10 Attractions of Macau
The original Cathedral of St Paul in Macau was built by the Catholic Jesuit order over almost four decades between 1602 and 1640, but after a fire during a typhoon in 1835 all that remained of the building was its imposing five-tiered façade. Buttressed, it still stands today, and has been called “Macau’s Acropolis”. It is undoubtedly its most famous landmark, and visitors can climb a steel stairway to view the 17th century stonework at close quarters. It is also well worth visiting the Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt, located at the bottom of the ruins, with its fine collection of religious art and artefacts, open to the public free between 9am and 6pm daily.
The sweeping panorama of Macau and the Pearl River Delta laid out before you is only one of the reasons to visit the historic Chapel Of Our Lady of Penha. A church has stood on this site since 1622, although the present structure with its distinctive bell tower was completed in 1837 and substantially renovated in 1935. Traditionally sailors about to embark on hazardous voyages have prayed here, and the chapel’s notable features include a marble statue of the Virgin Mary watching over Macau and China, and a picturesque grotto, dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. The attractive garden is an excellent place to pause and recover from the steep, but worthwhile, walk up the hill.
At the centre of Macau’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Senado Square is named after the Leal Senado Building, one of several historic landmarks in this culturally rich location. Built in 1784 in the elegant Portuguese Manueline style, it houses an extensive library of foreign antiquarian books and books on Chinese history. Several other beautifully restored and maintained pastel coloured structures from the colonial era also overlook the square, including the General Post Office, and the Santa Casa de Misericordia, meaning Holy House of Mercy, which dates back to 1569. The fountain in the centre of the square is a popular meeting place, and many cultural presentations and performances are staged in the public spaces.
Mount Fortress was Macau’s most important military fortification against attacks from the sea, and played a central role in the successful defence of the enclave against an attempted Dutch invasion in 1622. Today it is noted more as the location of the Macao Museum, and of a tranquil garden.The museum is split into three levels, two of them underground, on a site formerly occupied by a meteorological observatory. Each is dedicated to a particular aspect of Macau – the first to its history, commerce, and culture; the second to its popular arts and local ceremonies and festivals; and the third to contemporary Macau and particularly how it has been portrayed in art and literature. All celebrate its unique character and cultural diversity.
The Guia Fortress is the site of both a beautiful chapel and the oldest modern lighthouse on the China Coast, both within a formerly military site. The lighthouse is not open to the public, but visitors are welcome to walk around it and view it close-up from the outside. It began signalling in 1865, but the fort and chapel, which offer full public access, are much older having been constructed in the course of the 1620s and 1630s. During renovation work in 1998 some 17th century frescoes were uncovered which include depictions of angels in Chinese dress – an early and well preserved example of the mingling of cultures which gives Macau its unique flavour.
This picturesque courtyard location, with its Mediterranean style yellow painted buildings, shaded by the leafy outstretched branches of camphor trees, is an oasis of tranquility in an increasingly bustling city. Albergue da Santa Casa da Misericórdia owes its name to a past role as a refugee centre, but today it provides a focal point for the St Lazarus district, to which much of Macau’s creative talent has gravitated. Visitors come to look around the art galleries, to attend workshops, conferences, concerts and poetry readings, to celebrate festivals, or to linger over coffee after dining in the popular Portuguese restaurant. Old Macau meets new in one of the city’s most atmospheric retreats.
The name Macau is thought to come from a Portuguese transliteration of the Chinese “Bay of A-Ma”, and the A-Ma Temple is one of the most historic religious buildings on the China Coast. The earliest section is thought to date back to 1488, but the temple complex as we know it today it was completed in 1828. The temple pavilions are dedicated to different deities, and the mixture of folk beliefs, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, which all shaped its development, reflect the ability of Chinese people with differing religions to get along together and find common ground. Open to the public from 7am to 6pm, a visit to the temple is one of the essential Macau experiences.
For any art lover a visit to the Macao Museum of Art is essential. It opened in 1999 with seven different exhibition galleries spread over five floors, and is now internationally recognized as one of the city’s greatest cultural assets. It is Macau’s only dedicated art museum, and has permanent exhibitions of Chinese calligraphy, paintings, and ceramics– including some particularly fine examples of Shiwan ceramics, among them many 19th and early 20th century figurines - and of historical paintings and prints by noted 19th century China Coast artists. These include the notorious Englishman George Chinnery, and the Cantonese artist Lam Qua, who painted in a European style. The museum also presents regular visiting exhibitions, and houses an extensive library of art books.
Inspired by the Sky Tower in Auckland, the Macau Tower Convention and Entertainment Centre opened in 2001, standing 338 metres tall and commanding superb 360 degree views from the observation deck, which is at a 223 metre elevation. Those with a good head for heights can take the Skywalk X walking tour round the outer rim of the observation deck – wearing a safety harness but with no handrail. The truly adventurous can take the world’s highest bungy jump from the tower, while for the brave, but not quite that brave, there is the SkyJump option – a controlled vertical descent on a wire. Or you could just have lunch or dinner and take in the full panorama in the revolving restaurant without even getting up from your table.
The newest of Macau’s major landmark was designed by I.M. Pei, and its distinctive, silvered, asymmetrical cone shaped exterior with its projecting walkway proclaims its space-age purpose. The building was completed in 2009, and comprises an Exhibition Center, a Planetarium and a Convention Center, with the exhibition space containing 14 galleries arranged in an upward spiral around an atrium. All contain exhibits selected to encourage an interest in science, particularly among the young, and the 3D Planetariuum has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as having the highest pixel resolution of any facility of its kind in the world.