Macau was not always the city we see today, not even in its core historical area. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the territory was divided by a wall made of clay, sand, rice straw, rocks and oyster shells. The construction of this inner wall started around 1569 and it was meant to protect the central area from foreigners’ attacks. Nowadays, it is part of the UNESCO Historic Centre of Macau World Heritage, since it is part of the city’s history.
The Portuguese were not allowed to live in the north of the peninsula, which resulted in the following construction covering the southern area of the region. The city was walled from Patane all the way to the Inner Harbor, the fortress, S. Joao Beacon and S. Francisco Fortress (which is currently the area occupied by S. Francisco Garden). However, this construction was not even, having two distinct parcels: the latter went from Bom Parto Fortress all the way through Penha and its fortress. It then followed the way down to the Inner Harbor area. The walls were no more than five meters high and were made of rudimentary materials. This is believed to be the main reason for its short life.
Bom Parto Fortress (which can be located right under the current Portuguese Consul’s Residence) connected to Penha through this same wall and it provided protection. This section was equipped with cannons. One can still visit the last remaining piece of wall, located next to Na Tcha Temple, close to the Ruins of St. Paul’s. The historical monument—along with some artifacts—was discovered in May 2010 by a group of Chinese archaeologists, invited by the local government to investigate the site. The specialists believe the remains date back to the Chinese Ming Dynasty.
The wall’s siting and construction followed typical Portuguese urban design practice for the time: public, religious, commercial and administrative buildings were all inside the walled city since it was the center of urban life. This type of design can still be seen in several Portuguese cities, including Lisbon, Almeida, and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo. Generally, present-day remains are found close to monuments such as castles or palaces. Macau did not have such, but it did have fortresses since the wall served mainly military purposes. It is believed to have been difficult to convince the Chinese to build it—they feared it to be a way for the Portuguese to penetrate the continent.
The Portuguese city was then born, starting in Praia Grande area and going up to Penha. Along with Mount Fortress, the Ruins of St. Paul’s and some other central area monuments, the story and remains of the wall are key to understanding Macau’s Portuguese legacy: looking at the city as a whole, one can easily conclude that its structures are mainly religious and military. This not only says a lot about the Portuguese presence in the region, but also about its intentions. Besides having the Jesuit missions arriving in Macau to spread its religion, the Portuguese also founded Macau to be an outer trading post. They were also in a strategic place, connecting the outer world to China. Being so, there was a strong need to protect what came to be the home of hundreds of Portuguese from the 15th century onwards.
To gain an immediate overview of the city and how parts of it appeared in earlier times, visit one of the elevated fortress areas such as Mount Fortress or Guia.