Macau – Thomo’s Impressions

Macau was the first European settlement o­n the China coast. The Portuguese established the settlement in 1557. The object of the settlement was to be a trading post as well as bastion of Christianity, providing missions for the conversion of the Chinese. The Portuguese originally called the settlement “City of the Name of God, Macau”. The name “Macau” itself derives from A-Ma-Gau or place of A-Ma, a local goddess. Macau itself is a little south west of Hong Kong o­n the coast of the South China Sea and is reachable by a number of different ferries from Hong Kong. The fastest (jet boats) take about 40 minutes o­n a ferry powered by jet engines. The slower ferries are cheaper and take about 50 to 60 minutes.

Macau actually stretches across three islands (Macau, Taipa and Coloane), the main o­ne (Macau) being connected to mainland China by a sand spit. Macau returns to Chinese control from Portuguese control this year (1999). The city itself is an interesting mixture of Chinese and Portuguese architecture and looks significantly different to its near neighbour, Hong Kong. Where Hong Kong developed as a major commercial, finance and tourist centre, Macau appears to have developed in a supporting role and its income is centred upon tourism, finance and entertainment. There are a large number of casinos, night-clubs and other entertainment venues in Macau. Macau also appears a popular destination for middle and upper class Hong Kong Chinese, many of whom keep their ‘little wives’ o­n Macau.

The food o­n Macau is a mix of the Cantonese style of Chinese cooking along with the influences brought from Portugal and southern Europe, unlike Hong Kong’s mix of Cantonese and the more eclectic European cooking styles. And yes, McDonalds is present there as well.

There are many things to do o­n Macau and it is an interesting destination for the tourist. At o­ne time, when the borders of mainland China were more tightly controlled, Macau was the easiest point to enter the mainland with day tours departing each day from Macau. Now tourism is much more welcome to the mainland so the importance of Macau as an entry point has diminished somewhat.

I will admit that it has been nearly 10 years since I stayed in Macau for any period of time. At that time, Macau was definitely a ‘do not drink the water’ type of city. I belive this is still the case and travellers will generally suffer the usual stomach upsets from local water. Hot tea, soft drinks without ice and beer are still good beverages in these types of places.

The government in Macau maintains a tourist office which is accessible from the Internet. Go to the Macau Government Tourist Office to obtain further information about the town. You can also send e-mail to the Macau Government Tourist Office.


As Macau was a Portuguese colony o­n the edge of mainland China, Portugal built forts there in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, not protect the colony from the Chinese as the Chinese were happy to have the Portuguese there for their overseas trade, but as protection of the colony from the Dutch, who at that time were looking to expand their overseas trading ports, preferably from the Portuguese. The forts were built along the Praia Grande, in the Inner Harbour and o­n the city’s highest hills.

Except for the praia-side Bomparto, the forts were o­nly partially complete when the Dutch invaded o­n June 24, 1622. However, there was enough of the forts complete to give the defenders an advantage and to drive the Dutch back from Macau. In 1623, Portugal appointed a full-time governor, Dom Francisco de Mascarenhas. He concentrated o­n completing the forts to ensure that Macau was more defensible. Under his administration, the forts of Monte, Barra, São Francisco, Penha and São Januário were finished and Guia was planned.

Two systems of city walls were also constructed. The first o­ne in the north connecting the Inner Harbour at Patane to Monte and o­n to the southeast, joining to the fortress of São Januário and to finally end at São Francisco. The second in the south began at Bomparto, leapt up to Penha and then down to the Inner Harbour.

Governor Mascrenhas also established a cannon foundry in Macau and invited Manuel Taváres Bocarro to run it. Bocarro’s cannons became famous throughout Asia for their beauty as well as their efficiency. They were used by the last Ming emperors and various Kings of Siam, as well as by the Portuguese themselves.

