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How to Know Hong Kong and Macau

Roberto Ignacio Diaz, Dominic Cheung, Ana Paulina Lee, Authors

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Governmental conservation or (re)creation?

Macau's history as a place of trade between East and West has created a distinctive city that continues to show the signs of its past. Government legislation in Macau since the 1980s has emphasized the importance of preserving the city's architectural and cultural heritage.1 In June 1984, Macau established a Committee for the Defence of the Architectural, Environmental and Cultural Heritage to oversee and provide recommendations for the conservation of significant sites and urban elements.2

In 2005, the historic center of Macau was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO names the area's "historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings" as creating a unique region extending beyond Senado Square to the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral, to St. Augustine Square, and more.3 The presence of East and West and their historic meeting is incredibly tangible as you walk through the paved streets and plazas of the city center. You can look up the steps at the ruins of the Jesuit St. Paul's Cathedral while standing beside a Macanese bakery and an American Starbucks.

But perhaps the most powerful and understated element that emphasizes the coexistence of Eastern and Western architecture is the cobblestone pavement that marks most of Macau's historic center. This style, known as Portuguese pavement or calçadas, immediately signals to the pedestrian that one is entering a space of history. 

Calçadas are unique to Lusophone regions and characterize the streets of many famous cities such as Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro. They were first done in 1842 when inmates in Lisbon's Castelo de São Jorge were ordered to lay the prison's courtyard in a zig-zag pattern of tiles. In 1849, the pattern was adapted to create the pattern of waves in Lisbon's Rossio Square. The result became famous throughout Europe, and by 1895 all new pavements in Lisbon were ordered to be done with calçadas.

By the late 19th century, however, Macau had lost its importance as a trading city and Portuguese influence was well in decline. Why, then, is its historic center - with European structures dating back to the 16th century - covered in calçadas? Macau's tourism office describes the pavement in St. Augustine's Square as if it were authentic to the plaza: "The cobblestone pavement unifies the area and reflects a traditionally Portuguese streetscape."5 Yet very little is available online to document the usage of calçadas in Macau, making it difficult to date when they first appeared in its historic center. 

One blogger speculates that calçadas in Macau represent "a late attempt to assert its ties to the motherland," pointing out that it was only in 1862 that the Qing Dynasty recognized Portugal's sovereignty over Macau. It was perhaps at this point, he suggests, that the Macanese government decided to import a distinctively Portuguese style into its own streets.6 

However, this is speculation with no documentation to support it. What does exist are comments and photos on the Internet that suggest calçadas may be a more recent development. Photos from August 9 and 13, 2008 show before-and-after construction of calçadas. And on April 18, 2010, someone commented on the aforementioned blog that she had seen construction of calçadas the previous day. Conversations with professor Isabel Morais from the University of Saint Joseph in Macau reveal that the pavement only began to be laid in the 1990s.

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