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Saturday March 20, 2010

Going back in time

Explore Macau’s rich heritage through the territory’s historical buildings and museums.

From as early as the 16th century, Macau acted as a gateway to the East for Western traders, mainly from Portugal, England and other parts of Europe. With the influx of people from varied nationalities converging in Macau came different cultures, religions and traditions. All these have, in turn, come together to create the Macau of today — a richly historical city with an eclectic mix of East and West, old and new.

There’s no better way to soak up Macau’s colourful history than to explore its swathe of atmospheric landmarks and museums. With many of its gorgeous colonial buildings clustered on the mainland, in what is considered the historic centre of Macau, all you need to do is set aside a day or two of your vacation, put on some comfy walking shoes and head outside for a taste of historic Macau.

Dom Pedro V Theatre.

Dom Pedro V Theatre

The first Western-style theatre in the Far East and also the first Asian theatre to hold a performance of Puccini’s famous opera Madame Butterfly. The theatre boasts a neo-classical facade and is luxuriously decorated on the inside with glittering chandeliers and sweeping red velvet curtains. Today, it is a luxurious venue for plays and concerts with a pretty garden outside.

Off St Augustine’s Square, Largo de Santo Agostinho, opening hours (Gardens): 10am to 11 pm, tel: (853) 8399 6699. The theatre is temporarily closed.

Ruins of St Paul’s

Probably one of the most iconic sights of Macau is the facade of the Church of Mater Dei, which was built in the early 17th century. The church was part of St Paul’s College, the first Western-style university in the East which stood adjacent to the church. At the time the Church was considered the largest Catholic Church in Asia, but everything was destroyed in a fire in 1835, leaving the ruins seen today.

Climb up the 66-step stairway to the ruins. We recommend stopping midway up the stairs to pose for a picture.

This is probably one of the most photographed sites in the whole of Macau, popular for everything from wedding photos to graduation pictures. And it s no wonder why — with only the facade of the church standing, it seems to rise up into the air like magic, a witness to Macau’s unique history.

When you reach the ruins, head to the steel staircase behind it and climb one storey up to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the historic area of Macau.

Rua de Sao Paulo, opening hours: 9am to 6pm.

A-Ma Temple

A-Ma Temple

The A-Ma Temple is said to be even older than Macau itself, built before the city of Macau was established. Legend has it that when the first Portuguese settlers arrived in Macau and asked for the name of the place, they were told the name of the temple instead, “A-Ma-Gau”, which is where the city gets its name.

The temple is dedicated to A-Ma, also known as Ma Tzu, who is said to keep fishermen and others who make a living on the waters, safe. Today, visitors offer prayers to the various gods who are worshipped there: the Goddess of Mercy, Empress of Heaven and God of the Earth for good luck, health and blessings.

Right in front of the A-Ma Temple is Barra Square, paved in traditional Portuguese mosaic tiles in a wavy design that mirrors the flow of the river just beside the square.

Across the square is the Macau Maritime Museum; head up the path from the square and you will come to the traditional colonial Moorish Barracks.

Barra Square, opening hours: 7am to 6pm. It’s located near the Ruins of St Paul’s, opening hours: 8am to 5pm.

Mount mortress and the Museum of Macau

Situated on the hill, to the right of the Ruins of St Paul’s, is Mount Fortress, which was built by the Jesuits at the same time that the Church of Mater Dei was built.

Mount Fortress

The Fortress was built to defend the city and it proved effective in keeping Dutch invaders out in the mid-17th century.

Today the walls of the forts and its cannons are surrounded by a lush and tranquil garden, and makes for a fabulous spot to enjoy a view of the city.

Sit back in the shade of the trees if you need a rest from all the walking through the city and plan your route to the next destination or if you are looking for a quiet spot to digest all you’ve seen on your trip.

