- Quick Facts
Area: 23.8 sq km (9 sq mi)
People: 95% Chinese, less than 2% Portuguese
Province: Macau Special Administrative Region
Main Language: Cantonese, Portuguese, English
Telephone Area Code: 853
Macau is one of the two special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China. (Hong Kong is the other.) Macau lies on the western side of the Pearl River Delta across from Hong-Kong which is to the east, bordering Guangdong province to the north and facing the South China Sea to the east and south. The territory’s economy is heavily dependent on gambling and tourism, but also includes manufacturing. Macau is a former Portuguese colony, and is both the first and last European colony in China. Portuguese traders first settled in Macau in the 16th century and subsequently administered the region until the handover on 20 December 1999. The Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration and the Basic Law of Macau stipulate that Macau operates with a high degree of autonomy until at least 2049, fifty years after the transfer. Under the policy of “one country, two systems”, the PRC’s Central People’s Government is responsible for the territory’s defense and foreign affairs, while Macau maintains its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy, and immigration policy.
- Country Facts
February: Lantern Festival.
March: The 400-year-old Catholic festival of Procession of Our Lord of Passion, which travels from São Agostinho to Macau Cathedral.
May: Feast of the Drunken Dragon and Feast of the Bathing of Lord Buddha – dancing dragons and sparkling-clean Buddhas.
June: Spectacular Dragon Boat Festival, held on Nam Van Lakes to the accompaniment of drums.
September: International Fireworks Festival.
November: Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix.
Taipa Village on the southern shore has picture-book charm, unruffled by the overblown development to the north. Grand colonial remains mingle with Portuguese restaurants and Chinese shops, Buddhist temples and tree-lined esplanades. Grab a snapshot of the past at the Taipa House Museum, an evocative re-creation of an early-20th-century colonial home. East of the village, the steep hills leading down to the sea are covered with the Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian graves of the United Chinese Cemetery.
The name Macau is derived from A-Ma-Gau harbor, which in turn is named for A-Ma, the goddess of seafarers. The Portuguese first set foot on Chinese soil in 1513. An official trading arrangement was drawn up in the 1550s. The Portuguese opted to settle on the peninsula, which had frequently offered them safe anchorage, with inner and outer harbors and sheltered islands to the south. A rental arrangement was agreed upon, and in return the Portuguese promised to rid the area of marauding pirates.
The port soon prospered, thanks to its strategic position midway on the lucrative trading route between India’s west coast, Malacca and Japan. Chinese merchants were forbidden on pain of death to go abroad, and they eagerly embraced the opportunity to hire the Portuguese as agents. The wealth generated by Portugal’s monopoly on trade between China and Japan was used to create a home away from home of luxurious European houses and baroque churches.
The Dutch made two serious attacks on Macau in 1607 and 1627. Its golden age came to an abrupt end in the 1630s when Japan was closed to foreign trade. The Dutch took Malacca by force and the port of Guangzhou was closed to the Portuguese. The golden port became an impoverished backwater.
Restrictions regulating the activities of non-Portuguese residents were lifted in the mid-18th century, and Macau temporarily revived as a Chinese outpost for European traders – but only until 1841, when the British came along and took possession of Hong Kong. Macau’s economic woes were forever eased by the introduction of licensed gambling in the 1850s.
Portugal made several moves during the 20th century to divest itself of its Far Eastern territory but China didn’t seem interested, perhaps fearing the resultant loss of foreign trade. When Britain and China signed the Hong Kong Joint Declaration in 1984, however, it was inevitable that China would seek a similar agreement with Portugal. The Sino-Portuguese Pact was signed in March 1987, but the lead-up to the handover on 20 December 1999 wasn’t colored by the uncertainty and panic that occurred in Hong Kong.
Macau is now a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. In accordance with China’s ‘one country, two systems’ formula, it retains a high degree of autonomy in all matters other than defense and foreign affairs, keeping its former laws and economic system for a period of 50 years from the handover. Macau continues to enjoy a casino-led economy. Gambling accounts for a whopping 40% of government revenue, and is the drawcard for a large proportion of Macau’s eight million annual visitors.
