“Dong, dong!” A watchman strikes a small gong that reverberates into the silent night air, holding a lantern while patrolling the streets of Macau. Some families have fallen fast asleep after a day of hard work, while some households are starting to put out their candlelights. For many years, the thriving 19th century fishermen's community depended on its night watchmen to know the hour and, to some extent, to feel safe. Today, it may seem like an antiquated profession, but back then, night watchmen – able to spot a fire early or keep an eye out for pirates before they broke into homes – could save lives. Having checked on the neighbourhoods, they would change shifts in the night watch houses as the dark hours wore on...
Patane Night Watch House/Courtesy of Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macao S.A.R. Government
One of these unique structures, Patane Night Watch House, has been beautifully restored and can be visited on 52-54 Rua da Palmeira, along with other new sites, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the inclusion of the Historic Centre of Macau into the UNESCO World Heritage List. Indeed, ten years are a long time in fast-paced cities like Hong Kong and Macau, where just twelve months can see many changes and developments. So it’s easy to feel the excitement surrounding the event, accompanied by a pinch of nostalgia. We have chosen a special route that enables you to discover the landmarks.
Jao Tsung-I Academy/Courtesy of Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macao S.A.R. Government
What makes Macau's old town so unique is the way in which traditional Chinese architecture stands out from the predominantly European cityscape. Jao Tsung-I Academy, named after the renowned 20th century Sinology scholar and artist, is well worth a visit. Professor Jao's calligraphies, writings and paintings, as well as thematic exhibitions, can be admired in a quaint Portuguese-style villa, fronted by eight archways and shuttered windows.
Lou Lim Loc Garden/Courtesy of Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macao S.A.R. Government
Stroll through the charming garden before moving onto other sites nearby like the lush Lou Lim Loc Garden – with an intricately carved, winding 9-turn stone bridge that runs over the central lotus pond and through the pavilions, and the Flora Garden, once a Portuguese palatial garden now converted into a small aviary and zoo at the bottom of the famed Guia Hill.
Performance in the Lou Kau Mansion/Courtesy of Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macao S.A.R. Government
Head towards the Ruins of St. Paul's just a kilometre's walk from the academy. One of the most photographed landmarks in southeast Asia, it's advisable to avoid this overcrowded spot, and sneak right behind it to Na Tcha Temple. This ancient little temple dedicated to a mischievous Buddhist deity is a vivid reminder of how Chinese and Western religions have always co-existed in perfect harmony in Macau.
Just across the temple is a cream yellow Portuguese-style building which now houses the Cinémathèque Passion. The art cinema and film archive are aptly named after the street they are located on, Travessa da Paixão. If you have time to spare during sightseeing, do stop for a movie about Macau in this evocative setting, where the history of the city literally comes alive on the silver screen.
Guia Hill/Courtesy of Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macao S.A.R. Government
From here, take the road up to Guia Hill to see the fortress, chapel and lighthouse. This UNESCO site packs quite a lot of history. While the fortress built in the 1620s protected Macau against Dutch invasion, the lighthouse came much later, in the mid-18th century. Though it is not open to the public, the chapel, with its stunningly restored frescoes, will without doubt take your breath away.
St. Anthony's Church
The next sights are really up to your choice: St. Anthony's Church – one of Macau's oldest from the mid-16th century, Mount Fortress, Macau Museum or how about Lou Kau Mansion, a Cantonese-style residence conserved from since the Qing Dynasty? Wherever you go, the QR code on any World Heritage Site information board brings you beautiful literary quotes and poems dedicated to the old town, and more facts on other cultural venues in the area. A perfect example of how Macau marries its past and future.