Macau is a city with a split personality. One is defined by churches, fortresses, Chinese culture and Portuguese influences; the other is the East’s Las Vegas. The boom that rippled through the city in the last few years has resulted in an influx of mega-casinos, Vegas-style hotels and plenty of legal gambling. The city is much more than that, though, and Macau is also a place where cobbled back streets lead to pastel-colored homes and baroque churches, restful parks, Art Deco buildings and stone fortresses.
The territory’s most treasured icon is the Church of St. Paul, which now lies in ruins. All that remain of the Jesuit stone church are the stairway and facade, but the early 17th-century building attracts visitors from all over the world due to its remarkable design. The top of the facade is marked by a dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and it is surrounded by mesmerizing carvings of the stars, sun and moon. Underneath is a statue of the baby Jesus surrounded by carvings of the objects used against him during the Crucifixion: the spear, ladder, whip, nails and crown of thorns. The Virgin Mary stands close by in the third tier’s center, holding a chrysanthemum to symbolize Japan and a peony to represent China.
Between 1617 and 1626, the Jesuits also built Monte Fort, just east of St. Paul’s Church. The hilltop fortress was once the island’s colonial military garrison, and today it includes a park offering the best views of the city.
The peerless Museum of Macau is also at the fort. The wide collection really captures the essence of the territory’s history. The first level is dedicated to its early history, comparing parallel developments in the region with those in the West. An elaborate section focuses on the territory’s religions, and the second level outlines the territory’s popular arts and traditions. Highlights include a recreation of a firework factory, recordings of street vendors shouting about sales on scrap metal and videos of poet José dos Santos Ferreira reciting his work in a local dialect. The top floor of the museum focuses on the most recent urban-development plans and architecture to hit Macau.
Other museums worth exploring in Macau include the Taipa House Museum, the Museum of Sacred Art, the Sun Yat Sen Memorial House, the Museum of the Holy House of Mercy and the Macau Wine Museum, where over 1,200 varieties of wine are ripe for tasting.
The territory is also home to the world’s largest casino – the Venetian Macau. Every one of the 3,000 rooms are suites offering at least 70 square meters of luxurious space, and the building boasts over 350 high-end international shops, a variety of world-class restaurants, round-the-clock street performances and authentic Venetian gondola rides.
There are a number of interesting religious sights to visit in Macau. The A-Ma Temple is one of the most beautiful, dedicated to the goddess of the sea from whom Macau got its name. The Lin Fung, Kun Iam and Pou Tai temples are also worth visiting for their enormous Buddha statues, rich treasures and traditional architecture.