Nearby is another must-visit — the Museum of Macau which showcases life in Macau over four centuries, spanning its art and architecture, faith and festivals. Walk through the museum and experience the colourful history of the city.

Admission fees for the Museum of Macau, adult: MOP15 (RM6), free on every 15th of the month, opening hours: 10am to 6pm, closed on Monday. Mount Fortress (Fortress and Garden), 7am to 7pm, admission free, tel: (853) 2835 7911 or visit www.macaumuseum.gov.mo

Guia Fortress and Lighthouse

High up on the peak of Guia Hill, the largest of Macau’s seven hills, the Guia Fortress has stood proudly since 1622, when it was built to protect the city from attacks from the sea.

St Dominic’s Church

You can climb through the network of four underground tunnels located under the fortress, which were created as air raid shelters. Located within the compound is the Guia Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Guia. The Chapel’s bells also rang out storm warnings in earlier days.

Next to the chapel is the Guia Lighthouse which has helped to guide hundreds of ships safely into Macau’s harbour. Built in 1864, the light from this 91m tall lighthouse can be seen from as far away as 32km out at sea in clear weather. Though the lighthouse is not open to the public, it still makes a wonderful backdrop for photos.

Address: Estrada do Engenheiro Trigo, opening hours (Our Lady of Guia chapel): 10am to 5pm daily. Opening hours for the Fortress: 9am to 5.30pm daily. Guia Lighthouse is only open to the public on designated days, tel: (853) 2859 5481 for enquiries.

St Dominic’s Church

St Dominic’s Church is a fine example of traditional baroque architecture, and the site where the first Portuguese newspaper in China was printed.

The church was founded in 1587 by Spanish priests from Mexico, and has a beautiful baroque altar along with an intricately decorated wooden ceiling — both stunning sights to behold. Tucked into the church’s bell tower is a museum with over 300 religious artefacts.

Services are still held in the church, which is the starting point of The Procession of Our Lady of Fatima where Catholic women dressed in white carry an image of Our Lady of Fatima from St Dominic’s Church to the Chapel of Our Lady of Penha.

Taipa Houses-Museum

Once a popular area for Macanese families, the traditional houses that line the Taipa Praia waterfront were built in 1921, and have now been converted into the Taipa Houses Museum.

Each house has a different theme, bringing visitors back to affluent colonial times to experience the lifestyles of Macanese, British and Portuguese traders in Macau.

The Macanese House gives visitors an insight into the rich heritage of the Macanese, while the House of the Islands traces the development of Taipa and Coloane Islands.

The Museum of Taipa

For us, what was most enjoyable is the walk along the quiet, serene tree-lined boulevard that runs in front of the houses, offering picturesque views of the sea — a favourite spot for wedding photoshoots.

Avenida da Praia, Taipa, opening hours: 10am to 6pm, closed on Monday. Admission fees — adult: MOP5 (RM2), student ID holder: MOP2 (RM1). Free admission on Tuesday and for children under 12 and senior citizens over 65 years old, tel: (853) 2882 7103 or visit www.iacm.gov.mo/museum.

Grand Prix Museum

Every November for the past 56 years, crowds of motor-racing enthusiasts have converged on Macau for the Formula 3 Grand Prix. The Grand Prix Museum pays homage to what is arguably Macau’s most exciting annual event. Exhibits at the museum include information on how the Macau Grand Prix came about, and cars and motorbikes that have raced and won at the races.

Some of the cars have been driven by legendary drivers like the late Ayrton Senna, David Coulthard and even Michael Schumacher before he made his name in Formula 1.

There is also a model of the Macau Grand Prix track, which loops through the city, and simulator rides where you can experience the thrills of speeding at 200km/h.

Rua Luis Gonzaga Gomes, Tourism Activities Centre, opening hours: 10am to 6pm, closed on Tuesday. Admission fees — Adult: MOP10 (RM4), child: MOP5 (RM2), free admission for children under 10 years old, tel: (853) 7984 4108.

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