Macao culture & heritage
By Julie Baxter | January 2016
Macao packs a lot into its 30 km² - from superb food to vibrant nightlife and dazzling shows, world-class shopping and UNESCO World Heritage-listed architecture. Activities range from walking trails and beaches to visiting giant pandas or the world’s highest bungy jump. With plenty to keep the whole family entertained, it makes a perfect two or three-night addition to a trip to Asia.
“Only 40 miles from Hong Kong, Macao’s Portuguese-Chinese heritage gives it a very different feel to its neighbour. Find out more and sell it as a great add-on”
SUE WHITEHEAD, MACAO GOVERNMENT TOURISM OFFICE
A walk through history
The Portuguese arrived here in the 1500s and their influence can still be seen in everything from the architecture to the festivals and the food. Among the city’s greatest treasures is the beautiful Historic Centre of Macao, a living reflection of Macao’s unique history which is currently celebrating 10 years since it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
This atmospheric part of Macao boasts over 20 buildings and monuments of both Chinese and Portuguese origin, linked by a maze of streets, alleys and picturesque piazzas. Visitors will find Taoist temples, 17th-century fortresses, baroque churches, traditional Chinese homes and courtyards and historic palaces, all within walking distance of each other.
Highlights include the iconic Ruins of St Paul’s (probably Macao’s most famous building) and elegant Senado Square in the heart of the city, but beautiful buildings can be found almost everywhere you turn. Built by Dominican priests in 1587, the grand St Dominic’s Church was the first church constructed in China while the Mandarin’s House was built before 1869 in the traditional Chinese style. Guia Fortress was built in the 17th century to defend Macao from attacks from the sea and is located on the top of Guia Hill, marking the highest point in Macao.
To help visitors trace Macao’s historical significance on a walking tour of the Historic Centre of Macao, visitors can download a free iPhone app, “WH Macao” or take the “Footsteps Into The Historic Centre” walking tour, one of eight self-guided “Step Out, Experience Macao's Communities” walking tour routes.
It’s not just through the architecture that Macao’s unique culture can be experienced. The city’s history has resulted in a melting pot of flavours, giving Macao a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its food. Today, visitors will find an amazingly diverse cuisine scene, from Michelin-starred restaurants with award-winning chefs, to Portuguese coffee shops and sizzling street stalls. Famous local snacks include the creamy Portuguese egg tarts, known as pasteis de nata, and the delicious pork chop bun.
A unique reflection of Macao’s history is the local Macanese fusion cuisine. When the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century they brought food, not only from their home country, but from all their trading stops en-route to Macao, resulting in a cuisine that combines elements of Portuguese, Chinese, Indian, South American, African and South East Asian influences and flavours.
Macanese dishes are packed full of flavours. Fresh seafood is found on most menus alongside chicken, duck and rabbit dishes, while its cultural influences are apparent through its use of spices, such as chilli, turmeric and coconut, which feature heavily in Macanese gastronomy. Dishes are often baked or stewed for long periods of time to allow the flavour of the spices to develop. Popular Macanese dishes include Galinha à Portuguesa – chicken baked with potatoes, onions, saffron and turmeric, and Gambas a Macao, prawns with garlic and white wine.
Events & festivals
Macao hosts a year-round calendar of fascinating and colourful events and festivals that reflect its unique multicultural heritage and traditions.
Chinese festivals include Chinese New Year and the annual International Dragon Boat Racing Championships, as well as lesser-known celebrations such as the Feast of the Drunken Dragon, a wild event which involves fishermen drinking rice wine and dancing with wooden dragons in a procession to commemorate the slaying of a sea dragon.
Portuguese festivals include the Christian 'Senhor dos Passos' procession, when a statue of Christ carrying the cross is carried between Santo Agostinho Church and the Cathedral in a grand procession through the city’s streets, accompanied by the local clergy in full regalia and past crowds of the faithful and curious.
For more information about Macao, visit www.macaotourism.gov.mo
A-Ma Temple: A-Ma Temple already existed before the city of Macao came into being. Today, it is the oldest temple and oldest-surviving building in the city, containing valuable historical artefacts. Built by the Cantonese in the late 1400s, it features a variety of pavilions, each dedicated to the worship of different deities, in a single complex making it an exemplary representation of Chinese culture inspired by Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and multiple folk beliefs. It consists of the Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Prayer Hall, the Hall of Benevolence, the Hall of Guanyin and the Zhenjiao Chanlin.
Ruins of St. Paul’s: The iconic Ruins of St. Paul’s take pride of place in the Historic Centre of Macao. The imposing façade and grand staircase is all that remains of the old Church of Mater Dei. The church was built in 1602 next to St Paul’s College, the first Western college in Asia. In 1835, a fire razed both the college and the church, leaving only the dramatic façade standing in four colonnaded tiers, complete with carvings and statues. The unique architecture of St Paul's Church recalls the style of the European Renaissance and Asian architecture in an intoxicating mix of Chinese and Western elements.
Senado Square: At the heart of the Historic Centre of Macao lies Senado Square, a charming cobbled area with a grand fountain in its centre and surrounded by colourful 19th century buildings. Senado Square has been Macao's urban centre for centuries, and is still the most popular venue for public events and celebrations today. The pastel coloured neo-classical buildings and cobbled black and white stones are a strong reflection of Macao’s Portuguese history whilst its location close to the Kuan Tai Temple provides a clear example of the multicultural dimension of the Macao community.
Rua do Cunha: Rua do Cunha in Taipa Village – known locally as 'Food Street' – is the perfect place to discover Macao’s diverse food scene. This bustling street is packed with shops selling Macao delicacies like almond cakes, egg rolls, peanut candies, roasted sliced meat and other local specialties, as well as restaurants serving Portuguese, Chinese and other dishes, reflecting Macao’s unique multi-cultural heritage.
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