Despite having lived in the south of China for the best part of the last three years there is was one striking place I had never visited; Macau (澳門). As a former Portuguese colony Macau is classed as a special administrative region along with Hong Kong, and retains a large degree of autonomy.

Stone Façade

Macau is best known as Asia’s largest destination for gambling, taking in even more revenue than Las Vegas, but this side of things didn’t really interest me. Spanning two visits I took a long stroll though its historic centre and over the next four posts will present some of the sights in the world’s most densely populated region.

Ruins of St. Paul's

After taking the TurboJET ferry from Hong Kong, a trip of 1 hour, my first port of call was the Ruins of St. Paul’s (大三巴牌坊) which are one of Macau’s most famous landmarks. Today all that remains is the southern stone façade of the 16th century Cathedral of St. Paul also known as “Mater Dei”.

Tourist Pilgrims

Having been carved by Japanese Christians in exile from their homeland the façade sits on a small hill which funnels thousands of visitors to its peak every day.

St. Paul's from Mount Fortress

You can get a good view of the ruins and the surrounding city from Fortaleza do Monte or Mount Fortress (大炮台) which lies a short distance directly above.

Macau from Fortaleza do Monte

The fortress was also built in the 16th century by Jesuits and later became the city’s principal military defense.

Mount Fortress Cannon

It was equipped with cannons, military barracks, wells and a large arsenal of ammunitions and supplies which would be sufficient for a prolonged siege.

Spot The Ugly Building

I liked the fact that all the cannons on one side of the trapezoid shaped fortress mound seemed to be pointing at one the of the ugly casinos in the distance.

Fortaleza do Monte Cannon

The Museum of Macau is located within the interior of the fortress but I was more interested look at the hardware on the roof! Slim and sleek they are not.

Fortress Bell

High up on the ramparts an old bell bearing the original coat of arms of Macau sits silently unused. One wonders what past events it has signaled.

Macau Cathedral

A short distance away the more modern looking Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady of Macau stands clad in Shanghai plaster giving it an altogether different look (it was last rebuilt in the 1930’s).

Inside Macau Cathedral

Inside the architecture is quite simple, with no columns in the middle, and well-lit by several stained glass windows as well as bright skylights in the side chapels.

Cathedral Square

In front of the church a pleasant square, known as Plaza de Se, provides a nice place to relax after a long walk. It has the only classical fountain in Macau.

Looking Down

Behind the square a busy street runs down the hill lined by small restaurants and a particularly good gelato shop. Since first trying it in Japan I have gained a penchant for green tea ice cream (抹茶アイスクリーム)!

Senado Square

The surrounding narrow streets break out into Senado Square (議事亭前地) which is paved in the traditional Portuguese style with a wave-patterned mosaic of black and white stones.

St. Dominic's Church

It’s enclosed by the buildings of the Leal Senado, the General Post Office, and St. Dominic’s Church (above). It was here there I encountered a Korean KBS film crew making a documentary about Macau – they wanted foreigners to be in some background shots to make it look more international!

Church Interior

The calm interior is worth a quick look, if only to escape the hordes of tourists outside.

Below St. Pauls Ruins

Coming full circle, looking up one of the nearby streets, we can see the Ruins of St. Paul’s again. In Part 2 we’ll escape the crowds to explore the back streets and a Taoist temple.

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