Another 24 sites were recently added to the World Heritage List during the 29th annual conference of the World Heritage Committee of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held in Durban, South Africa.
Among these sites is the Historic Center of Macao, the only site proposed by China for this year's list. A blend of Eastern and Western cultures, Macao is now the 31st Chinese site on the World Heritage List, which includes 812 places in 137 countries and regions that are considered to have "outstanding universal value."
As a testament to East-West cultural exchanges in the mid-16th century, Macao boasts buildings with a distinctive European style, especially Portuguese style, as well as traditional Chinese-style architecture with local characteristics, and structures that combine both Eastern and Western influences. In the tiny enclave of only about 20 square km, the interesting mix of architectures and lifestyles makes for a compelling tourist destination.
Macao had remained under Portuguese administration from the 16th century until 1999, when China resumed sovereignty. Being a coastal city with more than four centuries of uninterrupted contact between the East and West, Macao has developed a highly individualized cultural atmosphere. The city is dotted with traditional Guangdong-style residences, magnificent courtyard houses built in the late Qing Dynasty over a century ago and temples exhibiting cultural traditions of south China's Guangdong and Guangxi areas. Macao is also home to China's first Catholic church, first Western theater, oldest fort and oldest seminary that is still preserved, as well as the first lighthouse in the Far East.
The Historic Center of Macao is the oldest, most complete and consolidated example of European architectural legacy that remains intact in Chinese territory today.
It provides a living representation of the city's historic settlement, encompassing architectural legacies interwoven in the midst of the urban fabric, including streetscapes and piazzas such as Barra Square, Lilau Square, St. Augustine's Square, Senado Square, Cathedral Square, St. Dominic's Square, Company of Jesus Square and Camoes Square.
These urban squares and streetscapes serve as links for a succession of more than 20 monuments, including A-Ma Temple, Moorish Barracks, Mandarin's House, St. Lawrence's Church, St. Joseph's Seminary and Church, Dom Pedro V Theatre, Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, St. Augustine's Church, "Leal Senado" Building, Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple, Holy House of Mercy, Cathedral, Lou Kau Mansion, St. Dominic's Church, Ruins of St. Paul's, Na Tcha Temple, Section of the Old City Walls, Mount Fortress, St. Anthony's Church, Casa Garden, the Protestant Cemetery and Guia Fortress, including Guia Chapel and Lighthouse. These monuments and landmarks are collectively known as the Historic Center of Macao.
People of different nationalities have come to Macao, bringing their cultural traditions and professions, and permeating the life of the city as can be seen in both tangible and intangible influences.
A-Ma Temple, which enshrines the Chinese Goddess of the Sea, is only a stone's throw from the St. Lawrence's Church where the Portuguese pray for a calm sailing. Just in front of Lilau Square in the Portuguese residential quarter sprawls the compound of Zheng Guanying, a famous modern Chinese thinker. St. Joseph's Seminary was set up for training Chinese priests. St. Augustine's Square is the place where both the Dom Pedro V Theatre and the old residence of wealthy Chinese businessman Sir Robert Ho Tung are located. The Senado Square is a venue for jubilant gatherings of the Chinese and Portuguese dwellers. There are many historical monuments around the square, such as Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple, Holy House of Mercy, St. Dominic's Church, Lou Kau Mansion, Ruins of St. Paul's and Na Tcha Temple.
The various cultural experiences and regional influences that Macao inherited have been carried forward in conjunction with the local Chinese culture and blended to produce the rich texture of the city. Exposure to diverse cultures in this lasting encounter between the Eastern and Western worlds has benefited Macao in assimilating a rich cultural heritage.
According to experts, Macao has enjoyed a stable political climate free from wars and turbulence over the past 400 years. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1616-1911) dynasties, Portuguese and Catholic missionaries came and lived in Macao as citizens of the Chinese dynasties who had embraced Chinese culture.
The Qing Dynasty set up a customs office in Macao and maintained territorial integrity and sovereignty over the city until 1849, when Portugal established colonial rule. However, Macao remained largely autonomous under the Portuguese administration. Apart from the governor, chief justice and other important officials that had to be appointed by Lisbon, local Chinese and Portuguese people held medium and lower-level posts.
Macao has been fortunate enough to remain undisturbed by world chaos in the intervening years. During the Pacific War, even Hong Kong was bombed by the Japanese, but Macao survived unharmed. All of this has been conducive to the preservation of Macao's historic monuments.
Scholars of Macao point out that the Historic Center of Macao is not only a place where Western culture entered China and forged a synergy with Chinese culture, but also provides a channel through which the Eastern culture, most notably Chinese culture, was introduced to Europe. The historical monuments in Macao testify to the city's significant role as a hub of cultural integration over the past centuries.
Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau Wah said that the Government of Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR), which places much importance on its heritage, would, as always, be committed to preservation and promotion so as to polish Macao's image as a culturally advanced city.
He added that the city's inclusion on the World Heritage List signifies not only a worldwide recognition of the Macao lifestyle and operational mode of Macao communities, but also a universal approval of its essential characters of openness, tolerance, equality and harmony, as well as its historical experiences.