Macao is one of the earliest port cities that China opened up to the world, as well as a crucial node and trading hub of the Maritime Silk Road. Chinese and Westerners have been living in the same territory harmoniously for over 400 years, while exerting influence on one another, contributing to the formation of Macao’s culture that features a blend of Eastern and Western characteristics and a sense of inclusiveness. After Macao’s handover to China, the city has won itself three prestigious titles on the international stage, namely the city of ‘World Cultural Heritage’, ‘the Memory of the World’ and ‘the Creative City of Gastronomy’, which have immensely elevated its image as a cultural city. Coupled with the construction and development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Macao will invest greater efforts in establishing itself as ‘a hub of exchange and co-operation where traditional Chinese culture prevails and other cultures flourish in harmony’.
Following its policy of promoting Chinese culture whilst preserving the unique pluralistic cultural heritage of Macao, the operation of the Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC thereafter) comprises of different sectors, including cultural heritage, exhibition and museums, performances, creativity and public libraries.
In addition to the promotion, transmission and the promotion of the tangible and intangible cultural heritages, the IC hosts various cultural and artistic exhibitions, reading promotions and cultural dissemination activities, through the two professional orchestra and mega cultural and artistic events, the IC also promotes multi-culture and art transmission, dissemination, exchange and cooperation, so as to enhance the cultural literacy and aesthetics. Meanwhile, the government encourages non-governmental organisations and cultural workers to organize cultural activities and artistic creation, so as to enrich residents’ life, as well as enhancing the humanity essence of as World Centre of Tourism and Leisure and the cultural image of Macao. In addition, the Government has granted subsidies to aid non-governmental organisations and cultural workers in organising different forms of cultural activities and art creation to enrich the cultural life of Macao residents.
Cultural Heritages and Intangible Cultural Heritages of Macao
The Historic Centre of Macao is a living representation of the city’s historic settlement, valuable resource of the sustainable development of Macao, and the product of cultural exchange between the western world and Chinese civilization. The Historic Centre of Macao was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2015, making it the 31st designated World Heritage site in China. In addition, the abundant cultural historical resources of Macao include classifies immovable properties, intangible cultural heritage, archaeological heritage, ancient and famous trees. In order to strengthen the protection of Macao’s valuable cultural resources, including The Historic Centre of Macao, the government made the Law No. 11/2013 - Cultural Heritage Protection Law, which clearly lays down the relevant provisions regarding the protection of Macao’s cultural heritage, such as the scope and method of protection, procedures and standards of the assessment of heritage, legal responsibility and obligation, on the other hand, the Cultural Heritage Committee is set up as consultation body, which established the system of the protection of cultural heritage of Macao SAR.
On 15 July 2015, the 29th meeting of UNESCO World Heritage Committee, the Historic Centre of Macao was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2015, making it the 31st designated World Heritage site in China. The Historic Centre of Macao comprises of 22 classified immovable assets and eight piazzas as well as the streetscapes that links the piazzas and architectural legacies, with its historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the historic centre of Macao provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West.
Macao’s abundant cultural heritage has witnessed the harmonious integration of Chinese and Western cultures in the past hundreds of years. In addition to the Historic Center of Macao, there are many properties of cultural significance in Macao. Since the Decree-Law No. 11/2013 - Cultural Heritage Protection Law was passed and promulgated, providing legal protection for all properties of cultural significance, the government will regularly launch cultural heritage evaluation and research, which will eventually include more properties of cultural significance to legal protection. By the end of 2020, protected properties in Macao had been increased from 128 (before Cultural Heritage Protection Law was promulgated) to 147, which are classified into four categories: monuments; buildings of architectural and artistic interest, architectural complexes and sites, scattered across the Macao Peninsula, Taipa, and Coloane. Among the 15 items in the Inventory of Macao’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, 12 were inscribed on the List of Macao Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Government formulates protection measures according to the value and characteristics of the heritage, to promote and pass on cultural traditions. The Government actively safeguards Macao and its cultural heritage, which is characterised by unique multicultural diversity and harmony.
Ruins of St Paul’s College and the old church of Mater Dei
St Paul’s College was established by the Society of Jesuit in 1504, which was the first western-style institution of university level in the China, the old church of Mater Dei was part of the College. The old church of Mater Dei was built from 1602, the foundation still lays on the left of the façade, MATER DEI" is engraved on the front door, which means “Mother of God”. The St Paul’s College and the church was destroyed in a fire in 1835, only the façade of the church, staircase and most of the foundation remained. The local people used to call it “Dai San Ba Pai Fong” because the façade looks similar to Chinese traditional arch, and the transliteration of St. Paul.
