Being Macau’s oldest temple, A-Ma Temple is truly one of the places you should visit to fully get in touch with the historical aspect of this magical city. Located in the southeast of the Macau peninsula it is believed that the name Macau originated from a miscommunication between the Portuguese visitors and the locals about the name of the land.
Already in existence before the coming of the Portuguese, it showcases ancient Macau with traditional Chinese architecture on display without a mixture of the Portuguese architecture evident in other parts of Macau.
With all the other places that you may explore in Macau, this is a great place to visit and explore. It also gives you a getaway from the busy city which will allow you to appreciate the culture and have some time for spiritual reflection too.
- Upon arrival on the settlement, the Portuguese inquired the name of the place from the locals who replied ‘A-maa gok’ as they thought they wanted to know the name of the temple. The Portuguese later translated the name to Macau thus the origin of its name.
- It is also known as Barra temple
As of 2005, the temple is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Dating back to over 600 years, it is one of the longest surviving building in Macau.
- People performed lion dances and exploded fireworks to scare away evil spirits from the temple.
Constructed by fishermen during the Ming era (1368-1644) in the year 1488, the temple was meant to commemorate the sacred goddess of the sea Mazu who blessed fishermen and sailors in their voyages.
Although facts about her origins are limited, it is believed that she was called Lin Mo and due to her intelligence, she could forecast weather patterns saving many sailors from dangerous weather conditions. After her death, she continued to help fishermen and merchants stay away from calamities hence staying safe.
Quite a few folktales have come up from her story thus enhancing her status as a goddess of fortune and further attracting more worshippers to the temple.
Today, the temple is more a mixture of a tourist destination and a worship center with many coming there to burn incense to worship the goddess.
It offers excellent views for tourists touring the temple and is also a cool silent place to relax in the midst of the busy city.
The magnificent architecture on display, numerous artifacts on display, various aspects of Chinese culture drawing inspiration from the major religions in China and the historical aspect of the temple are also a big attraction.
Culture Of A-Ma Temple
Gateway: Upon entering the temple, the magnificent gate pavilion will immediately steal your attention. The gate made of granite is surrounded by a pair of stone lions which guard it and has a roof that looks like a boat.
The gate also has other small animal statues. You will also notice words/Chinese characters of tale and poems painted on boulders along the path as you climb the winding path to the temple. The level of detail that went into making these pieces will definitely leave you amazed.
Halls: With the inclusion of the gate, the whole temple is divided into 6 main parts; the hall of Guanyin, the prayer hall, the hall of benevolence, the memorial arch and the Buddhist pavilion. The different pavilions are dedicated to various deities thus representing the 3 major religions in China.
Because the temple represents different religions, the various halls were built at different times in history.
The oldest of the halls dating back to 1488 is the hall of Benevolence, followed by the prayer hall dedicated to the Goddess of Seafarers; Tian Hou built in the 17th century with the construction times for the rest of the halls being unknown.
Architectural style: The style used in the construction of the different pavilions is different and similar at the same time. There are similarities in some aspects of construction but also differences arising from the different times of construction.
After leaving the gate pavilion, you will pass the memorial arch that will lead you to the prayer hall built using granite, colored tiled roofs, and lattice windows. Many of the pavilions are adorned in stunning tiled roofs making them even more appealing from the outside.
The gate and the first two halls are at the slope of Barra hills but as you ascend you will find the Guanyin Hall and the Zhengjiao Chanlin (Buddhist hall) which has better and more refined architectural style than the other halls.
The different building styles, statues and the colorful paintings on the walls, roofs, and statues make for one interesting walk uphill as you enjoy the rich cultural heritage preserved in this temple.
Shrines and Gardens: As you explore the temple, you will get to see different Ming Dynasty shrines in the halls and garden.
If you need to relax from your long trek from the bottom of the hill, worry not. You can rest in the gardens creeping in the hillside as you enjoy the picturesque view of the temple and the nature surrounding it.
Activities: Because the temple is still active, there are daily activities, prayer, and worship that goes on at the temple as well as other annual events.
For the daily prayers, most worshipers light joss sticks and burn incense then make stops at their preferred hall for prayer which they believe will be granted by the various deities honored in the temple.
The atmosphere around the temple is most interesting in April and May during the A-Ma festivals as it is a popular place for many pilgrims and regular worshippers.
The Chinese New Year is also another time where there are celebrations in the temple with the deafening sound of firecrackers rampant during this time.
- Avoid mornings as this is a popular time for prayer and worship at the temple.
- Also, avoid the major holidays and festivals as it is very crowded with a lot of activity going on unless you want to witness or participate in the festivals.
- Due to the constant incense burning stay away if you experience any allergy or asthma.
- Entry is free, but you may purchase souvenirs in the shops outside the temple.