Fishermen from Fujian and farmers from Guangdong were the first known settlers in Macao, when it was known as Ou Mun, or "trading gate", because of its location at the mouth of the Pearl River downstream from Guangzhou (Canton). During ancient times port city was part of the Silk Road with ships loading here with silk for Rome.
Even after China ceased to be a world trade centre, Guangzhou prospered from seaborne business with the countries of Southeast Asia, so the local entrepreneurs welcomed the arrival of Portuguese merchant-explorers. They followed in the wake of Jorge Alvares, who landed in southern China in 1513, and set about finding suitable trading posts.
In the early 1550s the Portuguese reached Ou Mun, which the locals also called A Ma Gao, "place of A Ma", in honour of the Goddess of Seafarers, whose temple stood at the entrance to the sheltered Inner Harbour. The Portuguese adopted the name, which gradually changes into the name Macao, and with the permission of Guangdong's mandarins, established a city that within a short time had become a major entrepot for trade between China, Japan, India and Europe.
It also became the perfect crossroad for the meeting of East and West cultures. The Roman Catholic church sent some of its greatest missionaries to continue the work of St Francis Xavier, (who died nearby after making many converts in Japan). A Christian college was built, beside what is now today's Ruins of St Paul's, where students such as Matteo Ricci prepared for their work as Christian scholars at the Imperial Court in Beijing. Other churches were built, as well as fortresses, which gave the city an historical European appearance that distinguishes it to this day.
Portugal's golden age in Asia faded as rivals like the Dutch and British took over their trade. However the Chinese chose to continue to do business through the Portuguese in Macao, so for over a century the British East India Company and others set up shop here in rented houses like the elegant Casa Garden. As Europe's trade with China grew, the European merchants spent part of the year in Guangzhou, buying tea and Chinese luxuries at the bi-annual fairs, using Macao as a recreational retreat.
Following the Opium War in 1841, Hong Kong was established by Britain and most of the foreign merchants left Macao, which became a quaint, quiet backwater. Nevertheless it has continued to enjoy a leisurely multicultural existence and make daily, practical use of its historical buildings, in the process becoming a favourite stopover for international travellers, writers and artists.
In modern times Macao has developed industries such as textiles, electronics and toys, as well as building up an a world class tourist industry with a wide choice of hotels, resorts, sports facilities, restaurants and casinos. As in the past, Macao's economy is closely linked to that of Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, in particular the Pearl River Delta region, which qualifies as one of Asia's "little tigers". Macao provides financial and banking services, staff training, transport and communications support.
Macao is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China since 20 December 1999, and, like Hong Kong, benefits from the principle of "one country, two systems". The tiny SAR is growing in size - with more buildings on reclaimed land - and in the number and diversity of its attractions. The greatest of these continues to be Macao's unique society, with communities from the East and West complementing each other, and the many people who come to visit.
The Macao Special Administrative Region (MSAR) is a part of China’s territory. It is located on the Southeast coast of China to the western bank of the Pearl River Delta. Bordering on Guangdong Province, it locates 60km from Hong Kong and 145km from the city of Guangzhou.
The Macao Special Administrative Region has an area of 29.9 sq. km, comprised of the Macao Peninsula 9.3 sq. km and connected to Mainland China), the islands of Taipa (7.4 sq. km) and Coloane (7.6 sq. km) and the reclaimed area COTAI (5.6 sq. km). The three bridges connecting Macao to Taipa are Nobre de Carvalho (2.5 km long), the Friendship Bridge (4.5 km long) and Sai Van Bridge (2.2 km long). The longest one (Friendship Bridge) leads directly to Macao International Airport located on the Island of Taipa. The Sai Van Bridge, which was opened on 9 January 2005, is the first cable-stayed bridge in Macao. The double deck bridge has six lanes in the upper deck and four in the lower, which will open when a typhoon hits the city. The islands are connected by a causeway which is 2.2 km long.
Besides the Barrier Gate (Portas do Cerco), the visitor can access Mainland China through the COTAI Frontier Post. Immigration and Customs are located in the reclaimed area between the islands of Taipa and Coloane.
Macao is eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
The total population was estimated to be 520,000 as at 31 March 2007. About 94% are ethnic Chinese, from different provinces, namely Guangdong and Fujian. The remaining 6% includes Portuguese and other regions.
Chinese and Portuguese are the official languages, Cantonese being most widely spoken. The official languages are used in government departments in all official documents and communications. English is generally used in trade, tourism and commerce.
The Pataca (MOP$) is divided into 100 avos and it is Macao’s official currency. There are banknotes and coins in the following denominations:
By the decision of the Government the Pataca is linked to the Hong Kong dollar (HK$) which is accepted as currency in Macao. The exchange rate is MOP$103.20 = HK$100.00. There is an acceptable variation up to 10%. Roughly 10 Patacas is equivalent to 1 EURO and 8 Patacas is equivalent to 1 US Dollar.
Foreign currency or travellers’ cheques can be changed in hotels, banks and authorised exchange dealers located all around the city. If the visitor needs to change money outside the usual banking hours, there are 24 hours exchange counters operating in the Macao International Airport (Taipa Island) and in the Lisboa Hotel (Macao). Banks open normally from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Most credit cards are accepted in many hotels, shops and restaurants.