St Augustine’s Church
First established by Spanish Augustinians in 1591, the original structure was simple, the rooftop was covered with fan palm leaves. Seen from afar, these leaves appeared to be dragon's whiskers floating in the wind, hence the local Chinese named it Long Song Miu (Temple of the Long-whiskered Dragon). In 1874, the building was revamped to what people can presently witness. The church has a brick and wood structure, orientating in the north and facing the south, and a simple, neoclassical front. St Augustine’s Church is also the starting point of the event “Procession of Passion of our Lord”. The Procession boasts a long history in Macao. It can be traced back to 1708, is part of the Catholic “Novena of the Passion of Our Lord, the God Jesus”, which takes place on the first Saturday and Sunday of Lent. It starts from the St. Augustine’s Church heading to the Cathedral on the first day and returns on the second day. At each designated "Station" on the return route, a female taking the role of Veronica solos a sorrowful song and responded by a priest and the participants in prayers and songs, giving a sense of grief conveyed in the air. The Procession is inscribed on the List of Intangible Heritage of Macao.
St Dominic’s Church
This church was established in 1587, it was the first church being established in China by Dominican. It was originally built in wood, hence its naming in Chinese as Pan Cheong Tong meaning “Church of Wooden Planks”. The church is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. It was built in baroque style. The façade is symmetrical and divided into four horizontal levels, on the religious insignia of the Dominican order is carried on the centre of the third level. The Treasure of Sacred Art which has a collection of around 300 artefacts dated from the 17th to the 19th century was installed during the restoration of the St Dominic’s Church in 1997.
In 1929, this church integrated the worship of Our Lady of Fatima into its religious service. The Macao Procession of Our Lady of Fatima first took place on the same year. The procession currently takes place on 13 May of each year, is part of the “Feast and Novena of Our Lady of Fatima”, the Procession of Our Lady of Fatima is dedicated to the celebration of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in Fatima, in Portugal, 1917. With recitations of rosary and singing of hymns all along, the procession makes its way from the St. Dominic’s Church to the Penha Chapel, providing a very impressive scene. The religious celebration in Macao shows distinctive features as well as an inscribed item on the List of Intangible Heritage of Macao.
Guia Fortress, Chapel and Lighthouse
Situated on the peak of Guia Hill – the highest point of Macao Peninsular, Guia Fortress was built in 1622 and underwent expansion works from 1637 to 1638. It comprises a barracks, a powder magazine and a tower. Since then, the fortress was classified as a restricted military area, until 1976 when the Portuguese army retreated from Macao. Since then, it has been kept as it was. The chapel next to the lighthouse has been known as Guia Chapel, was built in 1622, dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Guia. In 1996 frescoes were uncovered inside Guia Chapel during routine conservation work. Colourful frescos were painted on the vaulting and the walls inside the chapel. Its painting techniques integrate both Chinese and Western art, is a perfect example of Macao’s multicultural dimension. Guia Lighthouse became operational on the 24th of September of t865. It was the earliest modern lighthouse in the Far East and on the Chinese seacoast. The lighthouse was damaged by a typhoon in September 1874. Its service resumed on the 29th of June 1910, after the conclusion of the repair works.
The Mandarin's House
The Mandarin’s House is the ancestral home of Zheng Guanying, a pioneering thinker, industrialist, literary writer and humanitarian of modern China. Words of Warning in Times of Prosperity, which Zheng wrote while living in the Mandarin’s House, has been called a masterpiece that pushed forward reform of modern China. It can be traced back to 1869 when Zheng Wenrui, the father of Zheng Guanying, initiated the building of the Mandarin's House. The Mandarin’s House is a residential complex, as well as the only “Ronglu Hall” (which means House of a Chinese government official) in Macao. The Mandarin's House has the characteristics of traditional Guangdong's residences. Yet, it also features a fusion of architectural influences from western cultures. The Mandarin's House occupies an area of 4000m2, it extends more than 120 metres in depth, on which are buildings and open spaces designed in various architectural styles. The entire complex has more than 60 rooms in total. A private residence for one family of such scale is rare in Macao.
Lou Kau Mansion
Lou Kau Mansion is believed to be built in 1889, which was the former family residence of the prominent merchant of Macao, Lou Va Sio (Lou Kau). Although the house is typically Chinese in its general architectural structure, which represents the Chinese residences featuring the graceful and delicate architectural style in the late Qing dynasty, its decorative motifs also integrate western influences. The Mansion is a two-storey house, organised in a three-by-three grid of space. The inside of the building was designed with several patios to enhance ventilation and natural lighting. Despite being separated by door screens, the space along the central axis is directly accessible. The interior dncor is rather fascinating with a combination of Chinese brick carvings, plasterwork, horizontal panels, hanging openwork arches and oyster shell windows, which are common in central Guangdong, as well as Western false ceilings, Manzhou widows (stained glass windows) and cast-iron handrails. The mansion is a representation of the integration of Chinese and Western architectural styles, which is unique to residences in Macao.
