Historic Centre of Macao

Macao Special Administrative Region
N22 11 28.651 E113 32 11.26
Date of Inscription: 2005
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(vi)
Property : 16.1678 ha
Buffer zone: 106.791 ha
Ref: 1110

Macao, a lucrative port of strategic importance in the development of international trade, was under Portuguese administration from the mid-16th century until 1999, when it came under Chinese sovereignty. With its historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the historic centre of Macao provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West. The site also contains a fortress and a lighthouse, the oldest in China. It bears witness to one of the earliest and longest-lasting encounters between China and the West, based on the vibrancy of international trade.

Macao, a lucrative port of strategic importance in the development of international trade in Chinese territory, became a Portuguese settlement in the mid-16th century and returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1999. The inscribed property presents a group of 22 principal buildings and public spaces that enable a clear understanding of the structure of the old trading port city. With its historic streets, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the Historic Centre of Macao provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, religious, architectural and technological influences from East and West. It bears witness to the first and most enduring encounter between China and the West, based on the vibrancy of international trade. As a gateway between China and the western world, Macao played a strategic role in world trade. Different nationalities settled in this hub of a complex maritime trading network, along with missionaries who brought with them religious and cultural influences, as illustrated by the introduction of foreign building types (China’s first western-style theatre, university, hospital, churches and fortresses), many still in use. Macao’s unique multicultural identity can be read in the dynamic presence of Western and Chinese architectural heritage standing side by side in the city and the same dynamics often exist in individual building designs, adapting Chinese design features in western style buildings and vice versa, such as the incorporation of Chinese characters as decorative ornaments on the baroque-mannerist church façade of St. Paul’s Ruins. Typical European port city characteristics can also be seen in the urban fabric structure of the settlement with public squares blending into the densely packed lots along narrow, meandering streets, whilst accumulating experiences from other Portuguese settlements, seen in the concept of “Rua Direita” that links the port with old citadel. Visual connections between the property and seascape are attributes that reflect Macao’s origin as a trading port city; the Inner Harbour used over centuries and still functioning today adds to that testimony. Intangible influences of the historic encounter have permeated the lifestyles of the local people, affecting religion, education, medicine, charities, language and cuisine. The core value of the historic centre is not solely its architecture, the urban structure, the people or their customs, but a mixture of all these.  The coexistence of cultural sediments of eastern and western origin, along with their living traditions, defines the essence of the historic centre.

Criterion (ii): The strategic location of Macao on the Chinese territory, and the special relationship established between the Chinese and Portuguese authorities favoured an important interchange of human values in the various fields of culture, sciences, technology, art and architecture over several centuries.

Criterion (iii): Macao bears a unique testimony to the first and longest-lasting encounter between the West and China. From the 16th to the 20th centuries, it was the focal point for traders and missionaries, and the different fields of learning. The impact of this encounter can be traced in the fusion of different cultures that characterise the historic core zone of Macao.

Criterion (iv): Macao represents an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble that illustrates the development of the encounter between the Western and Chinese civilisations over some four and half centuries, represented in the historical route, with a series of urban spaces and architectural ensembles, that links the ancient Chinese port with the Portuguese city.

Criterion (vi): Macao has been associated with the exchange of a variety of cultural, spiritual, scientific and technical influences between the Western and Chinese civilisations. These ideas directly motivated the introduction of crucial changes in China, ultimately ending the era of imperial feudal system and establishing the modern republic.

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4 replies »

  1. These historical and architectural treasures are mostly accessible through short walking tours. Just make sure to wear light clothing and bring bottles of water, because the weather in Macau is usually hot and humid. It wouldn’t hurt to also have an umbrella prepared, since rain showers are common during the late afternoon.

    Walk through the narrow and often congested Rua de Tomas Vieira and you will reach Macau’s most iconic landmark: the Ruins of St. Paul. This remnant of an ancient church and seminary stands atop a flight of stone steps, with grandeur typical of baroque structures. The unique mix of inscriptions embossed on the Ruins’ façade serves as a testament to Macau’s bicultural heritage. For instance, a Chinese dragon is depicted beside images of Roman Catholic saints and Jesuit priests. Chinese characters are also juxtaposed with Latin words dedicating this place of worship to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    A few paces away from the Ruins of St. Paul is another baroque structure: the Church of St. Dominic. Its cream-colored stone façade, emerald green windows and intricate stucco moldings give a vibrant feel to this 17th century church. Inside, the decorations are simple yet elegant—from the ceramic mosaic flooring with floral accents to the beautifully carved wooden roof.

    Further down the alley from the Ruins of St. Paul is Macau’s central hub: the bustling Senado Square. It is a cobblestoned plaza featuring a striking wave design—a reminder of the region’s maritime past. Most of the buildings around the square, such as the Santa Casa da Misericordia (Holy House of Mercy) and the Leal Senado Building, are neoclassical in style. This is evident in the structure’s simple geometric forms and frequent use of columns as accents.


  2. Walking around western Macau is like stepping back in time. With narrow streets lined by Chinese and European-style buildings, its history leaps out at you. The site many travellers head to first is St Paul’s — the remains of the first church the Jesuits established in China. With a massive set of stairs leading up to it from the street below, surrounded by historical buildings, it’s a must-see. Overlooking St Paul’s on a hill covered with trees is Mt Fortress, a castle-like structure also built in the 17th century that today houses Macau Museum. Here you can stroll through and read about the history of Macau.


  3. A few thoughts to share!
    Handover Gifts Museum is a free museum that is a real gem, although very few tourists manage to fit it into their itineraries. This one is highly recommendable if you have a few days in Macau, although there are other museums you may wish to visit first, like Macau Museum, instead.

    Another famous landmark, which has unfortunately has slipped down the ranks of tourist priorities over the past decade is the 20 metre tall Kun Iam Statue, which rests in the harbour. This is a neat landmark to see but is rarely mentioned these days in discussions of what to do/see in Macau.


  4. Do check out the Macau Museum next time you’re there. It’s quite impressive and spending time in Macau’s museums is a great way to learn a bit more about Macau’s fascinating history.


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