I standing in Macau’s Senado Square, when an American couple asked, “What is there to see besides casinos?” “Pretty much anything you’d want!” I could have shouted, but probably the best thing I could have done is handed them this walking tour around St Paul’s ruins.
Covering one of Macau’s oldest commercial districts, it leads from imposing Senado Square, considered the heart of the city, to the Ruins of St. Paul’s, Macau’s most iconic landmark, and also includes stops at a Chinese mansion, the informative Macau Museum, an old cemetery and gardens.
I would have also recommended A Walk through Macau’s Penha Peninsula, which snakes through the town’s oldest residential area and makes for an interesting contrast.
Together, both strolls introduce about half of the 30 temples, churches, museums, Chinese mansions, plazas and other structures that make up the Historic Centre of Macao, a World Heritage Site since 2005. And because both walks connect at Senado Square, they can easily be combined into a five- or six-hour exploration of Macau.
Walking tour around St Paul’s Ruins
1- Senado Square to Cathedral Square
There’s no mistaking Senado Square with its wave-patterned cobblestones, pastel-colored colonial buildings and throngs of families and sightseers.
This has been the center of Macau’s commercial life for centuries and is still used for public events and festivities.
Follow the wavy-patterned mosaic uphill to St. Dominic’s Church, one of Macau’s prettiest churches but also the scene of a murder.
Founded in 1587 by Spanish Dominican friars originally from Mexico, it witnessed violence in 1644 after the governor reneged on his promise to free Spanish prisoners.
After fighting broke out in the streets, an officer sympathetic to the Spanish sought refuge here during Mass, but a mob pursued him and stabbed him at the altar.
Today, this marvelous example of Baroque architecture is famous for that altar, with statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
Stairs in the right corridor lead to the belfry, where three floors display religious artifacts; my favourite is the top floor, where a soaring ceiling exposes the building’s intricate construction.
Back outside, catty-corner to the right is narrow Travessa de S. Domingos, which leads uphill to Cathedral Square, where I like taking a break on a bench for people-watching.
The square is dominated by the Cathedral, which has existed in various reincarnations since at least 1622 and once served as the mother church of a diocese that included China and Japan.
2- Cathedral Square to Ruins of St. Paul’s
Downhill from Cathedral Square, on Travessa da Sé, is Lou Kau Mansion, built in 1889 by a Chinese merchant.
Though not nearly as grand as the Mandarin Mansion described in my other walk, it has decorative lattice carvings, plaster decorations and an inner courtyard.
It’s also easier to find, just a stone’s throw from the Cathedral and Senado Square, testimony to the ethnic harmony that existed between Macau’s Europeans and Chinese at the time.
Continue downhill and from Rua da Palha on the right side of St. Dominic’s Church, head uphill on Rua da S. Paulo, packed with pedestrians and lined with open-fronted shops selling the ubiquitous barbecued beef jerky and reproduction Chinese furniture.
Near the top of the hill is a grand set of stone stairs leading to Macau’s most famous landmark, the Ruins of St. Paul’s. And ruins they are, for in 1835 a fire destroyed the 17th-century church, leaving only the staircase and ornate façade behind.
Take time to study that façade, carved by Japanese Christian exiles and Chinese stonemasons and containing a wonderful mix of Asian and Western images, including a Portuguese ship, a skeleton, the Virgin Mary and a chrysanthemum.
Behind the façade is a crypt containing bones of 17th-century Japanese and Vietnamese Christian martyrs and the Museum of Sacred Art.
Beside St. Paul’s is the must-see Macau Museum, ensconced in the bowels of Mount Fortress, built in the early 1600s as the city’s primary military defense with supplies to survive a two-year siege.
3- St. Paul’s to Camões Square
On the opposite side of St. Paul’s is the diminutive Na Tcha Temple, erected in 1888 to help against plague and yet another example of the peaceful co-existence between Chinese and Europeans.
Beside it is the only remaining section of the old city wall, built as early as 1569 and incorporating clay, soil, sand, rice straw, crushed rocks and oyster shells.
Following the wall downhill, turn right and walk five minutes toward Camões Square, passing shops selling reproduction furniture and antiques and St. Anthony’s Church, first erected in 1558 as Macau’s first church and rebuilt in 1930.
4- Camões Square back to Senado Square
Across Camões Square is the Protestant Cemetery, with about 160 graves of mostly British and American Protestants, including artist George Chinnery, Joseph Adams (grandson of George Washington) and even opium traders, who were respected merchants at the time.
Nearby is Casa Garden, built in 1770 for a wealthy Portuguese merchant and later rented to the English East Asia Company, and Camões Garden, once part of Casa Garden’s estate and named after Portugal’s most famous poet, said to have lived in Macau in 1557 and honored here with a bust in a small grotto. Elderly come for daily exercise or to play Chinese games in the back pavilion.
Return to Senado Square through the Tercena Neighborhood, where ma-and-pa shops sell everything from goods made from coconut products and to temple offerings, many with tables set up for mah-jongg.
Just before Senado Square, behind St. Dominic’s Church, is a street market with stalls selling children’s wear, Chinese jackets and other cheap clothing.
There is plenty of choices when looking for where to stay in Macau, from boutique hotels to glitzy casino resorts of the Cotai strip.