Macau
Las Vegas of the Orient
Macau tours, sightseeing, A-Ma Temple, Senado Square

A-Ma Temple to Senado Square

A sightseeing walk along Macau's early history

  

A-Ma temple, one of Macau's top sightseeing spots, is located on the southern side of Macau's inner harbour, near Rua do Almirante Sergio (which is the southern continuance of Rua das Lorchas).

 

The historic temple was originally built in 1488 to commemorate the miracle that gave the city its name: Macau's best known legend tells of the story where a junk, while sailing across the South China Sea, was caught in a tremendous storm and was about to sink.

  

 All aboard were terrified but at the last minute, a beautiful young woman stood up and ordered the elements to calm down. It did, and the junk reached land safely. This mysterious woman was none other than A-Ma, the Taoist goddess of the sea.  The temple was built on the spot where she landed and is one of Macau's oldest temples.

 

The name Macau came to be when many years later, when Portuguese soldiers asked for the name of the place, the locals replied "A-Ma-Gao" (Bay of A-Ma).  It was eventually shortened to Macau.

 

The temple consists of prayer halls, pavilions and courtyards, built into the rocky hill and connected by winding paths through moon gates and tiny gardens (some of the prayer halls are dedicated to other deities). Garden spots, built into the cliff behind the temple, provide some excellent views.

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Opposite the temple, on the waterfront, is the Maritime Museum.  

With its history so closely linked to the sea, it is only obvious for Macau to have a decent maritime museum, and no spot could have suit it better than next to the temple of A-Ma, the legendary protector of seafarers and fishermen.

The modern building, inaugurated in 1990, hosts some very interesting exhibitions that feature the maritime history of the territory and its neighboring areas. 

 

The Maritime ethnology exhibition on the ground floor shows the traditions, techniques and lifestyle of Macau's fishermen, as well as those of other fishing communities along the coastline of South China.  Exhibits include models of vessels, costumes, a replica of a traditional fishermen house and a historic model of a dragon boat, largely constructed of whalebone. 

 

On the mezzanine floor, you can see models of traditional Portuguese vessels.

 

The Maritime history exhibition on the first floor focuses on China's and Portugal's maritime history during the time of the great discovery trips, covering the period from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries.  Exhibits include models of boats, ancient navigation instrument and interactive displays.

 

On the second floor is the Maritime Technology Exhibition that focuses on modern maritime transport, with plenty of equipment and interactive exhibits.

 

The museum also has its own aquarium gallery, with four different aquariums, representing four sub-aquatic environments.

 

The Maritime museum is open daily (except Tuesday), 10am - 6pm (no admission after 5:30pm).  Admission fees are MOP$ 10 for an adult (MOP$ 5 on Sunday) and MOP$ 5 for a 10-17 years old child (MOP$ 3 on Sunday).  Small kids (below 10) and elders (above 65 years old) can enter free of charge.

 

For more information, visit the Maritime Museum's website

Adjacent to the museum, there is a small waterfront esplanade where you can have a nice coffee break.

Getting to the A-Ma Temple and the Maritime Museum is very easy :

Barra Bus Terminus is just outside the temple, so many of Macau's bus routes start and end there.  Take a look at our Macau Bus Guide to see how to travel to

A-Ma Temple and the Maritime Museum from every corner of Macau.

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Behind the temple is the green and rocky Barra Hill, where some of Macau's rich and famous live in their multi-million dollar houses, facing the Sai Van Lake

 

Our Macau Sightseeing walk takes us from here along Rua Sao Tiago da Barra and after five minutes you will reach Pousada de Sao Tiago, a luxurious Portuguese-style hotel that was built within the ancient Barra Fort.  The architects of the hotel made a good use of the ancient ramparts to create a real architectural treasure that revives the spirit of the old days...

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The Barra Fort was built at the beginning of the 17th century, in order to protect the entrance to the inner harbour from Dutch invaders.  At a certain stage, it became so strategically important that the commander of the fort was chosen directly by the king of Portugal and did not have to report to the governor of Macau.  In 1740, a small chapel was built in the fort. It was dedicated to St. James (Sao Tiago), the patron saint of the Portuguese army.

Click here for more details about the hotel and the fort

The hotel also boasts some dining venues, including a lovely alfresco cafe'

 

Near the hotel, on Rua Sao Tiago da Barra, you can see the Monument to the Macanese Diaspora, a piece of art that commemorates the new millennium meeting of the Macanese communities around the world, which was held in 2001.

 

Continue with Avenida da Republica, along the shore of Sai Van Lake.  On your right hand side you will see a giant black monolith, rising to a height of 40 meters. This is the Gate of understanding, a monument that symbolizes the friendship between China and Portugal.

