Macao, a lucrative port of strategic importance in the development of international trade, was under Portuguese administration from the mid-16th century until 1999, when it came under Chinese sovereignty. With its historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the historic centre of Macao provides a unique testimony tothe meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West. The site also contains a fortress and a lighthouse, the oldest in China. It bears witness to one of the earliest and longest-lasting encounters between China and the West, based on the vibrancy of international trade.
The history of Macao is intimately associated with the development of world-wide trading routes. Its strategic location on Chinese territory and the special relationship that was established between the Chinese and Portuguese authorities gave Macao a strategic position for the important interchange of influences and human values in the various fields of culture, sciences, technology, art and architecture.
Macao represents an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble that illustrates the development of the encounter between the Western and Chinese civilizations over some four and half centuries. The historical route, with a series of urban spaces and mixture of vernacular architectural ensembles, linking the ancient Chinese port with the Portuguese city, has evolved over time into a unique combination of buildings and structures that testimony to the different phases of the cultural encounter.
The World Heritage site of Macao, located on the south-east coast of China to the west of the Pearl River Delta, consists of the Macao peninsula and the two islands of Taipa and Coloane. It was settled by fishing people long before the arrival of foreigners. The Portuguese first arrived in China in 1513, visiting the famous market of Canton. In 1557, they created in what was to become the oldest permanent European settlement in East Asia. The name of Macao derives from the Ma Kwok temple, built in the 14th century. At the time, the native inhabitants were scattered in small villages. Barra village and Patane village were small settlements of seafaring merchants, whereas the other villagers were farmers.
The first core zone consists of the central area of the historic settlement of Macao. It includes a series of urban spaces and buildings representing the integration of Portuguese and Chinese elements along the city's primary urban route, Rua Direita, which leads from the ancient Chinese harbour in the south to the old Christian city in the north.
Barra Square with the A-Ma Temple (15th century) is an example of Chinese culture inspired by Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and folk beliefs. The temple is used especially during Chinese Spring Festival, and consists of the Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Prayer Hall, the Hall of Benevolence, the Hall of Guanyin and a Buddhist pavilion. North of the temple there is the neoclassical Moorish Barracks (1874) with its wide verandas raised on a granite platform. It was built to house police forces recruited from Goa. Lilau Square is one of the first residential quarters of the Portuguese in Macao, with the Mandarin's House, a traditional Chinese residence belonging to a prominent Chinese literary figure. St Augustine's Square was established by Spanish Augustinian priests in 1591, and still maintains the tradition of the Easter Procession. Dom Pedro V Theatre (1860), the first Western-style theatre in China, is a neoclassical brick building. The Baroque St Joseph's Seminary Building and Church was the principal basis for the missionary work in China, Japan and the region. Leal Senado Square is the main public square of the town with the Leal Senado Building, a two-storeyed neoclassical structure. Close by there is the Cathedral Square with the Cathedral Church (rebuilt in 1850), and the headquarters of Macao's Diocese. Further north is St Dominic's Square with St Dominic's Church (founded in 1587) and the old Chinese bazaar area. Here there is the Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple, testimony to Macao's enduring respect for Chinese and Portuguese communities as equals. Company of Jesus Square has the Ruins of St Paul's, which represent the remaining front elevation of the Church of Mater Dei and Na Tcha Temple. The Section of the Old City Walls (1569) is built from chunambo , a local material made from a mixture of clay, sand, rice straw, ground rocks and oyster shells compacted in layers. East of the there is the Mount Fortress, which stands on the Mount Hill. It was built against attacks from the sea. Camões Garden area has St Anthony's church, the old headquarters of the British East Indies Company, and the Protestant Cemetery with the tombs of renowned personalities.
The second core zone consists of the Guia Fortress, located on the Guia Hill and incorporating Guia Chapel (1622) and Guia Lighthouse (1885), the oldest lighthouse in the South China seas.