Macau's eclectic mix of architecture reflects its identity as a melting pot of Chinese and European cultures. Wedged between the mid-16th Chinese residence to date, the Mandarin's House. Its architectural style takes us back in time to explore the city's fascinating history.
It was during the Qing Dynasty, in about 1869, when the construction of the Mandarin's House began. At that time, the home of modern literary, thinker and businessman Zheng Guanying offered sweeping views of Macau's Inner Harbour. From here, he and his family would see numerous vessels coming in and out of the bustling port. With over 4,000 square metres of floor space and more than 60 rooms, the Mandarin House is clearly divided into sections: the entrance gatehouse, main garden, sedan way, courtyards, cloisters, halls and so on. Let's head inside.
A deeply recessed entrance on top of several steps welcomes you to the gatehouse. Essentially Chinese, it is adorned with western architectural touches like arched doorways and false ceilings. Notice a small shrine built into the wall – a common feature in old Macanese homes. We come to a long corridor which used to function as a sedan way where Zheng's visitors alighted from their rickshaws and waited to be led inside. Imagine yourself as a guest of the family, and feel the tranquillity all around you. It feels a world apart here. The tone of your visit is set...
We come to Ronglu Hallway, the entrance to the master's living quarters. Its eight latticed doors and an imposing tablet speak volumes of the Zheng family's prominence in the day. The hallway leads to a large, quiet courtyard dotted with stone stools, and we have arrived at the two main buildings where the Zheng family lived, Yuqing Mansion and Jishan Mansion.
Typical of Guangdong-style residences, they are divided into a front hall, middle courtyard and back hall on the ground floor. Yuqing Mansion boasts an impressive post-and-beam construction and gabled walls. Zheng's father's name is written in a large tablet hung over the living room on the second floor. Here, the French window used to look out onto Macau's harbour, and at the back we see 12 exquisitely hand-carved screen doors.
Indeed, some of the most memorable features of the mansions are the doors and windows, which were all hand-made and would have been gilded with gold, engraved with floral patterns, and adorned with mother-of-pearl appliqués. All the windows open onto the square courtyard in the middle of the buildings, allowing natural light to illuminate virtually every part of the house. On our way out, we can admire a beautifully tended Chinese garden paved with Portuguese cobblestones, a surreal reminder of Macau's multicultural identity.