Tourism is the other cash cow, and both came under attack in 1997 and ’98 when a Triad war broke out, with groups vying for the profits of chaperoning wealthy gamblers from mainland China. Tourism dropped by 13% as a result. Gang violence has subsided since the handover, but tensions remain between the Chinese police and members of the Falun Gong meditation sect. Gangster activities continue, however, ranging from money laundering, gun running and counterfeiting to organized crime racketeering and loan sharking.
Macau opened a new airport on Taipa Island in December 1995, with high hopes for a tourism-led boom. But the problem is that there are few direct flights from Europe. The airport is one of Asia’s least used. It has direct links to Asian cities like Bangkok, Singapore, Seoul, Taipei and Manila. Mainland China destinations include Beijing, Shanghai, Fuzhou, Dunming and Guilin.
Hong Kong is linked to Macau by more than 150 sea crossings every day, with a choice of jetfoil, turbocat, foilcat or express ferry services. The trip takes just under an hour by jetfoil.
Apart from walking, the best way to get around in Macau is by air-conditioned bus or minibus. Taxis are metered and reasonably priced, but not too many drivers speak English. The touristy three-wheeled pedicabs are more expensive than the taxis. Also, they are slow-moving and restricted to touring the waterfront.
- When to Go
The best time to visit Macau is autumn (October-December), when there’s less humidity and more sunshine. Spring (March-May) isn’t a bad time to visit either. But the worst time to go is January (winter) or June (downpours).
- Explore Attractions
Shenzhen is a major city in the south of Southern China’s Guangdong Province, situated immediately north of Hong Kong. The area became China’s first€”and one of the most successful€”Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Both Chinese and foreign nationals have invested enormous amount of money in the Shenzhen SEZ.
The Venetian Macao
The Venetian Macaois a hotel and casino resort in Macau owned by the Las Vegas Sands corporation. The Venetian is a 40-story, $2.4 billion anchor for the 7 hotels on the Cotai Strip in Macau. The 10,500,000-square-foot (980,000 m2) Venetian Macao is modeled on its sister casino resort – The Venetian in Las Vegas – and is the largest single structure hotel building in Asia, The sixth-largest building in the world by area and the largest casino in the world. It is also home to the second largest Venice in the world, the first being the city of Venice, Italy and the third being The Venetian in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Venetian also boasts the largest number of Filipino gondoleers in the world.
Macau Toweris a tower located in the Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The tower measures 338 m (1,109 ft) in height from ground level to the highest point. An observation deck with panoramic views, restaurants, theaters, shopping malls and the Skywalk X, a thrilling walking tour around the outer rim. It offers the best view of Macau and in recent years has been used for a variety of adventurous activities. At 233 meters, the Macau Tower’s tethered skyjump and Bungee jump from the tower’s outer rim, is the second highest commercial skyjump in the world. The tower is one of the members of the World Federation of Great Towers. Besides being used for observation and entertainment, the tower is also used for telecommunications and broadcasting.
Barrier Gate (Portas do Cerco)
With the new underground passenger terminal, it is now more convenient for locals to travel to Zhuhai. Passengers at the underground bus terminal can reach the Border Gate Square through the linked
escalator, elevator and stair case. 17 bus lines service the bus terminal with clear signboards and indications. Washrooms as well as public phones are also available at the underground bus terminal, while the
taxi station is on the ground floor.
Erected in 1870, the European style Border Gate witnesses the development of Macau. The modernized Border Gate Square with fountains at the centre is surrounded by green plants. The blue tiles at the side walls together with the poem of the Portuguese Poet, Camoes depict the history of Macau.The Border Gate and the Gongbei Checkpoint in Zhuhai open daily from 7:00 a.m. to midnight East
Kun Iam Tong (Avenida do Coronel Mesquita)
This Buddhist temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy was founded in the 13th century and the present buildings date from 1627. It is one of the biggest and wealthiest of Macau’s temples with a huge entrance gate and roofs clustered with porcelain figures. Separated by open courtyards are richly decorated halls dedicated to the Precious
Buddhas, the Buddha of Longevity and Kun Iam, who is dressed in embroiled silk with a fringed crown (which is changed every year).
