Outstanding Universal Value of "The Historic Centre
“The Historic Centre of Macao” is the product of over 400 years of
cultural exchange between the western world and Chinese civilization. The
architectural heritage, predominantly European in nature, stands in the midst of
traditional Chinese architecture in the historic settlement, providing contrast.
“The Historic Centre of Macao” is the oldest, the most complete and
consolidated array of European architectural legacy standing intact on Chinese
“Gateway between East and West”
The settlement of Macao by Portuguese navigators, in the mid-16th century laid
the basis for nearly five centuries of uninterrupted contact between East and
West. The origins of Macao’s development into an international trading port make
it the single most consistent example of cultural interchange between Europe and
Asia. “The Historic Centre of Macao” coincides with the heart of the
western settlement area, also known as the “Christian City” in
The emergence of Macao with its dual function as a gateway into China, and as
Ming China’s window onto the world, reflected a relaxation of certain
restrictions combined with a degree of open-mindedness that offered a creative
way to supplement China’s vassal-state trading system and marked a turning point
in the history of both China and Europe. Macao, as the West’s first established
gateway into China, was remarkable in setting off a succession of connections
and contacts that progressively enriched both civilisations across a huge range
of human endeavour, both tangible and intangible, at a critical point in
For almost three centuries, until the colonisation of Hong Kong in 1842, Macao’s
strategic location at the mouth of the Pearl River meant that it retained a
unique position in the South China Sea, serving as the hub in a complex network
of maritime trade that brought tremendous wealth and a constant flow of people
into the enclave. People of different nationalities came, bringing their own
cultural traditions and professions, permeating the life of the city as can been
seen in both intangible and tangible influences. This is evident in the
introduction of foreign building typologies such as western-style fortresses and
architecture. Macao also inherited various cultural experiences and regional
influences, further developing these in conjunction with the local Chinese
culture and blending them to produce the rich texture seen in the city’s
exceptional heritage. Exposure to diverse cultures in this lasting encounter
between the eastern and western worlds has therefore benefited Macao in
assimilating a rich array of cultural heritage.
“Firsts” for China, in Macao
During the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, missionaries from different
European religious orders such as the Jesuits, the Dominicans, the Augustinians
and the Franciscans entered China through Macao, engaging in missionary work and
bringing with them a certain cultural influence.
They introduced western concepts of social welfare and founded the first
western-style hospitals, dispensaries, orphanages and charitable organizations.
They brought in the first movable-type printing press to be used on Chinese
soil, and published the first paper in a foreign language. As Macao was the base
for the Jesuit mission in China and other parts of East Asia, Jesuit priests
entering into China service would always come first to Macao where, at St.
Paul’s College, they would be trained in the Chinese language together with
other areas of Chinese knowledge, including philosophy and comparative religion.
Macao was thus the training ground for the Jesuit’s mission to China and other
parts of Asia. St. Paul’s College was the largest seminary in the Far East at
the time, acclaimed as the first western-style university in the region. Other,
later, achievements of Christian missionaries in Macao include the production of
the first English-Chinese Dictionary and the first Chinese translation of the
Bible by Robert Morrison.
The worship of A-Ma in Macao originated with the folk beliefs of fishermen
living along the coast of South China. Due to Macao’s special position in
channelling cultural exchange between East and West, A-Ma Temple has played a
prominent role as the earliest reference to A-Ma worship abroad.
A legacy of cultural encounter
Since the time the Portuguese first settled there, Macao has developed a visible
dual culture which continues even now, and this cultural accommodation is seen
in the city’s history, administrative structures, as well as in physical
features like architecture, gardens and public spaces. The legacy of this
culture is evident in both tangible and intangible forms, some to be seen in the
blending of architectural styles of many of the monuments, in religious
tolerance, or in the cuisine unique to this city, itself a fusion of culinary
traditions, reflective of different historical and geographical influences. Of
utmost importance, however, is the intangible legacy of Macao and this is
understood not only as something inherent in the city itself but also in the
long exchange between China and the rest of the world, and thus amounts to a
wider cultural legacy with outstanding universal value.