Macao’s historic sites

In a city known for its glitzy modern hotels and casinos, there are still plenty of remarkable sites that showcase Macao’s colourful history and beautiful colonial architecture. Here are just a few.

St Paul’s Ruins

The ruins of St Paul’s Church have become the symbol of Macao and provide a postcard-perfect backdrop at the heart of the city’s historic centre. Built by the Jesuits between 1602 and 1640, St Paul’s was the largest Catholic church in Asia until it was destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835. Today its freestanding faade survives, sitting proudly on a hilltop like a theatre set and intricately carved by Japanese Christians who lived in exile in Macao during the 17th century.

Fortaleza do Monte

This imposing hilltop fortress dates from 1617 and was originally built to protect the Jesuits from invaders and pirates, but was later taken over by the Portuguese administrators to defend the fledgling colony. It remained a military site right up until 1965 when it was converted into a weather observatory and a museum. Today its leafy grounds and battlements provide an excellent viewing point from which to survey the city.

Senado Square

If colonial Hong Kong was a bastion of Britishness in Asia, then Macao’s Senado Square telegraphs a distinctly Portuguese contrast. Its grand buildings are embellished with arched colonnades and the square’s cobbled paving is patterned with sweeping waves in a style familiar in other Portuguese centres like Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro. Its buildings date from between the 16th and 18th centuries, while its name is taken from the Leal Senado, the seat of the Portuguese administration.

The A-Ma Temple

One of the oldest temples in Macao, A-Ma is dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu and is said to have provided the origin of Macao’s name. It dates from 1488 and is located in So Loureno, where the first Portuguese sailors came ashore. When they asked the locals for the name of the location, the sailors were supposedly told “Magok”, meaning the “mother’s pavilion”, which was interpreted as “Macao”. Today this beautiful temple consists of several parts, including the Hall of Benevolence, its oldest section.

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