Dom Pedro V Theatre
Built in 1860 as the first Western-style theatre in all of China, the Dom Pedro V Theatre has since served as a performing venue for music, dance and various other kinds of performances. In addition to a theatre, the structure once also housed a ball room, a reading room and a billiard parlour, making it a venue of central importance for the Macanese community at the time. The Theatre was also rented out to local businessmen in the past, for the showing of films, which led to the establishment of the “Macao Cinema for Distinguished Films”. For this reason, the Dom Pedro V Theatre is also known in everyday Chinese as the “Macao Theatre”.
With an exquisite and refined architectural and decorative design, the Dom Pedro V Theatre emanates a strong romantic flavour. Its neoclassical style not only embodies the splendid characteristics of the European theatres of the time, it also integrates beautifully into the Macao environment. White cornice and architrave mouldings define spaces on the sage green exterior walls, which feature doors and shutters in dark green, all housed under a terracotta roof. This contrasting colour palette stands out against the blocks of yellow buildings on Largo de Santo Agostinho, yet it strikes a harmonious chord with its surroundings. The Theatre contains a vestibule boasting an ancient crystal chandelier, which adds an immensely rich artistic ambience and even a sense of mystery to the interior. The performance hall is comfortable and spacious, with a capacity of 275 seats arranged in curved rows. A staircase located at the end of a long side corridor leads up to the semi-circular balcony seating area. Having spent over a century in vivid use by the Macao community, the Dom Pedro V Theatre is now one of the important historic buildings in the Historic Centre of Macao ensemble inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The Theatre has survived as a witness to the bygone leisure and entertainment activities of the Macanese community and today remains a tremendously refined and distinctive performing venue for culture and arts, staying true to its traditional function and historic legacy. It stands as one of the most important and enduring testimonies to the development of Macao’s performing arts.
Intangible Cultural Heritage
As a place of meeting cultures, Macao has created the unique cultural landscape for intangible heritage. As of 2021, a total of 70 items in Macao have been recorded on the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage, with 12 items inscribed on the List of intangible Cultural Heritage. In addition, 11 items of Macao inscribed on the mentioned National Representative List, including: Cantonese Opera, Herbal Tea Brewing, Woodwork - Religious Figure Carving, Cantonese Naamyam (Narrative Songs), Taoist Ritual Music, Festival of the Drunken Dragon, Belief and Customs of A-Ma, Belief and Customs of Na Tcha, Macanese Gastronomy, Patuá Theatre and Belief and Customs of Tou Tei.
In order to strengthen the protection of Macao’s intangible cultural heritage, when the Macao SAR government prepared Law No. 11/2013 – Cultural Heritage Protection Law, the intangible cultural heritage was included as an object of protection. This law dedicates a specific chapter to protective measures related to the safeguard of Macao's intangible cultural heritage, also defining the scope of what constitutes intangible cultural heritage, while also establishing the criteria, inventory procedures, emergency response mechanisms and the duties inherent to the transmitters of this type of heritage, among other standards, altogether representing a significant advancement.
Exhibition Facilities and Museums
The Department of Exhibition and Museums manages a number of museums and exhibition facilities. The museums cover themes such as history, culture, art, humanity, traditional industries and religion, which includes the Museum of Macao, Macao Museum of Art, Museum of Taipa and Coloane, Zheng Guanying Memorial Museum, Xian Xinghai Memorial Museum, Former Chong Sai Pharmacy, General Ye Ting’s Former Residence and Heritage Exhibition of a Traditional Pawnshop Business. Exhibition facilities are mainly used for visual art exhibitions, such as Tap Seac Gallery, Macao Contemporary Art Center – Navy Yard No.1, Mong-ha Villa, Mount Fortress Corridor and Former Municipal Cattle Stable.
The Macao Museum was opened on 18th April 1998. The Macao Museum showcases Macao’s history and cultural diversity. With their rich and profound historical and cultural connotations, the exhibits in the museum demonstrate the historical changes of Macao over the past centuries. The Macao Museum, which opened on 18 April 1998, is three storeys high. Two floors are built under the platform of Mount Fortress, while only the top floor is converted from the ground building of the original weather observatory, thus retaining the original architectural style and geomorphological features of Mount Fortress to the maximum.
