A-Ma Temple is one of the key sights in Macau, situated in the southwestern corner of the peninsula. You can get there by bus, but I usually walk. If you are here for the first time, the choice of which street to take is obvious: Rua da Barra (媽閣上街)!
You can reach it after passing all the colonial architectural pearls around the St. Augustine’s Square. Several hundred meters south after passing the St. Lawrence’s church, I reached a lovely little space with trees and benches. This is the Lilau Square. Hidden in a nearby back alley is the Mandarin’s House (Casa do Mandarim, 鄭家大屋). This huge mansion belonged to Zheng 鄭 family. Constructed in 1869, it was later extended to consist as many as 60 rooms. It is a wonderful example of southern Chinese architecture. Western elements incorporated into the style make it even more fascinating. If it’s in Mainland China, I would imagine that the sightseeing ticket would cost hundreds of yuan. But it’s Macau and the entry is free. Plus, when I was here, there were almost no other tourists.
Portuguese empire encompassed not only this tiny little peninsula off the Chinese coast, but – among other principalities – also some chunks of the Indian subcontinent. The next important stop down along Rua da Barra are the Moorish Barracs (Edifício da Capitania dos Portos, 港務局大樓), built for a regiment brought here from Goa to reinforce local police in 1874. Many buildings in Macau look European but blend in Asian elements. In this case, neo-classical structure was enriched with some Mughal architectural features.
After walking the entire length of Rua da Barra, I finally reached the Barra Square (Largo da Barra, 媽閣廟前地). (And the Barra Hill – yes, everything around here is called “Barra”). As it is believed to be standing here since 1488, the A-Ma Temple (Templo de A-Má, 媽閣廟) is one of the oldest temples in Macau. It actually existed before Macau was even created. When the Portuguese first arrived, they asked local people about the name of this place. The answer was “The Bay of A-Ma” which in Cantonese sounds “A-Ma-Gau”. The newcomers noted it as “Macau” and this name stayed with them for good.
There are many deities worshipped here, from both Taoist, Buddhist and Chinese folk traditions, but the main is A-Ma 媽閣, more comonly known as Ma-tsu or Mazu 媽祖. Originally a real person, Lin Moniang 林默娘 lived in 10th century in Fujian and was a shamaness. According to legends, she used magical powers to save her brothers from being drawned during a typhoon. She is now revered in both Taoist and Buddhist temples, mostly in coastal areas, as a patron goddess of sailors and fishermen. There is even a special term for the cult of her, Mazuism.
I have also visited the Macau Maritime Museum (Museu Marítimo, 海事博物館) on the other side of Barra Square. It is divided into ethnological, historical and technological parts and an aquarium. Fishing techniques and fishermen traditions, types of boats, Chinese maritime inventions, everything is beautifully explained. There is a map of Zheng He voyages and a historical model of the Macau penisula. I liked the sections on oyster harvest too.
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