It was almost 3pm when we left the Macau Entertainment and Convention Center. With limited time left before heading back to Hong Kong for the New Year’s celebration, we decided to take a cab and just go straight to St. Paul Ruins. This side of town is a complete contrast to the glitzy and extravagant casino strips of Macau. Looking at the beautifully restored heritage architecture woven into the city’s more modern and glitzy landscape was like stepping back in time.
We passed along a narrow alley of paved cobblestones now called Rua Sao Paolo that winds past small colonial buildings and balconied Chinese shops. This alleyway was packed with tourists all the way up to the grand stone stairway of the ruins. The best feature of this street, however, was the FREE samples of all the numerous selections of delectable pasalubong on offer along the street. I think I had an overload of beef jerky here! Up on the façade of the church were throngs of tourists, each trying to get a picture with the famous ruins at the background (good luck for a nice unobstructed shot). Although only its well-restored tiered stone façade remains, this church is one of the finest monuments to Christianity in all of Asia
We bought some pasalubong, after trying some more samples on the way to Senado Square (Largo do Senado). I got a kilo of spicy beef jerky, while Charlie got two packs of ginger-flavored candy (eww!). Upon seeing the familiar black-and-white stones laid in winding patterns and the widely photographed fountain in its center, we realized we’d finally found the heart of Macau. Senado Square is surrounded by pastel-colored restored colonial buildings. St. Dominic’s Church (Igreja de Sao Domingos) was impressive with its bright yellow façade and Portuguese colonial baroque architecture.
Another stand-out was the striking white façade of the Holy House of Mercy (Santa Casa da Misericordia) modeled after one of the most prominent and oldest charitable organizations in Portugal. Its neo-classical architecture was unfortunately obstructed by a giant Christmas tree and banderitas (silver trimmings) as well as the other buildings. We strolled further outside the square and explored a bit the residential area of the city. Just like Hong Kong, the residents of Macau live in narrow high-rise apartment buildings cramped along the narrow backstreets of the town. Finally, we ended our walk near the harbor overlooking the Macau Tower from afar.
Macau’s Historic Center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. The heritage listing includes numerous architectural monuments, streetscapes, squares and many more. A few days wouldn’t be enough to fully explore and appreciate this precious gem of Asia, but I was very grateful to have experienced at least a taste of everything it has to offer.