In Antony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode in Macau, the globetrotter described the tiny former Portuguese colony’s cultural heritage with great accuracy.
“Macau…chances are if you’ve never been there, you’d have no idea what it might look like. For me it was always the place firecrackers came from. And little else. I was vaguely aware it was Chinese, kind of, and later I became aware that it was somehow Portuguese, too,” Bourdain began.
“In fact it was settled by the Portuguese in the 16th century, when Portugal pretty much ruled the sea. The first and last European colony in China. A trading port…spices and flavors from all the other Portuguese colonies in Africa, India and the Malacca Strait mixed with European and Chinese, and well, what came out the other side was unique,” he finished off.
While Anthony Bourdain might find Macau’s eclectic cultural mix as somehow intriguing or even puzzling, we Filipinos, very much in touch with our Spanish colonial background, will find it very familiar. Walking around Macau is as similar to walking in historic Intramuros, for example, or Calle Crisologo in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur where architecture features a lot of European influences.
Thus, when my wife Khris and I went to Macau a few years ago, it was exactly how we expected it to be. It was a mélange of Asian and European heritage, bringing the best of two worlds together, co-existing harmoniously to give visitors an experience that is both unique and unforgettable.
In the heart of Macau sits Largo do Senado or Senado Square, a portal where modernity converges with history, a focal point where cultures intertwine; and a summary of Macau‘s glorious past, glittering present and vivid future.
At 3,700 square meters, Largo do Senado is one of the four largest squares in Macau, the other three being Praça do Centro Cultural, Praça do Lago Sai Van and Praça do Tap Seac.
The square has been named as such since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) because it was located in front of the Leal Senado Building. In the Portuguese era, this is where local authorities used to review the troops on their inaugurations.
A walk though Senado Square’s pavement with its unique curvilinear patterns is to wander through old Europe, while a peek inside one of the surrounding shops is a glimpse into the Chinese way of life. It’s also the gateway to the Rua do Sau Paolo, which leads to the Ruins of St. Paul’s, and the Macau fortress.
Senado Square is included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List as it is part of the Historic Centre of Macau.
Largo do Senado is enclosed by St. Dominic’s Church, the Holy House of Mercy, Leal Senado Building and Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple. The website Top China Travel describes this rich architectural tradition as a reflection of the correlation of modernity and cultural exchange of East and West.
Having been Macau‘s urban center for centuries, Largo do Senado is still the most popular venue for public events and celebrations today.
St. Domingo’s Church (Igreja de São Domingos)
When we were at Macau, we also paid a visit to St. Domingo’s Church. Located right in the heart of Largo do Senado, St. Domingo’s Church or St. Dominic’s Church, was constructed by three Spanish Dominican priests in 1587 in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary. In July 2005, the church was included in the World Heritage List, the 31st world heritage site of China.
Upon entering the church, we felt as if we were transported back to the Philippines. It looked like many of the churches here in the Philippines, from the exteriors, down to the pews and the chandeliers.
Ruins of St. Paul’s (Ruínas de São Paulo)
A visit to Macau is not complete without seeing the iconic Ruins of St. Paul’s. The Ruins of St. Paul’s (also known as Sam Ba Sing Tzik) is located close to the equally well-known Fortaleza do Monte or Mount Fortress. The ruins is actually the façade, the stone stairs and the floor of the old St. Paul’s Church.
Historical accounts indicate that the church was constructed in 1580 and, for a time, was considered as the biggest Catholic Church in East Asia. However, fires ravaged St. Paul’s Church in 1595 and 1601 but was reconstructed after each tragedy. A third fire devastated the church in 1835 during a violent typhoon, leaving behind the remains of a once glorious building.
Nowadays, one will find that the façade is supported by steel scaffoldings to protect its structural integrity since it was once considered dangerously leaning and, thus, might be hazardous to tourists.