Bleary-eyed and endlessly yawning, we lumbered like zombies and climbed the steps to the famous Ruins of St. Paul, or what remains of its hollow façade. What was usually a place for crowds of cellphone and camera-toting selfie-addicts was now totally deserted. Which was not surprising, the sun had just risen and most tourists were still happily sleeping on their comfy hotel beds. We own the morning; heck, we woke up at the ungodly hour of six in the morning just to have this place all to our own.
|THE SELFIE CAPITAL OF MACAU|
Macau held no magic for me until I actually set foot on its soil and started exploring its alleys. What I thought to be a place of casinos turned out to be, surprisingly, one steeped in history and culture. I knew it has St. Paul’s Ruins, a popular Macanese icon, but I thought it is all it ever has. Boy, was I wrong.
|ST. DOMINIC CHURCH, USUALLY ERRONEOUSLY REFERRED TO AS THE CATHEDRAL|
|EARLY MORNING TO THE RUINS OF ST. PAUL’S|
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has tagged a total of 30 buildings and squares in the region, dubbing it as the Historic Centre of Macau. Out of those, we haven’t even touched based with half of it, concentrating our walks mostly on the Senado Square area up to the St Paul’s; a popular route for visiting tourists.
|THE VIEW OF THE CITY FROM THE FORTALEZA DO MONTE|
|UNIQUE SHOPS ALONG THE HERITAGE TRAIL|
That’s the downside of not doing your research before going. But I liked the upside better, I always liked being surprised, there’s nothing like turning a corner of a street and being greeted by a slew of historical buildings that you’re totally unaware of.
|PORTUGUESE-STYLED PAVING ALONG THE MACAU HISTORIC CENTRE|
The area we took, however, doesn’t really fit into that category, being Macau’s most popular area. Still, I was pleasantly surprised that there’s more to Macau than the Ruins of St. Paul.
|SENADO SQUARE TEEMING WITH MORNING TOURISTS|
From Metropole Hotel, Senado Square (Largo do Senado) [22.193704, 113.539904] is a mere five-minute walk along crowded and narrow sidewalks. The square is a popular hangout not only for tourists, but for Filipinos working in Macau as well, it’s like being back in the Philippines with all the Tagalog words you’d hear while treading along its Portuguese-styled pavement.
|AN ALLEY FROM THE SENADO SQUARE|
|THE SANTA CASA DE MISERIDORDIA BUILDING|
The square is named after the Leal Senado building [22.193356, 113.539635], one of the two European-styled UNESCO structures surrounding the square—the other one being the Holy House of Mercy of Macau (Santa Casa da Misericórdia) [22.193793, 113.540162]. It was a frequent meeting place for the Chinese and Portuguese during the 16th to the 18th century when the latter still ruled Macau.
ST. DOMINIC CHURCH, SQUARE & KUAN TAI TEMPLE
|ST. DOMINIC CHURCH DURING THE EVENINGS|
Some steps further, the symmetrical facade of St. Dominic Church [22.194683, 113.540422] looms. Fronted by the St. Dominic Square (Largo do São Domingos) [22.194494, 113.540436], an area set with benches and surrounded by shops, the church regally looks on. A concrete bench off the left side of the square became our favourite spot for our nightly drinking sessions. We’d haul a plastic bag full of cheap beers and finish everything with fries and chicken nuggets from the nearby McDonald’s.
|INSIDE THE CHURCH|
The interiors of the church itself is as impeccably painted and restored as its exterior. Closed during the first evening we chugged our Tsingtao along its square, we finally got to enter it the next morning. The place is very museum-like, complete with barricades cordoning off certain areas, but surprisingly, it still functions as a church and holds masses like all Christian churches does.
|ST. DOMINIC’S MAIN RETABLO|
Built in the 16th century in the Baroque tradition of architecture, it features a mix of both Macanese and European designs. Enshrined on its main retablo is an image of the Madonna and Child set with a couple of saints made from ivory and wood on both sides. On its bell tower, the Treasure of Sacred Art Museum is located where about 300 religious arts and artifacts can be viewed free of charge.
