Macau. Taipa 氹仔
I reached the old town of Taipa (氹仔) from the Galaxy casino resort complex. It is located just on the other side of a busy street. The gate which says “Vila da Taipa” is hard to miss. When you look at it, keep in mind that not so long time ago it was located next to the seashore. Behind it was a fishing village, and where all the mammoth casinos stand right now – was the ocean. I proceeded along Rua Gov. Tamagnini Barbosa. It’s a pretty dramatic change of atmosphere: from the busy flashy crowded casino extravaganza, just 100 meters away, to a tranquil hybrid of Portuguese and Chinese charms.
Built around the late 18th century, Tin Hau Temple 天后廟 is the oldest of Taipa’s surviving temples. The walls are dark from the incense smoke. It is dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea, also known as A-Ma or by one of the titles conferred to her: Celestial Empress (Tin Hau, 天后). Other of Macau’s Mazuistic temples include one on the peninsula, and two on Coloane Island.
The name of the island is interesting from the linguistic perspective. The language that first comes in mind when you think about Macau is Cantonese, right? But “Taipa” is believed to be taken from the Min Nan reading of the 氹仔 characters, tiap á. The Cantonese pronunciation would be tam5zai2, and Mandarin – dàngzǎi. An alternative explanation states that when the Portuguese arrived here, they asked about the name of the island. “Name” in Portuguese is “nome”, which sounds like Cantonese for “sticky rice”, 糯米. The locals replied “daai baa” which means “a lot”. Daaibaa – Taipa, you get it? To add to the confusion, there is also a Portuguese word, “taipa”, which means “rammed earth” – so i’ts also possible that the lexical borrowing went in the other direction.
The “氹” sinogram is a farely rare one, so don’t be shocked if you have a Chinese friend that will be not able to read it. It denotes a puddle, pool or a pit.
Museum of Taipa and Coloane History (Museu da História da Taipa e Coloane, 路氹歷史館) is a fairly old school establishment of infoboards and artifacts in glass cabinets. As the name suggests, it is mostly about history, but it also gives an insight into religion, agriculture and fishing. Old maps will give you an understanding of how the shape of these islands has changed over the years of land reclamation.
Another shrine nearby is the Pak Tai Temple 北帝廟. The main of the many divinities venerated here is the Northern Emperor (or God), resposible for protection from natural disasters. The temple stands here since the mid-19th century.
Next, I headed towards the most busy part of the town.
Rua do Cunha (官也街) is a famous foodie street. Several pastry shops and restaurants are nestled in a narrow lane between the Bombeiros Square and a space with an open shelter supported by columns called Carmo Fair (Feira do Carmo, 嘉模墟), where the Old Taipa Market once stood.
The third votive building visited by me that day was Kun Iam Temple 觀音堂, a small shrine for the devotees of Guanyin, the Chinese version of Avalokiteśvara.
A minute or so later, I arrived to yet another Chinese temple after passing yet another lovely street.
It’s the I Leng Temple 醫靈廟, also known as Ka Sin Tong 嘉善堂. The first name translates as Temple of the Divinity of Medicine. It actually refers not to a single person, but to several honorable physicians from throughout China’s history. The alternative name, Auspicious and Benevolent Hall, is an older one and reminds us that besides becoming a temple, this place has also served as a charity institution.
From there, I headed towards Calçada do Carmo, a flight of stairs that brought me to the last temple today, this time a Christian one.
The Our Lady of Carmel Church 嘉模聖母教堂 is the only Catholic church on Taipa. Built in 1885, it originally faced the ocean. Now it overlooks the reclaimed land filled with casino resorts.
More colonial architecture awaited me immediately down the hill. Next to a garden and a pond are five small pale green buildings that once housed influential Macanese families and now serve as a museum. One displays recreation of ye olde days, two others provide space for exhibitions, and one is a bookstore/gallery. The fifth one is not opened to the public and hosts official events. The admission to Taipa Houses-Museum 龍環葡韻 is free.
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