Macau is a city with two faces. On one hand, it is the famed Las Vegas of the East, where the thrill of beating the dealer at the blackjack table lures wealthy tourists from mainland China and neighboring Hong Kong to try their luck. But on the other hand, there is a side of Macau rarely explored. A side filled with charismatic fortresses, churches and culture of its former colonial master, Portugal. One such site is The Historic Centre of Macau, which spans eight historic squares filled with classical colonial and oriental buildings. Unearthing Asia explores the notable highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Senado Square has been the centre of Macau since the beginning, and plays host to many public events and festivities. Within the square are several notable architectures, such as Sam Kai Vui Kun (Kuan Tai Temple), Leal Senado Building and Holy House of Mercy. The Kuan Tai Temple is situated on the site of the old Macau bazaar, a very important trading centre during the Chinese commercial period in Macau. After the decline of the bazaar, the temple rose to importance in the area.
The Barra Square faces the Inner Harbour, and its front part is constructed from famed Portugese mosaic. The tiles are laid in a wavy pattern to mirror the flow of a nearby river. Within the square is A-Ma Temple, the oldest and longest surviving building in Macau. When the first Portugese settlers arrived in the 16th century and asked for the name of the place, they were told “A-Ma Gau”, the name of the temple instead. This was then transcribed by the settlers into the Portugese Macau.
St Augustine’s Square
This square brings together several notable sites, including St Augustine’s Church, the Dom Pedro V Theatre, St Joseph’s Seminary and Church, and the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library. The Dom Pedro V Theatre was the earliest western-styled theatre in China, and was originally built to commemorate Kind Pedro V.
Lilau in Portugese means “mountain spring”, and this used to be the principal source of water in Macau. Within the Lilau Square are the Mandarin’s House and Moorish Barracks. The Mandarin’s House was the residence of the famed Chinese thinker Zheng Guanying. The Moorish Barracks nearby was built by the Italian architect Cassuto, but curiously shows Islamic influence in its design.
Ruins of St Paul’s
The Ruins of St Paul refers to the facade of what was originally the Church of Mater Dei built in 1602-1640. Destroyed by fire in 1835, the Ruins also refer to the ruins of St Paul’s College, which stood adjacent to the Church. As a whole, the old Church of Mater Dei, St Paul’s College and Mount Fortress were perceived as Macau’s “acropolis”. Today, the Ruins of St Paul are one of Macau’s most famous landmarks, and in 2005 were officially enlisted as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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If places like Taikang Lu and Xintiandi are a contemporary and historical melting pot of Shanghai-ness, then Duolun Road is its timeline. When 50 Moganshan was still nothing more than a textile factory, some of the most radical and freethinking writers of their time were chilling out on Duolun Rd. It started with Lu Xun, China’s most celebrated literary son, who moved in to the area in the 1930s. Others, like Guo Moruo, Mao Dun and Ding Ling followed. Before long, Duolun Rd. had blossomed into a vibrant cultural district of writers, artists and Chinese liberals.
The entire Hongkou District, just north of the Bund, where Duolun Rd. is located, was at one time a settlement of American and British diplomats, and thus has always prevailed as an area of Shanghai where internationalism flourished. When Duolun Rd. was first built in 1911, it was called Darroch Rd. after a British missionary who had once met with the Emperor during the Qing Dynasty. The road was renamed “Duolun Lu” in 1943, after the People’s Republic of China was established. By the end of the 20th century, Duolun Rd. had been pedestrianized and much of it restored, repainted and revitalized.
Despite the many social, political and aesthetic changes around Duolun Rd. throughout the last hundred years, the street still runs its same course in an L-shape, connecting at its two ends with the bustling Sichuan Bei Lu. A hodgepodge of architectural styles interlace the road, weaving together a map of the street’s age like lines on a tree trunk. Old bookshops, antiques stores and trinket stalls line the edges of the street and give visitors a chance to partake in the Bohemian feeling of what was once the greatest literary center in all of China.