 

Keep walking along Avenida da Republica, pass the tennis courts, turn left into Calcada da Praia and left again into Estrada de Santa Sancha, where you can see the gorgeous 1846 colonial mansion, Santa Sancha Palace, which used to be the residence of the Portuguese governor of Macau.  Keep on walking up the hill. The street name changes to Estrada da Penha and you turn right to Estrada de D. Joao Paulino which will take you to the hill top, where Penha Chapel is perched.

 

Predominantly located at the top of the hill, the church, which was originally built in 1622 (even though the current structure dates back to 1837) enjoys beautiful panoramic views.  At the foot of the stone steps that climb to the church is the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and next to it there is a nice garden with fountains and seats where you can rest.

The church is open daily, 9 am - 5:30 pm

 

Walk down the hill from the other side, through Calcada da Penha, turn left to Rua da Penha and onto Rua do Lilau and Lilau Square (Largo do Lilau), one of the first Portuguese residential quarters in Macau and the site of the natural spring that used to provide much of the city's drinking water in the old colonial days.

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The area around the square is surrounded with old colonial-Portuguese buildings and it's worthwhile to walk around the narrow streets and get the feeling.

 

A small insight from 'Metropolasia-Man' :

Lilau spring used to provide much of the Macau's drinking water in the old colonial days, and a famous local saying goes that "Anyone who drinks from the water of the Lilau - will never forget Macau"... 

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From the square, turn left into Rua da Barra and walk down towards A-Ma Temple and the inner harbour waterfront.  A short walk will bring you to the Moorish Barracks, an impressive 19th century structure that was built in order to accommodate an Indian regiment from Goa, sent to reinforce the Macau police force.  Standing on a raised granite platform, the beautiful neo-classical building integrates both Indian and English architectural styles and is currently housing the offices of the Macau Maritime Administration.

 

Back to Lilau Square and to the Mandarin's House that stands next to it.  This 1881 Chinese-style compound consists of several courtyard houses and integrates both western and Chinese architectural styles (the entrance is from Antonio da Silva Lane).

 

The Mandarine's House is open daily (except Wednesday and Thursday), from 10am to 6pm. Entrance is free. For more information, visit the website of the Mandarin's House

 

Up the street from Lilau Square, Rua da Barra connects with Rua Padre Antonio and Rua de São Lourenço, which leads to St. Lawrence's Church This impressive twin towers church is one of Macau's oldest. It was originally built of wood in the 1560s, rebuilt in clay at the beginning of the 17th century and finally reconstructed in stone at the early years of the 19th century. 

 

The church's interior is quite rich, with a beautiful turquoise wooden-ceiling, white and gold beams, sophisticated woodwork and heavy chandeliers.

 

Around the church there is a small garden and at its front there is a flight of stone stairs where families of Portuguese sailors used to stand, facing the coast, and pray for the safe return of their beloved ones.

 

A small insight from 'Metropolasia-Man' :

The flight of stone stairs at the front of St. Lawrence's Church is where families of Portuguese sailors used to stand, facing the coast, and pray for the safe return of their beloved ones... just to give you an idea how reclamation projects and intensive urbanization have changed the face of Macau... 

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At the back of the church, Rua da Prata leads to the junction of Rua de São José where the grand entrance to

St. Joseph's Seminary and Church is located.

 

St. Joseph's Seminary was established by the Jesuits in 1728, as a part of the mission's effort to introduce Christianity in China and East Asia. The opening of the rather humble structure was followed by the construction of the extravagant St. Joseph's Church, which was opened in 1758.

The magnificent church, one of Macau top sightseeing spots, features a classic Baroque architecture and its distinctive beauty has always attracted artists. The church's interior is rich and lavish, with plenty of well preserved decorations.  Its high domed ceiling gives exceptionally fine acoustics and the church is, indeed, an excellent venue for concerts during the annual International Music Festival.

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Next to the church, there is a lovely walled garden with an ancient well (but it's usually closed)

 

As you walk down the stone steps and exit the gate, turn right and continue along Rua do Seminário and Rua da Alfândega . Turn right to Calcada do Gamboa, a short and steep ascent will take you straight to St. Augustine's Square (Largo de Santo Agostinho), a beautiful Portuguese-style cobblestone piazza, surrounded by some interesting historical monuments.

 

St. Augustine's church is well noticed for its impressive front columns and window decorations. It was originally built in 1586 by Spanish Augustinian priests but was later taken over by the Portuguese authorities. The current neo-classical façade dates back to 1814 and replaces the original Baroque style structure.

As in most of Macau's old catholic churches, the interior is lavishly ornamented.

 

The statue of Christ carrying the cross (positioned in the church's marble-clad high altar) is particularly famous: Legend says that when it was once taken to the cathedral by the church people, hundreds of years ago, it somehow found its way back to church's altar... To commemorate the miraculous event, a parade, known as the Procession of Our Lord of the Passion (Nosso Senhor dos Passos) is held once a year: The statue is taken to the Cathedral for the night and carried back to the church's altar on the following day.

