Featured image: Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro overlooking Taipa Island, circa 1930s. Photo credit: Lee Yuk Tin. Source: Macao Archives
The Portuguese left more than just cuisine, art and culture in Macau and that is shown in the names of the streets. Just like in Portugal, the names given to the roads and entryways of the territory are themselves a clue on the unique history of this city and, most of all, the people behind it.
With millions of tourists every year and thousands of people living in the city bustling about Macau, it might not allow you to pause and think about the streets you’re walking on. However, these streets have their own history, usually of heroes, priests, saints, governors or poets. To find out more, here’s a tour of Macau’s historic streets to help you understand what’s in a name and how a street honors the past.
AVENIDA DE ALMEIDA RIBEIRO
(See featured image)
The main artery of the city, the iconic Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro is commonly known as San Ma Lou, literally “New Avenue” in Chinese. This new avenue was concluded in 1918, after many years of developing. Ironically enough, the Chinese way of calling the avenue is what most residents use. And it makes sense. There’s an interesting fact about the name given to this place: the person it was named after has never been to Macau.
Artur de Almeida Ribeiro was the minister of the Portuguese colonies in 1913. The now Avenida Almeida Ribeiro was once before the center of the city, with financial institutions, gaming, and entertainment, coffees and restaurants, and mansions for the rich. The avenue was projected to connect to the Outer Harbour in order to make Macau the true maritime port it wanted to be known as. In order to open the avenue, the houses needed to be expropriated. Almeida Ribeiro got the funding to pay the owners of these mansions. Because of that, he is seen as the one that allowed the avenue to be born, even if the man himself has never seen the territory or even what he helped built.
AVENIDA DE HORTA E COSTA
Right in the middle of the northern area of the city is one of its main and busiest roads–Avenida de Horta e Costa, also known as Kou-Si-Tak in Chinese, the translation of the Portuguese name. José Maria de Sousa Horta e Costa was once the Governor of Macau and colonial India. A Portuguese soldier, politician, and diplomat, he was born in 1858. After studying in the Army School and getting a degree in mathematics, Horta e Costa became a lieutenant in 1886, when he was appointed as the director of Public Works of Macau.
In this role, he started developing reports on the necessities of Macau in terms of urbanization, roads, building conservation (the maintenance of the European style), afforestation, urban and public hygiene. His work and the city quickly helped him to distinguish himself–Horta e Costa was appointed as the 69th Governor of Macau. He led Macau from 1884 to 1887, when less than 79,000 people lived in the city but his role as the leader of the territory does not end there.
After being an envoy and minister in China, Siam, and Japan, Horta e Costa was again appointed as the Governor of Macau, now the 71st in 1900. He was also an envoy for the Chinese Emperor and the King of Siam. He helped start the delimitation of the borders of Macau as well as its jurisdiction over islands such as Lapa. Additionally, he established the first educational institution in the territory and also the first medical care center. Horta e Costa left Macau after 1902 and departed to India with numerous titles, such as the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown of Siam and the Silver Medal of Exemplary Behavior.
RUA DO LU CAO
Also known as Lou Va Sio and Lou Cheoc Chi, he was a wealthy businessman from Xinhui (Jiangmen). His fortune was made in Macau and the street named after him comes from his extreme success in the territory. He was nine when he arrived in Macau, coming from a humble family. He first made money by selling pork, but the legalization of gambling in Macau in 1847, was the key to Lu Cao’s wealth growing.
He is known as the “first gaming mogul”, after receiving a gaming license from the Guangdong province for the lotteries in Macau. He maintained businesses in the opium industry, real estate, and had his very own private club with the richest men of Macau and China as its patrons. Three years later, however, his luck would turn. The official replacing the one who gave the license to Lu Cao decided to cancel the permit for his gambling license. He lost his investment and was not paid back–although the license was for eight years–and ended up killing himself.
But his legacy did not die with him. Lu Cao’s name was kept alive, as the businessman helped develop education and health in Macau. He was one of the investors in the Kiang Wu private hospital, gave a lot to charity and built free schools. He helped with the urban planning of Macau, building affordable public housing for those in need. He was also the main connection between the Portuguese in colonial Macau and the Chinese of Guangdong.
