In Macau, you can find Las Vegas-like casinos, luxury resorts, fine dining and a magnitude of entertainment amidst a unique setting of a former Portuguese colony. But many visitors are surprised to discover that Portugal ruled Macau for the best part of 450 years, only handing Macau back to China in 1999. Formal rule may have ended at that time, however, a fusion of Chinese-Portuguese cuisine, heritage and architecture were left behind. Macau’s Portuguese roots are deep and strong. It survives in Macau’s colonial buildings, historic streets. The streets are lined with flower pots and have lovely squares paved with cobblestones in the traditional Portuguese-style, known as calçada portuguesa or Macau Portuguese pavements.
I often think of these cobblestone pavements as the glue that links Macau’s colonial past to her present day charm and beauty. These pavements are attractions on their own and help create a distinct atmosphere in Macau, not found elsewhere in Asia.
Top Spots in to see Macau Portuguese Pavements
Historic City Centre
You can find considerable presence of tiled pavement in the pedestrian area throughout the Historic City Centre of Macau.
This is where the vast majority of visitors spend time sightseeing so you are bound to come across quite a few of these decorative Macau Portuguese pavements as you make your way from one historic attraction to another.
At Senado Square you’ll see the famous waving pattern, which extends from one end of the square to the other, undulating from Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro all the way to St Dominic’s Church.
This Macau Portuguese design is a beautiful motif that resembles the waves of the sea. It’s a familiar pattern that can also be regularly found in Portugal and is a reminder of the country’s rich maritime history.
For an expansive view of the waving pavement of Senado Square, head to the upstairs verandah of the Holy House of Mercy Museum which overlooks the square.
Meanwhile, other Macau Portuguese pavement images are more straightforward. The curved walkway in Senado Square, between the Post Office and Holy House of Mercy, is paved with images of Macau’s iconic buildings,
Similarly, aquatic-themed images of sea creatures and maritime vessels are predominant in major avenues like Almeida Ribeiro and Praia Grande.
Occasionally, images fall outside of these categories and make for interesting discoveries. You may come across a soldier on a horse, a ladybird, an automobile or an oversized eye!
Not to be discounted, small streets and footpaths in and around the centre are also surfaced with geometric cobblestone patterns and lined with traditional Chinese shops, giving you a real sense of the East-meets-West culture that defines Macau.
Just beyond the city centre, Macau’s gardens are good places to find these cobblestone image variations.
San Francisco Garden hosts a collection of sea life, buildings and stylised floral patterns (and is a great place to spend downtime too, just a few minutes walk from The Grand Lisboa Hotel).
St. Lazarus District
Another top spot to see the best of Macau’s Portuguese cobblestone pavements is St. Lazarus District.
This small area of the city, no more than a 10-minute walk from Senado Square and the Ruins of St. Paul, is where you find a “step up” in pavement designs, with the addition of rust-coloured stones.
The curlicue tile patterns decorating the street just in front and near to St. Lazarus Church, together with the multi-coloured colonial-style buildings in the area, make for postcard-perfect pictures. Snap away!
Don’t forget to walk to the end of the street and take a gander at the Albergue SCM courtyard, one of the most beautiful places in Macau to visit.
St. Lazarus District offers pleasant environs in Macau and no other place in the city produces a more European feel and atmosphere than here.
Other Areas of Macau to see tiled pavements
Other notable locations in the Macau Peninsula for spotting tiled pavements include the area fronting St. Joseph’s Church, Barra Square in front of A Ma Temple, and the Three Lamps District near Red Market.
So what are these Macau Portuguese pavements?
Throughout the Portuguese world, you’ll find the distinguishable tiled pedestrian areas made of flat stone fragments of beige limestone and black basalt stone and forming attractive images and patterns that decorate public spaces.
The craft dates back to Mesopotamia times and was popularized in Greece and Rome in the form of mosaic artworks.
In later centuries, the Portuguese employed the technique for surfacing public grounds, using cobblestones that were small enough to create patterns, yet large enough for economical wide scale use.
Remaining true to the techniques imported from Portugal, Macau has mainly stuck with the traditional beige and black colours in paving its grounds. This is what you see around most of the Historic City Centre, particularly in the area around Senado Square.
However, beyond the UNESCO World Heritage area of Macau, it is quite common to find rust coloured cobblestones added to the mix.
These coloured cobblestones provide an element of uniqueness to the pavements that can be found in Macau.
These Portuguese-style cobblestone pavements are testament to the surviving heritage and fused Chinese-European culture that are on regular display throughout the city.
So be sure to keep your eyes peeled to the ground and look out for these street gems on your next visit to Macau!
Brad Reynolds lives and works in Hong Kong but spends much of his free time in Macau enjoying the Chinese-Portuguese fusion culture (and Portuguese-style cobblestone pavements).
Looking for Macao’s coolest neighbourhood? Check out Taipa