus the lives of boat people who were forced to live their lives on a boat as they were not allowed on shore.

Macau may not have its pirates anymore and may not be governed by the Portuguese but it still has its churches and its religion.