Guia fort was built in 1637. The completion of this fort was the last fort construction for 200 years as the Dutch and others looked elsewhere for their trading posts. However, in 1841, as a result of the Anglo-Chinese War, the Mandarins demanded that Macau remove some of its walls. The Portuguese response to this demand was to construct two further forts, this time with the forts facing the Chinese border. Forts were then constructed o­n Mong-Há and Dona Maria hills. Additional forts were placed o­n the islands of Taipa (in 1847) and Coloane (in 1884).

In the 1870’s the government of Macau was desperately short of money and as a result sold most of the Bocarro cannons for scrap metal. A few still do exist, interestingly in the Tower of London and the Jakarta Museum. The walls also started to be dismantled at around this time to make room for the expanding city and now they are all gone. There are a number of the forts remaining, however, although not all of them are ruined forts any more. For example, the fort of Mong-Há is now the tourism college and a Portuguese restaurant, staffed by students of the college.

Of the forts, the following are still in place:

Fort Description
Monte Fort Built in 1617-26, Monte Fort occupies 21,000 square feet in an irregular quadrangle with bastions at each corner. The fort was destroyed (finally) by fire in 1835 that commenced in the kitchen. All that remains is the fort walls, the bastions and the stone facade of St. Paul’s church. The fort now houses the Macau Museum.
Fort of Mong-Há This fort was constructed by Governor Ferreira do Amaral in 1849 in anticipation of a Chinese invasion. They didn’t and he was assassinated. The building of the fort was resumed by Governor Coelho do Amaral and completed in 1866. It covers 6,300 square feet o­n top of Mong-Há hill. This fort is now the site of the Tourism College.
São Francisco Barracks These were built in 1649 o­n the site of o­ne of the batteries that sank the Dutch warship The Golias. The original fortress of São Francisco stood at the end of the old Praia Grande facing the Taipa channel. It’s armament at the time included a culverin which could fire 35 pound iron shot a distance of o­ne and a half miles (the width of the channel). Both the fort and the convent that were there were demolished in 1864 to make space to build a new barracks which housed the Battalion of the First Line, brought to Macau to defend against a Chinese attack that did not occur. The barracks survive today as headquarters for the Security Forces section of the Police Force.
Guia Fort (Fortress of Our Lady of Guia) Built in 1827-38 o­n the highest point of Macau by Captain of Artillery António Ribeiro it occupies 8,600 square feet of space. It was designed to defend the border with China but because of its elevated position, its chief use has been as an observation post and a lighthouse. The lighthouse here was built in 1865 and is the oldest o­n the China Coast.
Barra Fort The Fortress of São Tiago da Barra was competed in 1829 o­n the site of an older cannon battery. The fort successfully protected the bar at the entrance to the Inner Harbour against the Dutch in 1622. The ruins of the fort have been converted by the Tourist Office into a Portuguese inn, which is o­ne of the great attractions of the city.
Other Forts Taipa Fort was rebuilt and is now used as a Police Station. The Bomparto Fort o­nce stood o­n the Praia and its ruins were used for the foundations of the Bela Vista Hotel. The Penha Church now stands o­n the site of the Penha Fort. The site of the Dona Maria Fort marks a famous bend in the Guia Circuit of the Macau Grand Prix. Small sections of the old city walls remain behind the Bela Vista and o­n São Januário Hill.


Macau has many temples.


And also many churches.


Macau Museum

The Maritime Museum of Macau

Foreign Language Expression

Coming. It’s coming!

Gross Foods

And there were a few – o­ne didn’t look too closely at the meat hanging in the markets!

Favourite Foods

Loh Song Tong – Russian Borsch (and I ain’t sure if the spelling is correct – either the latinised Chinese or the spelling of borsch)!

3 thoughts on “Macau – Thomo’s Impressions

  1. armando cacao 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    s januario hill and fort are s jeronimo hill and fort .the name januario appeared post 1872 when governor viscount of s januario-rio-brasil ordered the construction of a new military hospital. the correct name is s jeronimo fort and s jeronimo hill.


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