Macau / It’s just like the Portugal of China!

Macau is somewhere I didn’t really know that much about … just vague thoughts about casinos and thinking that the name sounded a bit like a tropical bird.  So, being just 60 kilometres away in Hong Kong (just one hour on a sea ferry), we took a day out to visit this City of Mystery (that title was invented by me, not the tourist bureau).  Macau is pretty tiny, occupying a peninsula and a small island, and pretty much all city, with no arable land or forests to speak of.

But, I gotta say, those marauding Europeans colonists certainly got around!   Macau was overtaken by the Portuguese in the 16th century and only recently gave it back to the Chinese, part of their Great Colony Offload.   The centre of the city is undeniably European, with historic collonaded buildings, cosy plazas and laneways, lined with the squirly black-and-white mosaic tiling so loved on the Iberian peninsula.  There are loads of cafes, serving good coffee and Portuguese tarts.  The city centre is very well preserved and listed by UNESCO as one of the world’s important heritage cities.

Added to this are the colours and rituals of Chinese life, creating a unique cultural overlap (at least one I hadn’t seen before).   There are lots of great market streets selling all the ususal things – postcards, cheap umbrellas, bubble tea, pork sheets …

And, at the top of the hill, Macau’s most beloved historic site – the aptly titled The Ruins of St Paul’s. 

The church was built in the early days of the Portuguese colony.  The main facade (overlooking the staircase and city centre) has an intricate carving completed in the 1620s by a group of Japanese Christians, living in Macau after being exiled from their home country.  Don’t know about anyone else, but exiled Japanese Christians hadn’t really popped up on my radar before…  The carvings are a mash-up of different influences, with Jesuit and Oriental mythology, including hydras, Japanese characters and the typical biblical heroes.

In the early 19th century, much of the church was destroyed by a fire that broke out during a typhoon.  Residents were hoping for an earthquake as well, just to complete the golden trifecta of disasters, but alas, God was feeling a little lazy.  Only the front facade survived, but it too, came under threat from those worried that one day it would topple over (a very valid concern, all things considered).  Recently, the whole site has been refurbed, with interpretative stuff marking the outline of the original building and a steel structure that braces the last remaining wall. 

From here, you can get a great view over the city – both old and new  quarters – and the people who gather to gawk at the church facade.

 Next to the church is old city fort, again a great vantage point.  From here, Macau looks much more the typical Chinese city – with modern office towers looming over swathes of scrappy residential areas.

This canon seems trained a smart target – the Grand Lisboa casino, a much disliked building in the Macau skyline.  I will attempt my own demolition job of this one in a future post…

Macau was officially handed back to China in 1999 but is operating under a ‘one country-two systems’ policy (similar to Hong Kong) for the next 40 years.  In 2049, it becomes part of China and I imagine that there are strongly held views on which ‘system’ should bend to accommodate the other…  Given the pace of change in this part of the world, 2049 will no doubt be a different world.

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2 Responses to Macau / It’s just like the Portugal of China!

  1. Adina West says:

    The story of the Japanese ‘hidden Christians’ who fled persecution after being converted by early missionaries is actually very interesting. Look up Kakure Kirishitan (隠れキリシタン) on Wikipedia for more info.

    Some beautiful pics of Macau. The Portuguese sections do look very well preserved.

  2. Pingback: My first year in Shangers | That Look Crayzy!

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