Macau: Last Colony of the East

As you step off the Cotai Jet onto the Taipa ferry terminal in Macau, signs to the main terminal and exits are displayed in four languages – Mandarin, Cantonese, English and Portuguese – the first signs of this peninsula’s Portuguese heritage.

Passengers at the Taipa Ferry Terminal from Macau are guided by signs in multiple languages
Cotai Water Jet ferry services ply the route between HongKong and Macau

The Portuguese settled in Macau in the late 1500’s when the Ming Dynasty leased it to Portugal as a trading port and subsequently in 1887, it became a Portuguese colony following a mutual agreement between the two countries.

Prior to that it was home to a community of fishermen and boat people . The 15th century temple dedicated to sea goddesses Mazu in Sao Lourenco is indicative of this.

The A-Ma temple in Sao Lourenco is dedicated to the sea godess Mazu

Macau is the last European colony of the east, having been transferred back from Portugal to the Chinese administration less than two decades ago – on Dec 20, 1999.

Macau therefore ushered in the new millennium as a Special Administrative Region and will operate as an autonomous region for the following 50-years until 2049.

View of the Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino from the Ruins of St Paul in Macau
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Vegas of the East: The glitzy Cotai Strip is abuzz especially at night

While, Macau has built it’s reputation as the Vegas of the east with it’s glitzy casino strip, posh hotels and swanky shopping centers, there are quiet nooks and crannies in this city that offer some respite from the more flamboyant and extravagant parts.

The Portuguese influence can still be seen in the quaint and colorful old houses, churches, administrative buildings, cobblestone streets, and traditional Portuguese style tiles, and fountains in parks and squares around the city.

Cobblestone streets connect a large section of the older parts of Macau
Ornamental Fountains: Some of the architectural features left behind by Portuguese colonists
Ornamental fountains like this can be seen in various parts of Macau
Portuguese pavement in the heritage quarter of the city – Sao Lourenco

Other than the older, heritage parts of Macau in the Freguesias zone where the parishes or districts are located, there is also a new Urban Zone. This is where most of the swanky hotels and shopping areas are centered.

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The Venetian along Cotai Strip at night
Shopping area in the Venetian makes one feel they are strolling along the waterways of Venice
A replica of the Eiffel Tower outside the Parisian – Cotai Strip

However, there are still pockets of heritage sites that have been preserved in this zone too – like the Taipa Houses in Taipa Village in the older part of Macau.

Taipa Houses

These homes, once the dwelling place of affluent Portuguese families have been refurbished and converted into a museum that gives visitors a peek into the lives, tastes, deco and practices of colonial families who lived here.

An old gramophone in one of the Taipa houses
Bedroom of a Taipa home
Altar in a typical Portuguese home
A smaller altar in one of the rooms of a Taipa house
Interior of a Taipa house
The dining area of a Taipa house

The Taipa houses built in the early 1920s used  to overlook the sea until land reclamation for the Cotai Strip left it with a lake and small green area which overlooks the casino strip.

A walk further down the road leads to the Our Lady of Carmel Church and an assortment of colourful houses and shops along cobblestone streets – one of the best places in Macau to find delicious Portuguese cuisine.

Portuguese egg tart and variants of it can be found all over Macau
Intricate designs and architecture of old Portuguese dwellings in Macau

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Taipa
The facade of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Macau
Cobblestone street along the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Taipa
One of the many heritage building in and around Taipa Village
The Taipa Houses used to overlook the sea – now a lake after land reclamation.
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A lake and view of the Cotai strip has replaced views of the sea from Taipa houses after land reclamation.
A altar in a typical Portuguese home
Interior of a Taipa House
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Antique furniture in a Taipa home
Exterior of a Taipa House
Exterior: Taipa House

 

Exterior: Taipa House

Macau is mesmerising simply because it makes you feel like you are travelling through time at every corner you turn.

One minute, you’re a local fishermen rowing in on your boat to the fishing village along the shore, then you’re a 15th century sailor or missionary strolling through a narrow alleyway and cobblestone street, stopping to drink at the gurgling fountain and watch merchant ships sailing in, and then you turn a corner and lo and behold, you’re back in the 21st century – complete with glitzy hotels, flashy cars and neon signs.

That seems to be the appeal of this last colony of the east – for me at least.

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