See Europe in Asia

See Europe in Asia

OFTEN described as the crossroads of Portugal and China, the charm of the old city of Macau lies in its harmonious blend of Chinese and Western cultural elements.

Ruled by the Portuguese for more than 400 years, Macau was the first colonial outpost in Asia and the last to be relinquished in 1999. After its return to the Chinese, it has been known as Macau Special Administrative Region.

The architectural monuments are a testament to the fusion of Portuguese and Chinese cultures.

With its distinctly European cobblestone city squares, government buildings and ornate cathedrals, you could be walking the streets of a European city.

That is, until you spot the Chinese buildings, temples and monuments, and the numerous ethnic Chinese on the streets (90 per cent of Macau's population is ethnic Chinese).

The best way to soak in the charm of Macau's historic centre is to put on a good pair of walking shoes

and hoof it. The historic monuments and buildings are within walkable distance of each other, which makes the trek doable for travellers young and old.

Temples, churches and squares

Over at Barra Square stands A-Ma Temple - a 15th-century temple that houses pavilions dedicated to different deities.

This ancient place of worship is a veritable representation of how Chinese culture is inspired by different beliefs: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and folk superstitions.

Open from 7am to 6pm, the complex consists of the Gate Pavilion, Memorial Arch, Prayer Hall, Hall of Benevolence, Hall of Guanyin and a Buddhist pavilion.

A stone's throw away stands the Moorish Barracks, erected in 1874 to house an Indian regiment from Goa, to reinforce Macau's police force.

The neo-classical building, which reflects Moghul influences in its architecture, today functions as the headquarters of the Marine and Water Bureau.

On the way to the churches and major squares, you will pass by Lilau Square. While it doesn't look grand, the square played an important role in Macau's history as the main source of natural spring water for the city.

One of the three oldest churches in Macau, St Lawrence's Church is set at the top of the hill with cobblestone roads leading up to it.

The two other equally old churches are St Lazarus' Church and St Anthony's Church.

Originally built by the Jesuits in the mid-16th century, St Lawrence's Church is one of Macau's six Unesco World Heritage churches, and, according to many travel reviews, one of the prettiest.

The Catholic church is situated in what used to be a wealthy neighbourhood, accounting for its scale and architectural grandeur.

The ornamented pillars and exquisite chandeliers of the elegant church interior are one of the highlights of St Lawrence's Church.

Clustered around St Augustine's Square - just farther up from St Lawrence's Church - is St Joseph's Seminary and Church, the Dom Pedro V Theatre and the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library.

The former St Paul's Church (now the Ruins of St Paul's) has a spacious staircase leading to it. The church is known for its elaborate Baroque architecture, which was popular in 19th-century Europe.

Built in 1860, the equally grand and aristocratic Dom Pedro V Theatre nearby was Macau's first Western style theatre.

A culturally significant building in the community, the 300-seater theatre is still a popular venue for performances, celebrations and important public events.

Book lovers will relish a visit to the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library. Originally a residence owned by Dona Carolina Cunha, the building was bought over by businessman Sir Robert Ho Tung in 1918 and presented to the Macau government for conversion to a public library after his death. Several small free exhibitions are hosted here during the year.

The bustling Senado Square will no doubt be one of the highlights on your stroll around Macau's historic centre.

Through the decades, the square has been the heart of the Macanese community. It still bustles with activity, attracting tourists and locals with its many shops, bakeries, small eateries and the like.

While you ought not miss the Ruins of St Paul's, don't forget to explore the surrounding area, where there are many gems of shops and eateries waiting to be discovered.

Being a well-assimilated multicultural society, many elements of East and West can be found beside each other.

One of these is the temple dedicated to Na Tcha (or Nezha), the boy deity in Chinese mythology associated with war, just a hop and a skip away from the Ruins of St Paul.

Another historic gem in Senado Square are the remnants of the old City Walls.

The relics are believed to have been in existence as far back as 1569, a time when it was the practice for the Portuguese to construct fortifications around port settlements.

The Street of Happiness (Rua da Felicidade) is a gorgeous backdrop for photos with its rows of traditional Chinese houses with their red wooden doors and windows. You can literally take a walk down memory lane along this street to visualise what Macau was probably like before the Portuguese established themselves here.

Good to know

How big is Macau?

The Macau Special Administrative Region comprises the Macau Peninsula (9.3 sq km) that is linked to mainland China, as well as the islands Taipa and Coloane.

What is the population size?

The estimated population size is 631,000. More than 90 per cent are ethnic Chinese, the rest are Portuguese, Filipinos and other ethnic mixes.

What is the currency?

The offcial currency is the Pataca (MOP$). S$1 is about MOP$5.70. Hong Kong Dollars are widely accepted in Macau too.

What are the languages spoken?

Mandarin and Portuguese are the official languages, although Cantonese is widely spoken. English is commonly used in trade, tourism and commerce.

How to get there?

Tiger Airways offers daily flights to Macau. No visa is required for Singaporeans staying up to 30 days. You can also travel by ferry from Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Island.

How to move around?

You can walk, take the bus, or flag a taxi to get around. Some of the integrated resorts operate free shuttle buses as well.

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