She is attended by 18 Buddhas on either side of the altar. In adjoining rooms are funeral chapels and scrolls honouring Kun Iam in pictures and calligraphy.
Behind the temple are terraced gardens. In one is the stone table on which was signed the first Sino-American treaty on July 3, 1844, by the Viceroy of Canton Ki Ying and the United States Minister Caleb Cushing. Nearby is the marble statue of a monk in an ornate pavilion,and four ancient banyan trees with branches intertwined which is
known as the Lovers Tree and a symbol of marital fidelity.
In other parts of the garden are fountains shaped like miniature Chinese landscapes, groves of bamboo and small shrines to departed priests. The festival of Kun Iam is celebrated on the 19th day of second,sixth, ninth and 11th moons.
Ruins of St. Paul’s
All that remains of the greatest of Macau’s churches is its magnificent stone facade and grand staircase. The church was built in 1602 adjoining the Jesuit College of St. Paul’s, the first Western college in the Far East where missionaries such as Matteo Ricci and Adam Schall studied Chinese before serving at the Ming Court in Beijing
as astronomers and mathematicians. The church, made of taipa and wood, was brilliantly decorated and furnished, according to early travelers. The facade of carved stone was built in 1620-27 by Japanese Christian exiles and local craftsmen under the direction of Italian Jesuit Carlo Spinola.
After the expulsion of the Jesuits, the college was used as an army barracks and in 1835 a fire started in the kitchens and destroyed the college and the body of the church. The surviving facade rised in 4 colonnaded tiers, and is covered with carvings and statues which eloquently illustrate the early days of the Church in Asia. There are statues of the Virgin and saints, symbols of the Garden of Eden and the Crucifixion, angels and the devil, a Chinese dragon and a Japanese chrysanthemum, a Portuguese sailing ship and pious warnings inscribed in Chinese.
After restoration work, lasting from 1990 to 1995, the back side of the Ruins of St. Paul’s was turned into a museum. The ruins are regarded as the symbol of Macau and now offer visitors a new site where they can view the remains of the former Church of the Mother of God, visit a Crypt where the relics of the Martyrs of Japan and
Vietnam rest, and a museum of Sacred Art where there are exhibits of paintings, sculptures and liturgical objects from churches and monasteries in the City.
Chapel of Our Lady of Penha
The first chapel was founded in 1622 by the crew and passengers of a ship which had narrowly escaped capture by the Dutch. The chapel served as a point of pilgrimage for sailors embarking on a hazardous voyage.The chapel was completely rebuilt, along with the Bishop’ s Palace in 1837.
A-Ma Temple (Barra point)
Macau’s name is derived from A-Ma-Gau or Place of A-Ma and this temple dedicated to the seafarers’ goddess dates from the early 16th century.According to legend, A-Ma, a poor girl looking for passage to Canton,was refused by the wealthy junk owners but a lowly fisherman took her on board. A storm blew up and wrecked all but the boat carrying the girl.
On arrival in Macau she vanished, to reappear as a goddess, on the spot where the fishermen built her temple.It consists of prayer halls, pavilions and courtyards built into the boulder-strewn hill and connected by winding paths through moon gates and tiny gardens. At the entrance is a large rock on which is engraved a traditional sailing junk. On other boulders are carved red characters invoking the gods or repeating a prayer.
Three of the four pavilions are dedicated to A-Ma and contain some fine statues of the goddess together with a model of a junk with cannons, brass vessels and chapels to Buddhist and Taoist gods. The top shrine honours Kun Iam. This temple is distinguished by beautiful tiled roofs and spectacular views from the upper gardens. The
festival of A-Ma takes place on the 23rd day of the 3rd moon (April or May).
Firecrackers, to scare away evil spirits, are exploded in the entrance courtyard to greet tour groups and lions dances are performed here on weekends.
There are jogging tracks, hiking trails and swimming facilities. The most popular activity is gambling, with numerous 24-hour casinos and a choice of baccarat, blackjack, keno and one-arm bandits. You can also bet on the greyhounds at the Canidrome or on the horses at Taipa’s Hippodrome. Macau’s alleys and markets are shoppers’ delights.