Shopping is not why people go to Duolun Rd., but it is one of the perks of being there. That is, if you are interested in antiques, because antiques are really all you’ll find on Duolun Rd. A few dusty bookshops leave their doors open to passersby interested in historic and used books, most of them Chinese. Unnamed trinket shops sell archaic bits of jewelry – beaded bracelets, jade necklaces and old fans. And the dozens of antiques stores you’ll find there house fine examples of traditional Chinese furniture, wooden objects and historic porcelain (just be on the lookout for fakes, because they’re around, too). There is even some revolutionary paraphernalia to be found in the mix, if that’s your thing.
Shopaholics may find another spot in Shanghai to be a more entertaining option. Shanghai’s “new heaven and earth”, hip modern Xintiandi, is a hotspot of entertainment, shopping and nightlife that really lives up to it’s name.
Cultural districts never have a shortage of quaint cafes, and Duolun Rd. is no exception. Several small eateries are dotted along the road in between antiques shops and historic buildings. If you’ve ventured far afield enough to find Duolun Rd. in the first place, you’ll want to step inside Old Film Café, which pays homage to Shanghai’s contributions to the silver screen with their showings of old Chinese movies. Though their menu is limited, the classic film-heavy ambiance shouldn’t be missed. The Koala Garden House and Eucalyptus Café is perhaps the best spot on the street for a quick bite and a strong Illy coffee, which can be enjoyed in the café’s cute cottage setting amid a mishmash of colorful walls and stone columns.
If it’s a truly hearty meal you’re after, a branch of the popular Japanese ramen noodle chain, Ajisen, is just around the corner on Sichuan Bei Lu. Though by far the smallest branch of Ajisen I’ve ever encountered, the food is just as tasty (and there is often a line out the door for lunch).
After a day of eating and history, head on towards The Cool Docks, your very first stop for a luxuriant taste of Shanghai’s soft, romantic side, and an excellent way to start out the night’s revelries.
Odds & Ends
The tie that binds Duolun Rd. together through a century of history is the architecture, and that too is the most charming thing about a walk down the street.
The strong presence of Duolun Rd.’s artistic past can be felt immediately as you enter the street from Sichuan Bei Lu. The first thing you encounter is the Shanghai Museum of Modern Art, which in truth is not as interesting or important as much of the art you’ll find at 50 Moganshan. However, the Shanghai MOMA is the only subsidized museum of modern art in China, and for that it has an important place in the world of Chinese modern art.
Further down the road, Hong De Tang, the Great Virtue Christian Church, offers up a sublime architectural fusion, with its firmly European brick façade embellished by distinctly Chinese upturned eaves. A bit of neo-Classical French architecture is evident in the white-washed iron balconies of the Tangenbo residence just past Duolun Rd.’s L-curve; and at the end of the street, even an Islamic presence is visible in the Kongxiangxi house, a stately granite structure with rounded windows that suggest its Central Asian influences.
And in between these, along Duolun Rd.’s .8 km stretch of cobbled stones, sit dozens of examples of Lilong houses in the style typical of Old Shanghai. Narrow, dense and packed together like stacked cardboard boxes, these buildings remind the visitor that yes, this is still Shanghai after all.
If art is more your cup of tea, head on towards Shanghai’s art district, 50 Moganshan, the center of modern Chinese art in Shanghai.
Though most listings will tell you to take a bus directly to Duolun Rd. (No. 21, 939, 231, 47, 854, 79, 18), the nicest way to go is actually by subway. If you take Metro Line 3 (yellow) and get off at Dongbaoxing Rd., it’s only a 5-10 minute walk to the entrance to Duolun Rd. at Sichuan Bei Lu, and is a pleasant way to see some of the authentic residential backstreets of Shanghai.
Use Exit 1 and go right, following Hailun Xi Lu west to Sichuan Bei Lu, where you’ll turn left. You’ll know you’ve reached Duolun Rd., again on the left, by the large historic stone gate that marks the entrance to the street.
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About the Author. Megan Eaves. Megan Eaves is a freelance travel writer and China junkie. She’s an English teacher in a small town in Zhejiang Province where her days are filled correcting grammatical mistakes, killing nuclear wasps and getting stared at by the locals. Megan has traveled everywhere from the Great Wall to the Gobi Desert and isn’t afraid to write about it. She’s also the author of a groovy book called “This is China: A Guidebook for Teachers, Backpackers and Other Lunatics”. She, of course, has a website: http://www.meganeaveswriting.com