Macau’s Mount Fortress is one of the city’s oldest constructions and part of the Macau Historical Centre, classified by UNESCO as world heritage. Covering an 8,000 square meters area, it took the Jesuit missionaries nine years to build it from 1617 to 1626. It was initially constructed for military protection purposes and the whole area was commonly known as Macau’s acropolis.
The construction replaced a previous, more fragile fortress created to prevent the Dutch from taking over the city. At first, it included St. Paul’s school and church. Later, it also served as the quarters to Francisco Mascarenhas (the first Portuguese governor) until 1746. At the time of its appearance, it was far more majestic. In 1695, the buildings were damaged by a small fire and had to be renovated, however, the church’s renovations were only completed in 1602 due to its massive improvements. From then on it was known as “the Vatican of the East”.
It was not until 1808 that Macau really explored the Fortress’ main purpose. In September of that same year, the building was occupied by British troops claiming shelter and protection against the French. However, the Chinese army took a stand and the English were long gone by the end of the year. Unfortunately, another fire took over in 1835, tearing down most of the original structure. The fire is also the reason for the façade in the place where St. Paul’s Church and the school used to be. Before this incident, everything was integrated within the walls.
To reach the monument, you can either take the escalators located on your left side or go for a quick hike through the ramp on the right side. Before reaching the top, there are gifts and convenience stores, followed by a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The path leads visitors to the highest deck, where 32 cannons are installed. Curiously, none of them are facing China, which means Macau was only concerned about the threats arriving by sea. The Fortress is mainly a garden where exotic plants grow and people can enjoy a moment of quietude. For those interested in history, it is here that the Macao Museum can be found.
This monument is majestic from every perspective, but its city views are one of the main attractions. Because of its strategic location, one can look at Hotel Lisboa, the old neighborhoods and St. Paul Ruins almost simultaneously. One should start this walk before sunset and stay until the dusk turns the city lights on. Doing so allows visitors to see the view by day and its changes until nightfall. It is almost like the city never sleeps. Macau Historical Centre ranks in 31st on the UNESCO’s heritage list in China.
The Mount Fortress is not directly reachable by bus, but some stops are quite near. Busses 8A, 17, 18, 18A, 19 and 26 stop at Camões Garden. From there, just walk straight through Rua de S. Paulo until you see the Ruins. You can also alight at Almeida Ribeiro Avenue from buses 3, 3A, 4, 6, 8A, 18A, 19, 26A or 33, and walk through Senado Square until you reach the fortress.
Photographs by David Valente