 

Still around St. Augustine's Square, the jade-green Dom Pedro V Theatre was built in 1860 and was the first western style theatre in China.  The impressive façade is decorated with Roman style pillars and triangular pediment.  The theatre is still active, mainly for special events and the likes.

 

Right besides the entrance to the St Joseph's Seminary (opposite the church) is the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, a late 19th century building that was originally built as the mansion of Dona Carolina Cunha. The mansion was purchased in 1918 by Hong Kong businessman Sir Robert Ho Tung, as a retreat, and he actually lived there between 1941 to 1945, when Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation.          

After he passed away, in 1955, the building was presented to the Government for the conversion to a public library according to his will.

The three-storey library building features a typical example of a beautiful colonial mansion, with an arcade and a garden.

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From Largo de Santo Agostinho, take a short walk down Calcada do Tronco Velho, and tiny Rua do Dr. Soares and you will reach busy and bustling Avenida Almeida Ribeiro and the Senado Square (Largo do Senado, which means the Senate Square), one of Macau's busiest and most beautiful piazzas and the heart of the city.  The large open area is paved with cobblestones in a traditional Portuguese style, with black-and-white wave's pattern, and the fountain at the centre makes a popular meeting point.

 

On Avenida Almeida Ribeiro, facing the square, the neo-classical Leal Senado Building (Portuguese for Loyal Senate) was the seat of Macau's Government during its colonial past.  The "Loyal Senate" title was granted to Macau's Government in 1810 by Portugal's Prince-Regent João (who later became King John VI of Portugal), as a reward for Macau's loyalty to Portugal during the Iberian Union, between 1580 and 1640. 

 

The building itself was erected in 1784 and other than its fascinating architecture, it also has a lovely garden.  After the handover of Macau to China, in 1999, it became the headquarters of the "Institute of Civic & Municipal Affairs".

 

Sam Kai Vui Kun (Kuan Tai Temple) on Rua Sul do Mercado de São Domingos, just off Senado Square, is a small Chinese temple dedicated to the god Kuan Tai (a Chinese god of war, also known as Guan Yu). Prior to its becoming a temple, the place housed the area's traders guild who built a warship chamber within the premises. As the trading bazaars started to decline, the guild slowly lost its importance and the place turned into a temple.

Open daily, 8 am - 6 pm

 

The Holy House of Mercy is a beautiful neo-classical building on Senado Square.  It is very notable thanks to its bright white color and its Roman-styled triangular pediment.  The Holy House of Mercy institution was founded in 1569 by the first bishop of Macau, Dom Belchior Carneiro, in order to provide medical services and other charitable assistance to the community. It was actually the first western-style hospital in China.

 

There is a small museum within the building where you can see some historical religious artifacts of the institution.  The museum is open daily (except Sundays and public holidays) from 10am - 1pm and 2:30 - 5:30 pm (entrance costs MOP$ 5)

 

Still around Senado Square, on Largo da Se', the impressive Cathedral is another historical landmark, worth visiting.  Originally built of wood in 1576, the cathedral was housed in various different buildings (one of which was nearly destroyed by a typhoon in 1874) until its present building was inaugurated in 1937.

 

The main attraction here are the stained-glass windows. Otherwise, there is a small private museum in the adjacent Bishop's palace (ask the guard to see it and he will let you in).  To get here: From Senado Square, turn right to Travessa de S. Domingos (the narrow alley next to McDonald's) and walk up to its end.

 

A minute away from the Cathedral and Senado Square, on Travessa da Sé is the Lou Kau Mansion. Built in 1889 as the residence of one of Macau's wealthiest traders, this magnificent court-yard house features an excellent example of typical Chinese mansion architecture, right in the middle of Portuguese Macau.  The wood screens, the stained-glass windows and the porches are all very interesting.

Located at the northernmost end of Senado Square's pedestrian area is the Santo Domingo church, with its cream-beige façade, built in a Baroque-Filipino style, and its green louvers.  This is one of Macau's most beautiful churches.

The present building dates back to 1828 and stands on the same site where the original church was built, in the late 16th century. Other than its beautiful interior, the church also houses a museum, on the 2nd and 3rd floors, where you can see mostly religious exhibits from the history of the Roman-catholic church in Asia (well worth the effort of visiting).

 

A few minutes walk from Senado Square, on 390 Avenida Almeida Ribeiro (near the corner of Rua de Camilo Pessanha), is the Cultural Club and Museum. Housed in Tak Seng On, a beautiful old building with mixed Chinese and western motifs that used to accommodate a prosperous pawnshop.

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The museum gives the visitor an opportunity to see lots of lovely art pieces, related to Macau's culture and heritage. There are also some restored rooms, with all the bits and pieces... just as they were 100 years ago, when the pawnshop was still a thriving business. 

Open daily, 10:30 am - 7 pm 

 

There are quite a few nice cafés and restaurants around Largo do Senado, check our Macau Restaurant and Nightlife Guide for the most recommended ones.

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