Lu Cao not only has a street named after him (near Horta e Costa) but the mansion he built for him and his family is also a symbol of culture and heritage of Macau. He also built one of the most famous gardens of Macau–and the only completely Chinese garden–the Lou Lim Ioc Garden, which ended up receiving the name of his older son, the also famous Lou Lim Ioc, who became a politician and whose name is also engraved in a street in Macau.
PRAÇA DE FERREIRA DO AMARAL
One of the most well-known routes for those who take the public buses or those who want a picture in front of Grand Lisboa, Praça Ferreira do Amaral is one of the busiest places in Macau. Did you know it was named after a man who was assassinated by the Chinese in Portuguese Macau?
João Maria Ferreira do Amaral was a Portuguese military officer and politician. He was the 79th Governor of Macau, in 1846. Although he was only in power for three years, he implemented a range of policies to entrench Portugal’s colonial authority over the territory, implementing harsh measures against the Chinese. He ordered Chinese residents within the walls to pay taxes to the Portuguese authorities and no longer to the imperial mandarins. Amaral also placed stricter controls on boat traffic and tried to stop the mandarins from collecting customary dues from the Tanka people who lived on boats in the harbor. He expelled all Qing officials from Macau also destroying the Qing Customs.
He built roads in places that had been blocked by the Chinese and occupied the island of Taipa, also extending the territory up to the Chinese border which required the relocation of some Chinese graves. These policies did not satisfy China and a reward was soon offered for the head of Amaral. Then, he was assassinated by several Chinese men in 1849 while riding his horse beyond the Border Gate. The men decapitated the governor and this event triggered a battle between Portugal and China.
Ferreira do Amaral was probably the most controversial figure in Macau, but that wasn’t enough to erase his legacy. He has four places named after him although the names of these places in Chinese do not refer to the governor. His statue in the middle of Praça Ferreira do Amaral was removed in 1992 and transferred to Lisbon, Portugal. To add, he legalized the “fantan” (lotteries) and he is known, funny enough, for starting the convention of naming streets in Macau.
ESTRADA DE LAI CHI VUN
The name does not come from a person but from a tree. Once upon a time in Coloane, the lychee trees were abundant in this area, also seen by the residents as a “vun”, a bowl-shaped bay. Estrada de Lai Chi Vun begins at the intersection Estrada de Seac Pai Van and Estrada do Campo in the north and ends at Largo do Cais in the south. The towering banyan tree at the northern end of the marks the northern entrance to Lai Chi Vun village, also known as the Shipyards of Lai Chi Vun.
Although the name honors the trees, this place is most common for being the location where ships and boats were once built, with Coloane being mostly a fisherman village. However, the lychee tree is probably the best known of all Chinese fruit trees, being extensively cultivated in south China, hence existing in sufficient numbers to being labeled as a location.
PRAÇA DO TAP SEAC
It is one of the main plazas of Macau, where sports events or celebrations happen since the olden days. A pile of rocks is said to be the origin of Tap Siac’s name. The residents of the then village–where a sewer system didn’t even exist–supposedly called the place “Rock Tower” (Tap Sek) due to the pile of big rocks in the area, all on top of each other.
The rocky mountain ended up being destroyed by the Portuguese Macau administration, in order to urbanize the area, although the residents are said to have opposed it. The symbol that originated the name of this location, had disappeared but its name remained the same from the first time it was heard, in 1848, until today. Tap Seac had its own indigenous population, which ended up being “absorbed” by the rest of the community at the same time that Tap Seac’s limits started to expand.
The place became more vivid with new schools and sports installations, similar to the ones you are still able to find there. It was said to be a hub of infectious diseases and lack of hygiene in earlier times and before the new urban planning was in place. Now, it is a hub of European style buildings and home to various important institutions of Macau, such a Cultural Institute and the Central Library.
Currently, there are a bit more than 20 streets with names of important Chinese people and more than 200 Portuguese or other nationalities. Around 50 streets are named after saints. A few of the Macau streets had their name changed, for example, Estrada de Oliveira Salazar–the Portuguese dictator–is now Avenida da Amizade (Friendship Avenue).