|ST. DOMINIC SQUARE|
Off the left side of the church, along the Macau’s old bazaar, is an old Chinese temple, still part of the 30 UNESCO sites in the city, the Sam Kai Vui Kun or Kuan Tai Temple [22.194080, 113.539357].
|THE RUINS AS SEEN FROM THE COMPANY OF JESUS SQUARE|
Meandering through a maze of people, shops and free food tasters, we eventually reached the zenith of Macau’s tourism, the 17th-century Ruins of St. Paul’s [22.197501, 113.540858]. But our ordeal wasn’t just about finished just yet; we still have to climb the 68 stone steps from the Company of Jesus Square (Largo da Companhia de Jesus) [22.196715, 113.540838] up to the hill where the famous facade stands. Huff. Puff. Tourists. Loads of them.
|THE ICONIC LIZBOA BUILDING FROM THE STEPS OF THE RUINS OF ST. PAUL’S|
|THE RUINS AT NIGHTTIME, HARDLY ANY TOURISTS|
Midmorning isn’t the best time to visit the ruins; your best bet to have the famous landmark all to your lonesome self is right at the crack of dawn or late in the evenings. I prefer the latter as you can also bring cans of cold beer and finish them right by the stone steps. As we did.
|RAYS OF THE MORNING SUN REFLECTED BY ST. PAUL’S FACADE|
|AT THE BACK OF THE FAMED FACADE|
Built by the Jesuits, St. Paul used to be one of the largest Catholic churches in the world. Its end came during a typhoon as fire razed the structure to the ground in 1835, almost 200 years after its construction. What remains now are its intricately carved (by Japanese Christian exiles, no less) southern stone facade and the structure’s foundation at the back.
|NA TCHA TEMPLE AT THE FAR LEFT OF THE RUINS|
A curious little structure, which is still part of the UNESCO list, sits at the far left of the church’s back which most visitors miss (which I myself almost missed), the Na Tcha Temple [22.197930, 113.540681]. The petite structure with graceful yingshan-styled roof is dedicated to the Chinese deity Na Tcha, a child god of war. It was said that the temple was built to stop a plague ravaging the city. Part of the old city wall can also be seen from this area.
|CORDONED FOUNDATION OF ST. PAUL’S COMPLEX|
|WALKING ALONG THE WALLS OF THE FORTALEZA DO MONTE|
Off to the ruin’s right, we found a path leading to a roughly-cut stone stairway. We followed it and found ourselves at the Our Lady of the Mount of St. Paul (Fortaleza do Monte or the Fortress) [22.197123, 113.542201]. We have no idea about the existence of this fortress beforehand and it was a pleasant little surprise for us non-researching-travellers.
|ROUGH-HEWN STEPS LEADING TO THE FORT | ONE OF THE 32 CANNONS ON THE WALL|
The fort was said to be built during the early 1600’s and sits on Mount Hill. Really? Mount Hill? With its 170-feet height, I guess it can’t decide whether it’s a mountain or a hill. But whatever it may be or want to be, it was intriguingly made by the Jesuits to protect the area from pirates. It got me into thinking how war-ready the Jesuits must have been at the time.
Its 32 cannons did make a difference though, not only with raiding pirates, but also against the Dutch, during its attempt to conquer Macau in 1622.
|AN OLD LADY DOING HER MORNING ROUTINE|
Now, you can still see these mighty canons, sans the soldiers and friars, but with old men and ladies doing their daily morning jog and work outs. To be fair, we were panting harder than they were as we went further up; respect for these grannies!
|THE GUIA CHAPEL AND LIGHTHOUSE AS SEEN FROM THE FORT|
From the ramparts of the old mountain cum hill fort, we spotted our last UNESCO structure for Macau, the Guia Chapel and Lighthouse [22.196679, 113.549601], which is located on the zone 2 of the region’s Historic Centre. That’s 12 sites and structures out of 30 for us. We certainly didn’t get to half of what Macau has to offer in terms of history, but still, we didn’t do that poorly.
Macau Historic Centre
Address: Freguesia da Sé & Freguesia de Santo António
Entrance Fee: Free
GPS Coordinates Map: See Above
Hotels Near Macau Historic Centre: Click Here