Despite all the unrelenting developments in Macau, the A-ma Temple remains almost untouched.
The oldest temple in Macau, the A-Ma Temple was built in 1488 under the Ming Dynasty in honor of A-Ma (also called Mazu or Matsu), the goddess of the sea. It is believed that she helped fishermen and sailors to reach safety during a storm. Seafarers prayed to her to guide them during the journey.
The temple grounds are divided into six sections. The Gate Pavilion was the first to greet me and steal my attention. The granite gate is guarded by stone lions and crowned with a roof ridge (which looked like horns or a boat), where small animal statues sit. Passing through the gate, I climbed a concrete winding path on the slope of Barra Hill. Every now and then I stopped to admire the words painted on the boulders securely scattered around the site. It didn’t matter how intently I looked , I still failed to understand any of them for they were Chinese characters. I didn’t know it then, but these rocks tell poems and short tales. On top awaited the Hall of Guanyin, made entirely of bricks and topped with a flush gable.
The other structures include the Hall of Benevolence, built in 1488 with granite and bricks. Fronting it is the Prayer Hall, which took shape in 1605. Also known as the First Palace of the Holy Mountain, the Prayer Hall was constructed in honor of Tian Hou. And then there’s the Zhengjiao Chanlin Pavilion, the most arresting in terms of design and overall appearance. It cradles a shrine also dedicated to Tian Hou and a retreat house. It boasts an ornate facade gate featuring intricately carved wall sculptures. The last structure is the Memorial Arch that towers near the front edge of the site.
I wandered around the dark red houses and squeezed my way into the growing crowd at the site. Most visitors had lit joss sticks in their hands and made stops at each pavilion to say a prayer. In one corner I stumbled upon spiral little things, which I could not figure out what exactly until someone lit one of it and the smell of incense floated in the air.
Before I left, I stood in the middle of Largo do Pagode da Barra for one last look at the temple. I stared at this ancient structure long enough to not remember how long. Its warm vibrance was an oddity in the cold grayness under the shadow of the Macau Tower sticking out in the background. Located in the southeastern tip of the peninsula, it is a bit isolated, making it a tiny isle of silence in the bustling, ravaging ocean that is the city center. The land took its name from here when the Portuguese first beached. Somehow this place remains to anchor the wildly ambitious city to the ground. And in this case, it is a good thing, a very good thing.
Largo da Barra, Macau
Opening Hours: 7am-6pm
How to get there: Take Bus No. 6, 8, 9 or 28B