The first floor of the museum presents the development of Chinese and Western culture before the Portuguese arrival in the 16th century, Macao's early history and the development of its culture, influenced by the commercial activities between the Chinese and the Portuguese, and by religious and cultural contact between the two civilizations, as well as the culture of Macao which is developed from then on; the second floor shows various aspects of the traditions and folk arts of Macao, as well as its religious ceremonies and traditional festivals of Macao; the third floor features current city life and highlighting the portrayal of the region by various literary and artistic personalities.
Macao Museum of Art
The Macao Museum of Art (MMA) was founded on 19th March 1999. The total area of the Museum is 10,192 square metres, of which exhibition areas occupy 4,000 square metres. It is the largest and only museum fully dedicated to the arts in Macao. The Macao Museum of Art is a five-storey building with various exhibition areas and galleries. On the fourth floor are 2 special exhibition rooms, mainly used to display artifacts, painting and calligraphic collections. There are 3 special exhibition rooms on the third floor to display MMA collections and the works of local artists. 2 exhibition zones on the second floor showing contemporary collections and works of western artists. On the ground floor locates exhibition area, reception, museum shop, the Palace Museum Cultural and Creativity Store as well as the auditorium. On the level zero, there is also a workshop where various art courses are regularly organised.
Currently, the MMA has over 16,000 collections, which mainly includes Cantonese calligraphy and painting, historical painting, Shiwan ceramics, Macao images, art of Macao and performance. In addition, MMA regularly cooperates with exhibition museums of Mainland China and other regions for different types of exchanges and exhibitions. MMA also organizes various kinds of exhibitions of local artists’ work. MMA has being organizing local artists to participate in Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition under the name of “Macao-China” since 2007, thereby promoting Macao’s contemporary art on the international stage.
Handover Gifts Museum of Macao
The Handover Gifts Museum of Macao is also the area that was used for the handover ceremony on 20th December, 1999 in which Macao was returned to the Mainland. When the hall was dismantled after the ceremony the area became part of the Macao Cultural Centre. Construction work for the Handover Gifts Museum of Macao started in March 2003 and was completed in October 2004. The Museum was officially opened December 2004 to commemorate the handover for its significance in Macao’s modern history.
The handover gifts exhibition hall mainly exhibits the handover gifts presented by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, its country-wide provinces, municipalities, autonomous regions and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The designated topic exhibition hall will be used to hold different exhibits, which are mainly themed at the local culture and history of Macao. In 2020, the “Patrioctic Education Base for Young People” was established under the management of the Education and Youth Development Bureau.
Jao Tsung-I Academy
The academy was established in 2015 to introduce the public to the academic achievements of Professor Jao, and promote Chinese culture and arts, as well as promulgating Chinese culture and arts and promoting academic exchange related to sinological studies. There are two exhibition rooms, one on the ground floor and the other one of the first floor. Besides, there is a library and an auditorim which be used for holding exhibitions, seminar, and workshops, while higher priority will be given to Chinese traditional cultural related activities. The Jao Tsung-I Academy, Tap Seac Galleery and its peripheral buildings were all constructed during the same period, together forming a unique cluster of historic monuments, is one of Macao’s designated heritage sites.
The Taipa Houses
The Taipa Houses were built in 1921; consist of five Portuguese buildings once serving as the residences of senior civil servants and Macanese families.
The five houses are ‘Macanese Living Museum’, ‘Exhibitions Gallery’, ‘Creative Casa’, ‘Nostalgic House’ and ‘House for Receptions’ from west to east, respectively. This project has converted the place into a combination of culture and creativity, with outdoor performances and leisure elements making it a showcase of not only the culture of the Portuguese-speaking countries but of culture from all over the world.
Xian Xinghai Memorial Museum
In commemoration of the great Macao-born musician Xian Xinghai, the Macao SAR Government has established the Xian Xinghai Memorial Museum to exhibit his exemplary life paths and promote his musical achievements. The Museum was inaugurated on 23 November, 2019. In September 2020, the museum was inscribed on the Third Batch of National Anti-Japanese War Memorial Facilities and Sites.
The Maritime Museum was inaugurated in 1987. The former location was a two- storey house situated in the Largo do Pagode da Barra. However, because of increasing visitors and the acquisition of collections, it was necessary to move to a more spacious premises. For this reason, a new building was erected for the purpose and was inaugurated on June 1990, in the same square as the original house, (now used for the Museum offices) and at the side of the A-Ma Temple.
The architectural façade of the Museum gives the viewer an impression of a stylized vessel. The exhibition area is divided into three storeys with different features, mainly on the Chinese and Portuguese voyages and discoveries, the exhibitions not only reflected the historical development of Macao, it also systematically portraying the remarkable achievements of China and Portug