There are no restrictions on the amount of currency, which can be brought in or taken out of the territory.
Macao located at the west bank of Pearl River Delta in South China, is the intersection of Mainland China and South China Sea. It is also located at the south of tropic of Cancer. The winds directions in winter and summer are opposite. Therefore, Macao is in the monsoon region and from the climate classification is considered mild and rainy in summer. The most comfortable period begins from the middle of October to December.
The winter season in Macao covers the months January and February. The cold air from north Siberia continuously passes through the Mid and South China into Macao region and brings us cold and dry northerly winds. The urban temperature sometimes drops below 10oC. Therefore, the annual minimum temperature is generally recorded in these two months. When the precipitation and rainy days are less it is because there is lack of water vapour in the atmosphere.
March and April is the seasonal interchange period. The wind direction along the coastal region of South China is mainly easterly to southeasterly, which will increase the temperature and humidity. Beside some occasional wet weather, fog, drizzle and low visibility days, the weather is mainly fine in spring.
The summer in Macao is longer than the other seasons. Because of hot and wet conditions, the bad weather such as thunderstorm and heavy rain always occur from May to September. Waterspout can be seen occasionally.
Meanwhile from May to October, tropical cyclones occur frequently which make the highest records of precipitation, temperature, rainy days and thunderstorms. As local tropical cyclones number 8 typhoon signal is hoisted the sea and air transports are suspended.
The autumn begins at October, at that time the mainland China becomes cool. The autumn season in Macao is very short, the weather is stable and comfortable with clear sky. It finally returns to the cool and dry November. The cold air from the north will intrude periodically in December.
Macao's water is supplied directly from Mainland China and is purified. Chlorine is added for extra protection. Distilled drinking water is supplied in all hotel rooms and in restaurants.
Electricity in Macao is at 220V, 50Hz. The power plugs used in Macao are of the three-pin, square-shaped or round-shaped type.
Macao is one of the most developed countries in Asia in terms of public health provision. Here, the average life expectancy is 75.5 years for men and 79.9 years for women.
Vaccination certificates are required only in exceptional circumstances, either in Macao or through the region, where vaccinations are needed. Visitors are not advised to have any particular vaccinations.
Tap water is safe to drink both in Macao and on the islands. Its quality is regularly checked and guaranteed by the Health Department according to international standards.
In a medical emergency, contact the S. Januario Hospital (Government) located in Estrada do Visconde de S. Januario, Tel. (853) 2831 3731 or the Kiang Wu Hospital (Private) located in Estrada Coelho do Amaral, Tel. (853) 2837 1333. Emergency services in these hospitals are open 24 hours. In less urgent cases visitors can go to any Health Centre in Macao or in the islands. The most central one is the Tap Seac Health Centre located between Rua do Campo and Av. Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida, Tel: (853) 2852 2232.
Besides western medicine, visitors can find several Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctors. Detailed information regarding Chinese Medicine can be obtained from the Macao Health Department, Tel. (853) 2856 2404 or Kiang Wu Hospital, Tel. (853) 2837 1333.
Macao is a very safe place. There are police stations and reporting centres throughout the territory and for emergency dial 999. There are also two new 24 hour emergency hotline numbers 110 and 112 meant to facilitate emergency calls by tourists from the mainland and abroad.
There are plenty of daily and weekly newspapers in Macao, published in Portuguese, English or Chinese languages.
Moreover, there are several Chinese and Portuguese magazines published in Macao regarding several aspects of the life and culture in Macao and region: the 'Revista de Cultura', edited by the Cultural Institute (published quarterly and in two versions: Chinese version and Portuguese and English version). There is also a magazine named 'Macao', a periodical publication in Chinese, Portuguese and English versions. English and Chinese languages newspapers and periodicals from overseas are readily available at most local newspaper stands or in major hotels.
Macao has its own Chinese and Portuguese radio and TV stations. Teledifusao de Macao (TDM), while Macao Cable TV provides its viewers with around 40 channels of diverse TV programmes.
Local calls in Macao are free of charge when made from a private phone. When using a public phone, they cost MOP$1.00. Phone cards can be purchased for MOP$50.00, MOP$100.00 or MOP$150.00 and they can be used as well as coins in public phones located all around the city and the islands. In the busiest areas there are also credit card phones. If you would like to use your mobile phone while in Macao, please contact the information services, dialing 1000(CTM), 1118(Hutchison Telecom) or 1628 (SmarTone Mobile Communications (Macao) Ltd.) or 1888 (China Telecom (Macao) Co., Ltd.). Besides, Hutchison Telecom Network is now providing the Mobile Tour Guide Service. Visitors can listen to the voice information service by dialing the Spot Code #83.
Macao, a lucrative port of strategic importance in the development of international trade, was under Portuguese administration from the mid 16th century until 1999, when it came under Chinese sovereignty. With its historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the historic centre of Macao provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West. The site also contains a fortress and a lighthouse, which is the oldest in China. The site bears testimony to one of the earliest and longest-lasting encounters between China and the West based on the vibrancy of international trade.