Walking is the best way to get to know any city, and Macau — the former Portuguese colony returned to China in 1999 — is made for walking. Only seven miles square, one can easily walk from the Border Gate to the A-Ma Temple at the tip of Macau in a day.
Todd Crowell’s guidebook Explore Macau describes eight routes around the urban peninsula and its outlying islands, sufficient to explore and understand this fascinating old city and its unique blend of European and Asian architecture, cuisine and cultures. Here we excerpt one of Todd’s guided walks. Click the map to see at larger size.
Walk No. 3: From Lilau Square to Barra Point
Route: Down Rua George Chinnery to Lilau Square, continuing on down Calçada da Barra to the A-Ma Temple, then around Barra Point to Avenida da Praia Grande.
Chief Points of Interest: Lilau Square, Mandarin House, Moorish Barracks, A-Ma Temple, Macau Maritime Museum, Penha Hill, Santa Sancha Palace and the former Bela Vista Hotel.
The name Rua George Chinnery (1) just behind St. Lawrence’s Church enshrines the memory of the 19th-century British artist who lived near here and whose ink drawings and paintings form the main impressions of Macau as it must have looked more than 100 years ago. The artist actually rented rooms (now gone) on the neighboring Rua Ignacio Baptista, which was close to some of his favorite subjects: St. Lawrence’s Church and the Chapel of St. Joseph Seminary. Of course to see Chinnery’s most famous scenery one needs to go down to the Praia Grande although you will have to use your imagination to screen out the reclamation. To plunge into this neighborhood is a little like stepping back into old Macau, a town of narrow streets, hidden nooks and patios and the sounds of hawkers.
Stroll down this short street to the end and turn left. On one side is the Patio da Ilusao, or Illusion Courtyard, hidden behind a typical Portuguese gateway. Cut through Rua Alleluia to Lilau Square (2), the quiet heart of the old Macanese community, built around a fountain. This neighborhood shows the results of considerable attention by the cultural affairs department. The late 19th-century residences on all sides of the small square have been restored in bright pinks, greens and yellows and decorated with black gas lanterns. It is worth pausing for a coffee or cold drink from a kiosk in the square under the shade of a huge banyan tree. The fountain that originally stood in the square was dismantled in the 1940s. The government has reconstructed a replacement water fountain in one end of the square, a large square granite block, which seems incongruously modern in the setting. An old folk poem recalls:
Who drinks the waters of Lilau
Will never forget Macau
He either marries here in Macau
Or else returns to Macau
Just behind the square, down Travessa Antonio Silva, is a building which once represented the height of Chinese residential architecture in Macau. It is based on the design of the home of a senior official of Imperial China, hence the name Mandarin House (3). The sprawling complex with nine apartments was built in 1881 by Zheng Guan Ying (1842-1922), a notable official and writer (Sun Yat-sen is said to have admired his critique of bureaucratic decay, The Jeopardy of Civilization, written in the Mandarin House). It has been all but abandoned since a fire in 1994, leaving only a few stray cats as permanent residents. Every time I have visited the house in the past, it has been derelict, technically private property, although there was never anybody to stop me from walking in and wandering around. Evidently the details of ownership have been resolved in order to allow the Macau government to take over the property and begin an extensive renovation program aimed at restoring the house to its original condition. This should make it one of the most splendid cultural artifacts in the enclave.
Continue along Calçada da Barra and you will soon come to the Moorish Barracks (4), a beautiful public building which, with its Arabian arches, shows the influences of the Indian subcontinent. The ‘Moors’ were actually Indians from Goa who were brought to Macau to augment the local police and defense forces. It was for these soldiers that the Moorish Barracks were built in 1874. It is now the headquarters for the marine police and is not open to the public; but stroll along the beautiful veranda and imagine what it must have been like to look out over the Inner Harbour before the view was obscured by buildings.
A few more meters’ walk brings you to the waterfront. On the left, along Avenida Almirante Sergio, are a row of popular Portuguese restaurants. The first one, A Lorcha (5), is one of Macau’s better “new wave” Portuguese restaurants with both excellent food and an impressive wine list. A block or so north one finds O Litoral and Porto Interior Restaurants, both hidden behind fake Macanese façades and both enjoying their own clientele.
Retrace your steps to the Largo do Pagode da Barra, a pleasant plaza fronted by an attractive green Macanese mansion that used to house the Maritime Museum now located across the street, and the A-Ma Temple (6), easily the most famous and picturesque Chinese temple in Macau. The temple was built in 1605, several decades after the Portuguese settled on the peninsula. There must have been some sort of shrine to A-Ma here before then, since it is well established that the temple existed before the Portuguese arrived and that it gave its name to Macau. The name, or a version of it, seems to have been current when the temple was built. It was extensively renovated in 1828, giving it the general appearance that it has today, indeed as it was depicted by all of the famous 19th-century artists of Macau, such as Chinnery and Auguste Bourget. The temple complex consists of four pavilions. The first three are dedicated to Tin Hau, another name for A-Ma, who is the patroness of seafarers and popular with fishermen all along the South China coast. (Approximately 20 other temples to A-Ma exist in Macau, not the least being the imposing statue recently erected on Coloane Island). The fourth and highest pavilion is dedicated to Kun Iam, the goddess of mercy. Numerous smaller side altars are for lesser Buddhist and Taoist deities.
The site is built on the side of a hill, and you ascend by winding paths and steps, relieved at intervals by small temples, shrines and inscriptions and shaded by bamboo groves and banyan trees. Enter by way of a short flight of concrete steps and through a ceremonial gate. In the courtyard is a large rock on which a Chinese junk has been carved in bas-relief. This is meant to represent the ship which, tradition holds, brought the goddess A-Ma to this place. There are various legends. The most common holds that a fleet of junks was dispatched from Fujian province with a young woman on board. A storm arose and sank all of the ships save the one with the maiden. She took the tiller and brought the ship safely to Macau. There she went ashore and disappeared. The other passengers found only a statue of the goddess. On the junk is a flag with four Chinese characters on it; they translate as “crossing the river safely.” Progressing up the hill, you pass through an oval “moon gate” painted bright red with nine dragons on the frieze. Behind is an inscription that reads, in Chinese, “the path of enlightenment.” Continue upwards past the third and perhaps shabbiest of the three temples to Tin Hau, navigating between large boulders that make the temple grounds look a little like the Camões Grotto, to the fourth and last temple dedicated to Kun Iam, the goddess of mercy. Off to the right is a curious inscription on a boulder in two red Chinese characters said to be a Taoist phrase effective against misfortune.
Across from the A-Ma Temple is the Macau Maritime Museum (7) (open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesday, admission 10 patacas). The museum is attractive and informative, although it depends heavily on ship models and table displays rather than historical or genuine artifacts. Long planned, some of the original exhibits destined for a future museum were destroyed when the U.S. Navy bombed the Portuguese Navy Maritime Aviation Hangar on Taipa in 1945 by mistake. The museum proper comprises three levels. The first depicts, with various models of Chinese fishing junks and examples of fishing techniques, the life and work of fishermen along the South China coast. A model of an oyster field shows growth over five years. Level 2 focuses on the great voyages of discovery by Chinese and Portuguese explorers. A model of a Japanese warrior from Tanegashima, the island off the coast of Kyushu where, in 1543, the Portuguese set up Europe’s first trading post in Japan, underscores the importance of the Japanese connection with early Macau. Level 3 explores maritime transportation through various ages: a mock up of a ship’s bridge, more models of modern passenger ferries from steamships to the jetfoils, and replicated remains of a Song dynasty Fujian junk. A spacious café