The ‘Las Vegas’ of Asia: Macau

The ‘Las Vegas’ of Asia: Macau
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Macau is the first European settlement in the Far East. It was colonized in the 16th century by the Portuguese, during the great reign of Portuguese exploration initiated by Prince Henry the Navigator.

The Portuguese used Macau as a staging port and as a base for introducing Christianity to China and Japan. Other European countries conspired to grab Macau from Portugal, the Dutch tried to conquer Macau in 1622 but unsuccessful. The Portuguese administrated for over 400 years before Macau was returned to China as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China on December 20, 1999. Chinese and Portuguese are the official languages of Macau.

The early churches were constructed of wood and matting. In the mid-17th century, plaster and stone were used in the construction of these buildings. Nearby the famous Ruins of St Paul’s, various churches, squares and religious buildings constructed by the Portuguese are still standing throughout the city and are listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Macau.

The Historic Center of Macau has a concentrated collection of Asian and Western style buildings in the downtown area. These buildings display a great combination of Chinese and Western styles which is a result of over 400 years of cultural exchanges between the Chinese and the Western world. Here different religions from Catholicism, Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism and Matsu coexist up to the present day.



  • A-Ma (Mazu) Temple

This temple is dedicated to the seafarers’ goddess which dates back to the 15th century. In fables, there is a poor girl named A-Ma who wanted to go Canton but was turned away by wealthy junk owners. A humble fisherman offered her to take on board. A strong storm destroyed everything but the little boat that was carrying the poor girl. When they arrived at Macau, the girl was disappeared but later emersion as a goddess. The fishermen built a temple for the goddess there.

Also known as Barra Temple, A-Ma temple is a short distance away from the city center. It is the oldest temple in Macau and existed before the city of Macau came into existence. It was built in 1488, consisting some prayer halls, pavilions, and courtyards. A large rock at the entrance of the temple displays an engraved traditional sailing junk.


  • The Moorish Barracks

This Moorish inspired building was designed in 1871 by the Italian architect Cassuto to accommodate about 200 Indian policemen from Goa who was sent to Macau by the Portuguese. This monument is now used by the Maritime Authorities in Macau.

  • Mandarin’s House

The owner of this large multi-room complex was Zheng Guanyin who was a renaissance man, philosopher, politician, a merchant, and a writer. The Mandarin House resembles a typical Chinese housing in the 19th century but it has some Western conveniences included in parts of the building.

  • St Joseph Seminary and Church

This beautiful church was opened in 1758 as part of the Jesuit seminary of St. Joseph. Often used as a venue for concerts because of its fine acoustics. The church constitutes a cruciform shape with high domed ceilings. An ancient well and a plant nursery outside the church.

  • Dom Pedro Theatre

The Dom Pedro Theater was named after the Portuguese King Pedro V. The designing of this pastel green building was done by Pedro Marques in 1858, which includes an auditorium, a restaurant, a bar and a pool room. It was built to provide entertainment for the Portuguese population. With seating the capacity of 350, it is believed to be one of the oldest western-style theaters in Asia.

  • Sir Robert Ho Tung Library

This public library located at St Augustine’s Square is the biggest library in Macau. The library was built in 1894 and was owned by Dona Carolina Cunha. Sir Robert Ho Tung bought the building in 1918 and used it as a private residence between 1941 to 1945. In 1955, after his death, the government converted the building into a public library which was officially opened in 1958.

  • Leal Senado (Loyal Senate) Building

The Leal Senado building was built in the late 18th century and later reconstructed in 1876 in neoclassical style. Now used by the Instituto para os Assuntos Cívicos e Municipais (Institute of Civic & Municipal Affairs). A Grand Hall, conference room, chapel, cultural affairs library and gallery for cultural events, are situated there. An inner courtyard and a garden within the building are also situated there along with.

  • Santa Casa da Misericordia (Holy House of Mercy)

The Holy House of Mercy is a neoclassical white building in Senado Square that was established in 1569 on the orders of the Bishop of Macau. A charitable organization and which provided charitable assistance to the community including a refuge for prostitutes. This organization sold the first lottery ticket for charity in Macau. It is now converted to a small museum showcasing the society’s charitable cause, includes the skull of Dorn Belchior Carneiro, its founder.

  • Lau Kau Mansion

Like the Mandarin House, the Lau Kau Mansion is a typical Chinese house with the influence of Western designs in the interiors. Another interesting feature of this two-story gray brick mansion is that it has symmetrical designs. Here two courtyards separating three main halls of the building.

  • St Lawrence’s Church

St. Lawrence’s Church was built in the 1560’s, which later on replaced by Taipa in 1618 and finally reconstructed in stone in 1801-1803. It was painted in cream and white colors. There are two towers, one of the towers was once an ecclesiastic prison. If you look at the interior of the church, it is very well decorated with ornamental pillars and chandeliers hanging from the turquoise ceiling. The beams are painted in white and golden colors.

