Macao used to be a small fishing village on the south-eastern coast of China. Its oyster farming history gave it the old names of Hou Keng (Oyster Mirror) and Hou Keng Ou (Oyster Mirror Harbour). Legend has it that the origin of the names came from the oysters that shone like mirrors. Meanwhile, a Qianlong-era (1711-1799) record attributed the name to the mirror-like roundness of the two bays in the north and south.
The fate of the city was forever changed when Portuguese merchants and missionaries arrived in the mid-16th century. Upon landing, they asked the villagers for the name. The villagers thought they were referring to the temple, so they told them it was “Ma Kok”. The Portuguese translated it into “Macau”, giving the village a new name altogether. Macao’s sovereignty was returned to China on December 20, 1999. The city has since become one of the two Special Administrative Regions (SAR), alongside Hong Kong.
Macao consists of the Macao Peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Coloane. Three bridges connect the peninsula and Taipa, while reclamation brings the two islands together. The area of Macao continues to expand, now spanning over 30 square kilometres. Despite its small size, it accommodates almost 700,000 people, making it one of the densest cities in the world. 90 percent of Macao population is Chinese, and the rest are Portuguese and Filipino. The official languages are Chinese and Portuguese, but most people can communicate in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.
The culture and architecture of Macao reflect centuries of cultural exchange between the East and West. The agglomeration of foreigners in the Historic Centre in the past has given rise to many character buildings. Its collection of Western-style buildings is the oldest in China and is listed as a UNESCO heritage site.
Underneath Macao’s elegant shell is a lively soul. Traditional food stalls exist alongside fine dining restaurants and luxurious hotels. Cafés can be found on every corner. This energetic food scene along with Macanese cuisine has earned Macao the UNESCO title of “Creative City of Gastronomy”.
Moreover, Macao also hosts a number of worldclass events, such as Macau Grand Prix, Macao International Parade and Macao International Fireworks Display Contest. The city is bustling year round. Macao is also home to many internationally acclaimed entertainment venues. They are exquisitely decorated, well-equipped and conveniently connected to the hotels and shopping malls. The true colours of the city shine through in its contrast—between the humble character buildings and five-star hotels; small local shops and international luxury brands.
UNESCO World Heritage
The small area of Macao houses many historical gems. In particular, 22 buildings on the Macao Peninsula and their eight adjoining public squares were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site on July 15, 2005. Together, they are known as the Historic Centre of Macao. It gives people a glimpse into the lives of the Portuguese in the heyday. There is plenty of history contained in Macao for visitors to explore while the details are not explained for the limited area here.
For more information about the World Heritage Site of Macao, please visit: www.wh.mo/en