The A-Ma Temple is one of the oldest Taoist temples in Asia and was one of the first sites discovered by Portuguese sailors as they arrived in Macau in the mid 16th century. It has been said the name Macau came from when the first colonial Portuguese asked the native Chinese where they were, to be met with the response “A-Ma-Gau” (bay of the goddess A-Ma or Matsu) in reference to the temple. This temple, constructed in 1499, is dedicated to Matsu, the goddess of seafarers and fishermen – It is almost as if the goddess was foreseeing the Portuguese safe landing here in Macau knowing the future benefit to the region that the Portuguese would one day bring, leading them straight to her own temple for safety.
Regardless of legend, it was this translation of Ma Ge that became the name the Portuguese used for the Peninsula, dubbing it “Macau”. The temple is described in great detail in ancient Chinese manuscripts, and represented in many paintings by both the Chinese and Portuguese relating to Macau. It also happens to be one of the first places ever photographed in Macau.
Address: Barra Square
Opening hours: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Bus routes nearby: 1, 2, 5, 6B, 7, 10, 10A, 11, 18, 21A, 26, 28B, 55, MT4, N3
*The Prayer Hall is currently closed due to a fire that has put it under construction at the moment and is not allowing visitors*
History of the A-Ma Temple:
A-Ma Temple was constructed here in the city of Macau long before it was a Portuguese trading port or colony. It was initially built in 1488 during the Ming Dynasty, reigning over all of China from 1368 to 1644 and was constructed in dedication to Matsu, the sacred goddess of the sea who ensure safe travels for sailors and seafaring fisherman. When the Portuguese landed here in the middle of the 16th century this temple was very active and happened to be the first site they came across. When asking where it was they had landed, a language barrier caused the sailors to mistake the name of the temple – Ma Gau – for the name of the city, and so named the city Macau to refer to this land.
The A-Ma Temple is actually the oldest of three temples in Macau, perhaps it was fate or the goddess Matsu looked over the Portuguese arrival foreseeing a fortuitous future relationship in the formation of Macau as we know it today.
According to legend, the goddess Matsu was once a little girl named Lin Mo, and was born in Putian City, Fujian Province. She was of a higher intellect than the other children her age and could predict good or bad luck. After her death, she would oversee the fortunes of seafaring fisherman and merchants, and ward off calamities turning danger into safety. There are many folk tales related to the great goddess told throughout the littoral zone of Macau.
Architecture of the A-Ma Temple:
The A-Ma Temple is the oldest temple in the Macau Peninsula, found on the southeast coast of the mainland of Macau. It was constructed in 1488 during the reign of the Ming Dynasty, which ruled from 1368 to 1644 and is dedicated to Matsu, the goddess of the sea, known for looking over pious fisherman and seafarers to ensure their safe travels. This temple is one of three famous Buddha halls in Macau, this one being the oldest of the three, it existed here well before Macau came into being.
It is constructed in the Chinese architectural styles of the 15th century with traditional Taoist decor and embellishments. The structure consists of a total of six main halls – the Gate Pavilion, the Memorial Arch, the Prayer Hall, the Hall of Benevolence, the Hall of Guanyin, and Zhengjiao Chanlin (a Buddhist pavilion). Each pavilion is dedicated to the worship of various Taoist deities all within a single complex, which is a part of what makes A-Ma Temple such a pivotal representations of Chinese culture as it was in the region prior to the Portuguese taking residence here. It sees inspirations of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and multiple other folk beliefs of the region that predate the Portuguese landing here and the subsequent blending of these cultures with ideologies and influence from the West.
This temple offers silence along with some of the most beautiful sights in the city. It’s six main parts are all composed of a series of classical Chinese architectural techniques and styles from the Ming Dynastic rule.
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