Peer across the smoky gambling tables and the lines of slot machines in Macau’s China tours crowded casino halls, and there is little doubt as to what the greatest attraction is for the majority of the 28 million people who visit this Special Administrative Region of China each year. Yet beyond the neon façade, Macau has much more to offer.
The Portuguese controlled Macau for almost 450 years and in that time built churches, fortresses and grand homes in the distinctive architectural style of their motherland. When Macau was returned to China in 1999, many locals expected the new rulers to gradually erase the legacy of the European colonial days. But Chinese authorities quickly realised that Macau’s unique heritage holds enormous potential to China tour promote the region as a tourist destination. In the last decade, the Chinese have renovated many buildings in their original Portuguese style, installed typical early 20th-century Portuguese streetlights and made every effort to celebrate Macau's colourful history.
A stroll through the historic district’s narrow cobblestone streets makes it easy to see the fusion of Chinese and Portuguese that created such a distinct Macanese culture. Shops selling fresh egg tarts that could have come straight out of a Lisbon bakery are found alongside stalls with bak kwa, wafer-thin slices of marinated dried meat; colonial European buildings are decorated with Yangtze River cruises bright red Chinese lanterns; even within the Catholic churches there are paintings of the Madonna and child, both with unmistakably Asian features and dressed in flowing Chinese silk robes.
Street signs meanwhile display names in Cantonese and Portuguese, travel to Shangri-la with the two versions not always sharing the same meaning; the Portuguese wanted to commemorate historical figures by naming streets and alleys in their honour, but the Chinese did not always hold them in the same high esteem.
See also: Shanghai tours
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