Come with me as I retrace my walk through the historic centre of Macau in this special photographic tour.
(Yes, that’s right – this post has got nothing to do with anime or manga. Pureblood otaku might wish to shield their eyes.)
These pictures have been mellowing on my hard drive for two months, so it’s high time they got an airing. What you’re about to see is just a tiny sample of the literally hundreds of snapshots I took during the day-long walk my brother and I set out on at the start of our brief sojourn in this former Portuguese colony. As an architecture nut and history buff, I quickly filled up my camera’s memory stick with scores of detailed architectural images: colonnades, altars, statues, frescoes, furniture, pavements, inscriptions – pretty much anything but people. My brother had to cajole me into taking a few shots of him (and letting him take a few shots of me) so that we’d come away with some evidence that we were actually there.
I should also mention the fact that the weather was absolutely atrocious during most of our stay. When we were in Hong Kong the day before, it rained from dawn till dusk and the famed harbourside view of the city skyline was so badly obscured by fog that the pictures we took from the Star Ferry are almost not worth printing. Miraculously (and after a night of hard bedside praying), the rains ceased on the very day we had set aside for the walking tour – and dutifully resumed the day after. But rain or no rain, the skies were almost always heavily overcast; hence the generally poor lighting in these pictures.
All right, enough with the preliminaries. Let’s begin.
We start our tour in the very heart of the city: the beautiful Largo do Senado (Senate Square – above). This area is filled with lovingly preserved colonial-era buildings that make it look as if the entire district had been carved out of Lisbon and shipped whole to the East. The Iberian illusion is enhanced by the absence of overt Oriental influences in the architecture (the profusion of signs in Cantonese notwithstanding): everything, from the baroque and neoclassical façades to the Portuguese-style stone pavements, carries a distinctly European flavour.
On your right, you’ll see the General Post Office Building, built in 1931 (above). Note the flag flying at half mast from a pole on the roof. We arrived in Macau a week after the devastating Sichuan earthquake and a three-day period of national mourning was in progress.
A little further down the square is the Santa Casa da Misericórdia (Holy House of Mercy – above). Erected in 1569, it once housed an orphanage and an institution offering various social services. The museum inside is apparently worth visiting, but it was closed at the time so we didn’t get a chance to look around.
On the other side of the square are some brightly-painted examples of classic colonial architecture (above).
Another view of the Largo do Senado, looking south towards Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro and the Leal Senado building (above). We’ll return to the Leal Senado later, but for now let’s do a sharp about-face and carry on towards the end of the square.
Here we have the beautiful baroque façade of the Igreja de São Domingos (Church of St. Dominic – above). The present structure, which dates from the 17th century, stands on the site of a chapel and convent built in the 1590s.
A view of the nave of St. Dominic’s, looking towards the altar (above). Filipinos will find themselves feeling right at home in Macau’s churches, given their own Spanish-influenced ecclesiastical architecture.
A fine wooden confessional inside the church (above).
What, no Latin? 😉
Now let’s walk up Travessa de São Domingos towards the Largo da Sé (Cathedral Square), over which looms Macau’s imposing Cathedral (above).
A view of the Cathedral’s nave, looking towards the altar (above). The architecture is rather plain and vaguely modern, but this is hardly surprising since the church was completely rebuilt in 1937 (although its origins stretch back hundreds of years).
Right next to the Cathedral is this charmingly dignified edifice (above) – the Bishop’s Palace. Note the fine ecclesiastical coat of arms on the pediment. (Quick question: Can anyone identify this as belonging to a particular bishop, or is it a generic shield used by all Bishops of Macau?)
In this city, even the very ground you walk upon is often worthy of a close-up shot. On the Largo da Sé, we can see some fine examples of the beautiful Portuguese mosaic paving found all over the historic centre of Macau (above).
All right, let’s keep going. Down Travessa da Sé, then right on Rua de São Domingos. Keep going along Rua de Pedro Nolasco da Silva – ahh, these wonderful Portuguese street names! – then turn left into Calçada do Monte. Glance to your right and you’ll see the Consulate General of Portugal (above).
Yes, we have to go all the way up that. It’s a long climb – I hope you packed plenty of water.
When we reach Travessa do Artilheiros, turn left and walk up the ramp that leads to the Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora do Monte de São Paulo (Fortress of Our Lady of the Mount of St. Paul) – ahh, Portuguese! – which often goes by the rather less impressive moniker of Fortaleza do Monte (above). For the record, I had nothing to do with the construction works you see in the picture, so hold the comments about how they spoil the shot and all that.
Part of the fort’s formidable defences (above). Built by the Jesuits between 1617 and 1626, the structure occupies a strategic location on top of a hill with excellent views of the city below.
Well, I’m sure the view was a lot better back when they first built this place. For starters, they didn’t have the garish golden monstrosity known as the Grand Lisboa staring back at them (above, centre).
The fort’s main gate (above). Note the fine coat of arms with the Portuguese royal shield set above the entrance.
