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Friday, July 1, 2005

Macau charms with blend of history and modernity


By SATOKO KAWASAKI
Staff photographer

As a location where East meets West and with its historic streets blending into the modern city landscape, Macau retains a distinctive, mysterious charm that appeals to travelers.

News photo
The landscape of Macau's downtown area as seen from the observation deck atop the 338-meter-high Macau Tower.

Macau comprises three major areas: the busy city area, which is connected to Mainland China and which is the location of numerous historic buildings, museums, gardens, markets and other attractions; the rapidly developing Taipa Island, home to a race course, an international airport, top-class international hotels with resorts and casinos, and the Macau Stadium and Olympic Aquatic Center, the venue for the 2005 East Asian Games; and finally, Coloane Island, a countryside of sweeping green hills, valleys, traditional villages and beach-lined bays.

Macau's history is quite unique as it was ruled by the Portuguese for over 400 years before being returned to China in December 1999. From around 1550, Macau prospered as an intermediary trade center between the East and the West. In addition, the Roman Catholic Church sent some of its largest missions to Macau, turning it into an important religious epicenter. Due to its unique background, this small city of a mere 27.3 sq. km has become a cluster of invaluable architecture from the East and the West: Taoist temples from the Ming Dynasty stand close to 18th century baroque churches, and colonial palaces sit beside Chinese courtyards.

News photo
Local people play mahjong at the back of a tiny vegetable shop in Macau's downtown area.

The city center is Senado Square, which is always bustling with activity. The pavement, stones brought all the way from Portugal, was laid in a beautiful, orderly wave-patterned mosaic, and surrounding the square's fountain is a scatter of classical colonial-style buildings, including the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau and the Central Post Office from the 16th century.

The Ruins of St. Paul's can be reached by a 15-minute walk down a souvenir and antique shop-lined cobblestone street running off of Senado Square. Completed in 1602, St. Paul's was built over 35 years by the Jesuits with the help of Japanese Christian stonemasons who had fled persecution in Japan. It was renowned as the most beautiful church in the East until a massive fire destroyed it in 1835, leaving only the great carved stone facade and the grand staircase that visitors can see today. These remains, together with 11 other historic ruins of Macau, are awaiting registration as UNESCO World Cultural Heritages.

The latest attraction to be added to the list of tourist must-sees is the Macau Fisherman's Wharf. Located on the outer harbor and comprising three theme sections -- Dynasty Wharf, East Meets West and Legend Wharf -- the facility offers round-the-clock enjoyment of a shopping mall, amusement park, hotel, convention hall and restaurants.

Macau is a place with a multitude of offerings, including delicious cosmopolitan dishes, fashionable spas, aesthetic salons and much more.

Thinking of a getaway? Think Macau!

For more information, access the Web site of the Macau Government Tourist Office (www.macautourism.gov.mo/).



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