A player’s paradise in the Nevada desert, the Chinese Special Administrative Region nevertheless manages to attract thousands of tourists from the Asian hinterland to the city’s pompous casino hotels every year. Hong Kong Chinese in particular are drawn to the peninsula, about 65 km away, where gambling was already legalized in the 19th century. Most tourists spend only a few days in Macau and indeed the main motivation for many visitors might be gambling, but travellers should not overlook that the city still has some attractions to offer despite its manageable size. The traces left by the Portuguese after the handover of the peninsula are especially interesting. Imposing colonial buildings and ruins of old cathedrals are today in stark contrast to the modern hotel complexes that have been built on the island by American investors since the beginning of the 20th century.
Besides the modern entertainment possibilities and the cultural and historical sights of the city, it is above all the Macanesian cuisine that fascinates many holidaymakers. The melange of Portuguese and Chinese influences has created a cuisine that makes the mouth water for most tourists.
Those who really want to get to know the city should in any case take at least 3 or 4 days in order to be able to take advantage of the contrasting offer of Macau.
The Chinese special administrative zone accommodates approximately 580,000 inhabitants on an area of almost 30 km². The social and economic centre of the city is the Peninsula de Macau. Due to its colonial past, almost 15% of the population belongs to Christianity, which means that Macau also celebrates holidays such as Easter or Christmas.
Districts and places of interest
- The Macau Special Administrative Region is divided into three separate districts.
- The economic and social centre is the Peninsula de Macau, which borders mainland China to the north.
- To the south lie the islands of Taipa and Coloane, which are connected by the Cotai district, created by land reclamation.
- The south and north of Macau are connected by the Macau-Taipa Bridge and the Friendship Bridge.
A large part of the sightseeings of the special administrative zone are located on the Macau Peninsula. The ruins of the Church of St. Paul are certainly one of the city’s greatest attractions. Built in the early 17th century, this Jesuit church was once the largest monument of Christian faith in Asia and is still a pilgrimage site for Christians from the region. Church of St. Paul is at least as popular with holidaymakers and visitors of other faiths. The church, of which only the front remains, lies a little above the roofs of the city and must first be climbed up a staircase, which gives it both an impressive and slightly surreal impression. Since 2005, the remains of the church, as part of the historical centre of Macau, have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Fortaleza do Monte is not far away from the Church of St. Paul. A military complex built by the Portuguese to protect the Jesuits and their property in Macau.
Near Largo do Senado, which is already worth a visit, is the former government building of Macau, which was used during the Portuguese colonial rule. In the meantime, however, the sight of the “Leal Senado” is clouded by unsightly high-rise buildings of the 20th century. This building also belongs to the UNESCO world cultural heritage.
In the south of the Peninsula Macau, one finds the A-Ma Temple in the Rua de Sao that honours the goddess Tin Hau. The A-Ma Temple is not only the oldest temple of the city but also the most impressive.
In the southwest of the Peninsula lies the Macau Tower at Largo de Torre de Macau. With 338 m the tower is the highest building in Macau and offers in its interior different restaurants and shops. In the lower part, one finds the Macau Convention & Entertainment Centre. In addition, the tower accommodates various restaurants and cafes as well as viewing platforms on the 58th and 61st floor. Daring holidaymakers can climb the almost 100m high mast and enjoy the breathtaking view for around 150 euros.
Taipa Village Macau
Taipa lies south of the Macau Peninsula and can be reached via the Macau-Taipa Bridge and the Friendship Bridge. The top attraction of the island is certainly Taipa Village, a village that houses numerous temples and colonial buildings as well as some nice restaurants and shops, but also museums. Especially recommendable is the Pou Tai temple in 5 Estrada Lou Lim Ieok, the largest temple complex of the city.
Besides the historic center of the city on the Macau Peninsula, Taipa Village is certainly the first port of call for vacationers who want to learn a little more about the culture of the former colony.
Coloane Village Macau
South of Taipa lies Coloane. A highlight here is the Coloane Village, a still sleepy fishing village that represents the original side of Macau. The market and the different temples allow a good insight into the initially simple life in Taipa and almost looks like an alternative to Taipa Village, which meanwhile attracts a lot of tourists.
Also worth a visit is the chapel of St. Francis Xavier in the Avenida de Cinco de Outubro. Architecturally less interesting, the chapel can impress with its colourful exterior and the appealing paintings inside.
Opium and gambling
After the small peninsula was opened to the Chinese in 1793, the opium trade flourished here too. Within a very short time, the port became one of the most important drug trading centres in the region. After the First Opium War brought Hong Kong to the British Crown, Portugal tried to maintain its influence on Macao. Three years later, due to weak trade, gambling was legalised and the first gambling halls were built. In the following years Hong Kong Chinese increasingly visited the small peninsula to devote themselves to gambling, which was forbidden in Hong Kong, which in turn strengthened Macao’s gross domestic product.
During the mid-19th century, the Portuguese first tried to gain sole control of Macao and declared the area independent of China. After a series of minor battles and uprisings, the Portuguese were promised full sovereignty over the territory in the 1887 Lisbon Protocol and a Trade and Friendship Treaty signed in 1888. However, China never ratified the agreement.
During the Second World War, Macao remained largely unnoticed, as the Japanese recognised Portuguese neutrality. This led to a considerable flow of refugees from Hong Kong and mainland China to the small peninsula.
After the Communists seized power in China in 1949, they tried to regain their influence in Macau, but without much success. In 1966 and 1967, political unrest broke out again on the Macao Peninsula. It was not until 1979 that the People’s Republic of China and Portugal resumed diplomatic relations. In 1987 both parties finally agreed to hand over the peninsula as a special administrative zone to the People’s Republic of China on 20 December 1999. Like Hong Kong, Macao was henceforth run under the motto “one country, two systems”. Apart from its defence and foreign policy, which are the responsibility of Beijing, the country enjoys extensive autonomy. Since the fall of the gambling monopoly in 2002, the Special Administrative Zone has flourished and is now considered the Las Vegas of Asia. US corporations in particular have been investing in the construction of new casinos and hotels for years, attracting countless visitors, especially from Hong Kong, to the small peninsula in the mouth delta of the Pearl River.