The obligatory cannon photo (above). Incidentally, on this side of the fort most of the cannons appeared to be pointing directly at the hideous Grand Lisboa tower. (Hmm, now I wish I’d brought some gunpowder and a supply of cannonballs.)
Another view of the city (above), taken from inside the fort. Macau’s most famous landmark is visible in this image – but we’ll get to that later.
Nestled within the lush greenery of the fort is this unassuming little building, which houses the Museu de Macau (Macao Museum – above). It may look small, but it’s actually just the uppermost section of a three-storey structure, most of which is built into the hill itself and therefore “underground” from where we’re standing. In a manner of speaking, the building in the photograph is really just the tip of the iceberg.
Now I realise that the word “museum” has the unfortunate tendency to bore the living daylights out of fun-seeking tourists with little inclination towards cultural attractions, but I can’t emphasise enough how the Museu de Macau deserves top billing on any itinerary. (My brother, for one, has never been much of a museum person but absolutely loved the place.)
Visitors can enter the museum from the foot of the hill (near the ruins of the Church of St. Paul), or, as we did, from the top of the fort. Either way, everyone starts from the same point on the first level. Coming in from the fort, we descend by way of an escalator to the main lobby and purchase our tickets: 15 Macanese patacas (or Hong Kong dollars) for adults, 8 for students. (They’ll honour your student ID even if it’s from a foreign school – at least, they did in my brother’s case.)
From the ticket counter, let’s head right and pass through the doors into the first exhibit.
Here you’ll see a wonderful display comparing various aspects of Eastern and Western civilisation. For example, the section on Western technological achievements (above) . . .
. . . faces a matching display of models and artefacts featuring similar developments in the East (above). It’s an excellent build-up to the theme of “Macau the cultural melting-pot” that ties together the exhibits in this museum.
From here, we proceed towards the main exhibition area.
This hall contains various displays highlighting the blend of Eastern and Western influences that shaped Macanese culture, including models (above) and a number of interactive exhibits that will keep even children entertained. (There was a flock of young students in the museum at the time and they certainly seemed to be having fun.)
One of the highlights of this section is a recreated street scene (above) complete with mock-ups of building façades in various architectural styles. Step through the arches of one of the buildings and you’ll find yourself in a light-and-sound exhibit set up to look like an old dockside scene, complete with full-sized boats floating on water in a tiny representation of Macau’s inner harbour.
Up on the second floor are scores of colourful exhibits showcasing traditional Macanese industries, occupations and traditions/customs. One of the items on display is an interesting model of an old fireworks factory (above) with buildings that light up when buttons on an information panel are pressed. (The panel explains the purpose of each structure within the compound.) There is also a life-sized mock-up of part of an old house, which includes rooms decorated in Chinese and Macanese style fronting a lovely tiled “balcony” that overlooks the main lobby.
The third floor showcases contemporary Macau and currently hosts a 10th-anniversary exhibit titled “Advertências em Tempos de Prosperidade: O Legado de Zheng Guanying” (“Words of Warning in Times of Prosperity: The Legacy of Zheng Guanying”).
All right, time to move on. We descend through a series of escalators and emerge below the fort’s massive supporting walls (above). Following a marked path, we continue westwards and encounter the iconic structure that many consider to be the very symbol of Macau.
My friends, I give you the Ruínas de Igreja de São Paulo (the Ruins of the Church of St. Paul – above). This magnificent stone façade is almost all that remains of the great church that was completed in 1602 by the Jesuits and destroyed by fire in 1835.
Another view of the façade (above). Nearly every sculptural detail – and even the very arrangement of the façade as a whole – has an element of symbolism to it that will require more than this blog post to elaborate on. An excellent light-and-sound exhibit on the second floor of the Museu de Macau offers a detailed explanation that’s worth setting aside a moment of your time for.
The façade, viewed from “inside” (above).
Behind the façade, the footprint of the church survives as a paved area with light fixtures that mark the places where the supporting columns once stood. The area of the sanctuary is set off from the rest by an elevated platform, and there are signs reminding people that even though the church has been almost completely obliterated, this remains holy ground. (For one thing, a number of graves have been uncovered in recent excavations and identified accordingly.) As one who deeply values the sanctity of churches, intact or otherwise, I add my own voice to that reminder: maintain an attitude of respect while you are inside this sacred precinct.
Now, let’s walk behind the sanctuary area and descend a flight of stairs into the remains of the church’s crypt. Note the signs reminding visitors to maintain silence. (Remember: we are walking on holy ground!)
The remnants of the crypt (above), including what has been identified as the tomb of the Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano.
Should you require any further evidence that this is sacred space, look around. Built into the walls are glass-fronted niches holding the remains of Vietnamese and Japanese Christians martyred in the 17th century (above).
Emerging from the crypt, we walk down the nave of the church and pass once more through the open doors of the façade, then descend from the hill by way of the wide stone steps leading down to the Calçada de São Paulo (above). But before we make our way towards the Rua de São Paulo and continue with the walking tour, let’s pause for a well-deserved breather.
CONTINUES IN PART TWO.