Home Macau A brief History of Macau

A brief History of Macau

The fishermen of Fujian and farmers of Guangdong were the first settlers known to have settled in Macau. At that time, the area was known as “Ou Mun”, or “trade door” due to its location at the mouth of the Pearl River, downstream from Guangzhou (Canton). Centuries ago this port city was on the famous Silk Route, from where boats would load silk and sail all the way to Rome.

The birth of Macau

macau facade Even after China ceased to be a centre for global trade, Guangzhou continued to thrive through maritime trade with Southeast Asian countries.  Therefore local businessmen greeted the arrival of the Portuguese explorers and merchants with open arms. They followed Jorge Alvares who had landed in southern China in 1513.

In the early 1550’s, the Portuguese reached “Ou Mun”, that locals call A Ma Gao, “place of A Ma”, in honour of the goddess of sailors, whose temple was placed inside the sheltered port. The Portuguese adopted the name, which over time became known as Macau. With the permission of the Mandarins of Guangdong, they established a city which quickly became a platform for trade between China, Japan, India and Europe.

Meeting point of two cultures

The Catholic Church sent some of its greatest missionaries to continue the work of St François Xavier (who died not far, having converted many in Japan). A Christian University was founded next to the present day ruins of St Paul, where students such as Matteo Ricci prepared their work as Christian academics at the Imperial Court in Beijing. Other churches were built, as well as fortresses, giving the city a historic European aspect that still distinguishes it today.

End of Portuguese domination

The golden age of Portugal’s Asian presence dissipates while rivals such as the Netherlands and Great Britain take control of regional trade. However the Chinese continued to trade with the Portuguese in Macau and for over a century, the company of East India Trading Company as well as others, established shops in rented houses, such as the elegant Casa Garden. While trade between China and Europe expanded, European merchants spent part of the year in Guangzhou buying tea and Chinese luxury goods, while relaxing in Macau.

macau colonialAfter the Opium War in 1841, Hong Kong was established by Britain and most of the foreign merchants left Macau. The city continued to thrive on multicultural entertainment while making daily, practical use of the historic buildings which became a place of passage for travellers, writers, and international artists.

Macau the Asian casino capital

In the modern age, Macau has developed industries such as textiles, electronics and toys while developing a tourism industry of international standard oriented around world class casinos and hotel complexes.  As in the past, the economy of Macau is closely linked to Hong Kong and the province of Guangdong, in particular the Pearl Delta region that is referred to as one of the "small tigers" of Asia. Macau provides financial and banking services, personnel training as well as support in transport and communications services.

Macau today is a special administrative region (SAR) of the people's Republic of China and similarly to Hong Kong operates on the principle of "one country, two systems". The tiny SAR has grown with buildings built on the sea and a growing number of attractions.