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Step out and discover Macau

Footsteps into the Historical Centre walk explore Macau's rich history

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 9:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 June, 2015, 9:49am

Macau has seized global attention for its huge integrated resorts in the reclaimed Cotai area, but it is also known for its history as a Portuguese enclave in China from 1557 to 1999, a period that has left behind graceful architecture and cobblestone lanes. Whether you are a first-time visitor or a regular, one route that never gets old is exploring the Historic Centre of Macau.

A great place to start is the city’s most famous site: Largo Senado. This square, flanked by pastel neoclassical buildings and paved with cobblestones, was the urban centre of Macau centuries ago, and its most famous building is the Leal Senado Building. First built at the end of the 16th century, it became the city’s first municipal chamber, a function it has maintained to this day. It has also served as a post office, health centre and judicial facility, and today you will find a museum and a gracefully preserved library styled on the one at Mafra Convent in Portugal. Find stone inscriptions and wall carvings documenting stories of its past and a Portuguese courtyard garden in the back.

Next to the square is the General Post Office Building, built in 1929 and once the home of local charity Tung Sin Tong, which was established to offer free medical and social services to the disenfranchised. To learn more about its good work that continues today, find Tung Sin Tong Historical Archive Exhibition Hall at the intersection of Rua de Camilo Pessanha. Shops that once produced opium pipes here offer handicrafts nowadays.

If you walk away from the main road and head further up Largo Senado find St Dominic's Church, the first church in China by the Dominican Order from Spain, built in 1587. Originally a wooden structure, the beautiful terracotta-coloured building was a work of the 17th century. The three-storey bell tower on the right side houses the Treasure of Sacred Art, a collection of around 300 relics and artefacts. The Procession of Our Lady of Fátima uses this holy landmark as the starting point each year on May 13, and wraps up with an outdoor mass at Penha Chapel on a hill to the south overlooking Sai Van Lake.

Walk back down towards Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro and you will find a market and Sam Kai Vui Kun, better known as Kuan Tai Temple, which is a place to worship the Chinese Saint of War and Righteousness. Scholars believe this holy house was built during Emperor Qianlong’s rule (1735–1796) in the Qing dynasty. The temple used to be where Chinese merchants would gather. Now it is purely a shrine. On the eighth day of the fourth month in the Chinese calendar, you may want to visit here for the Feast of the Drunken Dragon, watch traditional drunken dance performances and taste “lucky rice”.

Walk along Almeida Ribeiro again, towards the northwest, and you will find the Tak Seng On Pawnshop Museum, a historical site preserved so that visitors can learn about traditional pawn shops in the old days. It received a commendation at the 2004 Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation.

From here you can find Travessa do Mastro. Then turn left and go for two blocks and you will find Rua da Felicidade, also known as Happiness Street because of its past as Macau’s red-light district. The buildings from which the joyful business was conducted have been preserved, but today, the pleasure you will derive from a visit is more likely to come from the restaurants.

Keep walking northwest on Almeida Ribeiro until you find Rua das Lorchas, the waterfront of Inner Harbour. Turn left and walk until you see Praça de Ponte e Horta, a former opium house. The 19th century building was turned into a crucible factory after opium was banned in 1946 and it is now where Tong Sin Tong provides Chinese acupuncture and western medical services to the public.

A walk like this shows you how in the old days, Portuguese expatriates and Chinese locals lived side-by-side in harmony, each maintaining their own way of life. That spirit continues today.

The Historical Centre also offers open spaces for street performances and entertainment. Families with children may want to check out magic shows and balloon twisting at 11am to noon and 3.30pm to 4.30pm, at Senado Square every Saturday and Sunday. At Largo do Pagode do Bazar, a public square in front of Hong Kung Temple, street dance is on at 3pm to 3.30pm and lion dance at 4pm to 4.20pm on Saturdays, and Portuguese folk dance at 11am to 11.30am every Sunday. Also on Sundays, at 4pm to 4.30pm, is the drunken dragon dance or Chinese martial arts performed at Friendship Square (Praca da Amizade), half a block away from Grand Lisboa.

For more information on Footsteps into the Historical Centre walk - part of the Step Out, Experience Macau’s Communities series, visit