  • St Augustine’s Church

St Augustine’s Church was built by Spanish Augustinians originally of the Baroque style in 1591. The main entrance of the church has two pairs of Doric granite columns and the windows are of simple white relief plasterwork. However, the interior has extravagant decorations.

  • Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple

Located on the site of the old Macao bazaar Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple was originally a guild house of the Sam Kai (Three Streets) Association established between 1723 and 1795. This temple was the venue of meetings for merchants and the surrounding area was used as a center of trading for the Chinese community. This temple remains an important place of worship even after the decline of the old market.

  • St Dominic’s Church

The church was built in 1587 by Spanish Dominican priests. The most beautiful churches of Macau, situated in the middle of Leal Senado Plaza and the specialty is its yellow and green colored paint.

  • Ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral

These ruins attract the most number of tourists who visit Macau and is Macau’s most famous monument. This Cathedral of Saint Paul with its spectacular facade and intricate carvings was a 16th-century cathedral built from 1582 to 1602 and dedicated to Saint Paul. At the time period, it was the largest Christian church in Asia. This was destroyed by fire in 1835. Here 66 stone steps leading up to the facade.

  • Na Tcha Chinese Temple

The Na Tcha Temple is a small building built with simple materials in 1888. It was built to contamination of the plague that was rampaging at that time. This monument is situated near the Ruins of St Paul. This temple was dedicated to Na Cha who was a child god and patron of children.

  • The Old City Walls

A couple of feet away from Na Tcha Temple is the old city walls which were built to defend the city. Only some small walls remain there.

  • Old Protestant Cemetery

Prior to 1821, Macau authorities did not allow the burial of Protestants or foreigners within its city walls. This memorial was established by the British East India Company in 1821 to resolve the issue. And then the cemetery was closed in 1858.

  • St Anthony’s Church

The first church of Macau is said to be St Anthony’s Church. It was originally built in the year 1588 but this was renovated in 1930 in its existing form.

  • The Mount Fortress

Mount Fortress was started to construct by the Jesuits in 1617 and was completed in 1626. It is situated nearby the Ruins of St Paul’s Church and was used as a principal military facility which also included a college.

  • Camoes Garden and Grotto

Next to St Anthony’s Church and the Protestant Cemetery is the Camoes Garden and Grotto. Named after a Portuguese poet who was banished to Macau.

  • Guia Fortress and Lighthouse

The Guia Fortress was built between 1622 to 1638 on Guia Hill which is the highest point in Macau. You could have a great sight of whole the city and be designed to defend Macau from attacks from the sea. It is very well equipped with ammunition depots, sentry posts, and watchtowers. The most conspicuous feature of this fortress is the lighthouse which stands 15 meters high and its light can be seen for miles in fine weather.

The Guia Chapel is located near the Guia Fortress. It has a statue of the Virgin Mary and a painting of St. John the Baptist. This chapel is totally dedicated to Our Lady of the Snow.

  • Macau Cathedral

The Macau Cathedral was built in 1576 of a wooden structure. It was renovated in 1849 but was destroyed in a typhoon some years later. The existing structure was rebuilt in 1937.

  • St Francis Xavier in Coloane

Painted in cream and white colors, this small chapel was built in 1928 in the small village of Coloane. The main attraction is its classical oval windows and a bell tower. It has the most sacred relics of Christian Asia is housed in this small chapel. An arm bone of St Francis Xavier is stored in a silver reliquary here. This relic was initially destined for Japan was kept at St Paul’s, and then carried to St Joseph’s and finally to this chapel in 1978.

  • Penha Church

This chapel was erected in 1622 by the crew and passengers of a ship which escaped from the Dutch pirates and finally settled in Macau.

  • St Domingo’s Church

St Domingo’s Church is also known as Igreja de São Domingos in Portuguese. It is located nearby the Senado Square in the city center. The church was originally constructed with wood and established in 1587 by Dominican priests from Acapulco in Mexico. The name for this church in the Chinese language is “Pan Cheong Tong” which means “Wooden Planks Church”.



You could have more information on Macau’s rich cultural and historical past a look at various museums:

  • Natural and Agrarian Museum
  • Grand Prix Museum
  • Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt
  • Museum of the Holy House of Mercy
  • Heritage Exhibition of a Traditional Pawnshop Business
  • Fire Services Museum
  • Maritime Museum
  • Communications Museum of Macao
  • Museum of Taipa and Coloane History
  • Wine Museum
  • Treasury of Sacred Art
  • Handover Gifts Museum of Macao
  • Lin Zexu Memorial Museum of Macao
  • Museum of the Macao Security Forces
  • Macao Science Center
  • Macao Tea Culture House
  • Sun Iat Sen Memorial House in Macau
  • Macao Museum
  • Macao Museum of Art
  • The Taipa Houses – Museum


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