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It's fewer than three miles between the glitz and glamor of the Cotai Strip's casino hotels and the peninsula of Macau. However, it is this trip that spans centuries and seems to take visitors to another time, one in which visitors can experience the “way it was” when Macau was a thriving Portuguese trading center.
Thanks to careful preservation or, where needed, detailed restoration, the Historic Center of Macau has been honored as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. More than a site, the Historic Center houses centuries-old European and Chinese residences, Portuguese colonial government buildings, temples, a 17th-century Baroque church and even a cemetery, all of which coexist nicely with a bustling modern Chinese community.
While this is still very much a traditional Chinese area, there are subtle changes taking place. Run-down buildings housing shops on the cobblestone street level and living quarters on the second floor are in the process of gentrification. Major renovations are turning them into upscale antique stores and offices. Even the old iron street lamps are now decorated with hanging planters.
Generous funding from the gaming industry has resulted in the opening of a number of museums and galleries, all worth a visitor’s time and attention. Some of these are apparently designed to instill in Macau’s own citizens a sense of pride in their history, traditions and culture. For example, there is the Maritime Museum; the Museum of Taipa and Coloane History; the Macao Tea Culture Museum, located in the Lou Lim Ieoc Garden; the Natural and Agrarian Museum in the traditional little town of Coloane; the Heritage Exhibition of a Traditional Pawnshop Business; the Tung Sin Tong Historical Archive Exhibition Hall; and the Museum of Macao Security Forces. In the Macau Museum, exhibits depict the region’s earliest history, highlighting the life and cultures of its communities going back to the 16th century.
Though called the Taipa Houses-Museum, this venue is actually a collection of five attractive, colonial-style bungalows originally built to accommodate senior civil servants and wealthy Macanese families. The Communications Museum is more in the present, offering educational exhibits, science demonstrations and workshops for students. And the Macau Museum of Art offers an excellent calendar of permanent and traveling exhibitions.
Macau’s contemporary life is presented in several attractive museums. One of the more popular attractions is the Wine Museum. It combines an excellent presentation of Portugal’s and China’s wine industries through the years, and the modest price of admission also includes nearly nonstop wine tasting in the Wine Cellar. Another favorite is the Grand Prix Museum. It celebrates the Macau Grand Prix but also showcases a variety of race cars motorcycles.
Fortunately for the visitor, Macau offers a packed schedule of festivals and special events, including the International Fireworks Display Contest, the Macau International Music Festival, the Macau Open and the Macau International Marathon, to name a few.
“The vast amount of cultural offerings in Macau, from UNESCO World Heritage sites to a breadth of museums and galleries, often comes as a pleasant surprise for travelers,” said Al Merschen, general manager of the Macau Government Tourist Office. “The region provides countless resources for travelers to explore the rich culture of Macau that has nourished itself for over 400 years. It has and will continue to manifest the qualities that make up a truly unique travel destination.”