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Macau city History

Once a booming Portuguese trading port, Macau has transformed into a sizzling gambling mecca.

There is evidence of human habitation on Macau dating back 6,000 years.

In the fifth century, merchant ships travelling between Southeast Asia and Guangzhou began to use the region as a stopping-off point.

The first recorded inhabitants were some 50,000 people seeking refuge from invading Mongols in 1277.

Later in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), fishermen migrated here from Guangdong and the Fujian provinces and built the A-Ma Temple.

But Macau hit the big time when the Portuguese arrived in 1557. In 1582 a land lease was signed with the Chinese, and annual rent was paid – an arrangement that continued until 1863. A lucrative sea trade flourished.

The Dutch unsuccessfully tried to conquer Macau in 1622. The need for Macau to defend itself led to the construction of the Guia Fortress.

In 1685, the privileged position of the Portuguese in trade with China ended. Over the next century, other nations established factories and offices in Guangzhou and Macau.

Trade declined further when China ceded Hong Kong to the British in 1842 because larger ships were drawn to Victoria Harbour’s deep-water port.

Attempting to reverse the decline, Portugal declared Macau a free port and in 1849, Portugal declared the colony independent of China.

Macau was handed back to China in 1999 and subsequently moved into a high developmental gear.

New casino concessions were awarded to Las Vegas kingpins, and China mainlanders began to visit in the millions.

By 2006, Macau's neon-fuelled, casino-driven economy had overtaken Hong Kong in GDP growth, and gross gaming receipts outpaced those of Las Vegas.

The global credit crisis and travel restrictions imposed by China on mainland visitors in 2008 may have dealt a double blow, but by 2014, Macau had the fastest-growing economy of any city in the world.

Did you know?
• Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal.
• The historic centre of Macau was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2005.
• Custardy egg tarts are a delicious edible legacy of Macau’s Portuguese heritage.

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Featured Hotels

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Hotel Royal Macau

This newly renovated Macau hotel may be a little removed from the action, but it's all the more attractive for that reason. It's just up the hill from the wonderful Clube Militar de Macau restaurant and offers some good-value packages. It sits at the foot of Colina da Guia, Macau's landmark hill and the site of the historic Guia fort and lighthouse.

Ole London Hotel

This very pink, six-storey block with 60 rooms near the Inner Harbour boasts smart and spotless (if small) rooms. All rooms have private bathroom with hair dryer, TVs and a mini bar. Breakfast is included. Given its location and rates, the Ole London Hotel offers one of the best deals in town.

Parisian Macao

Open on the Cotai Strip since mid-2016 (and echoing its Gallic namesake in Las Vegas), the Parisian Macao features a half-size replica Eiffel Tower, complete with observation decks and nightly light shows. The hotel itself has a mind-boggling 3,000 rooms and suites, all furnished to a high standard, and there are numerous dining, shopping and entertainment options.

Grand Coloane Resort

Formerly the Westin Resort Macau, this five-star getaway overlooks gardens and a sandy beach on Coloane Island. It's long been favoured by visitors seeking a bit of peace and quiet in upscale surrounds. Each room has a sea or beach view, and there's an excellent spa and an adjoining golf course.

San Va Hotel

This cheap traditional-style guesthouse has a decent location in downtown Macau on the historic Rua da Felicidade (Happiness Street). The rooms are simple but clean and comfortable, and some of the doubles and twins have en-suite shower and bathroom. It was established in 1873, and claims to be the oldest existing guesthouse in Macau.

Pousada de São Tiago

Built into what was once a 17th-century fort that defended Macau against hostile invaders, this traditional Portuguese pousada is a romantic place to stay. It commands a splendid view of the Inner Harbour, and the interior décor, with its flagstones, wooden rafters and blue tiles, is a delight.