It was the Portuguese who settled Macau in 1557, persuading the Chinese to rent them the peninsula and establishing trade links in the region that made them very wealthy. It was this period of prosperity that created the colonial Macau we see today – the Basilica of St Paul, the Mediterranean courtyards, luxurious villas, the hill-top lighthouse and UNESCO World Heritage old city. But by the 17th Century Macau was already in decline and became a backwater for licensed gambling, prostitution and organized crime well into the 20th Century. In fact the Chinese refused to take it back until 1999, by which time it was in better shape anyway. By then the Triad gangs had been dealt with, the monopoly on casino licenses revoked and Macau’s economy had kick started as foreign tourism increased.
Today Macau is seen as having something of two faces with people coming to appreciate the fortresses, churches and food of the colonial era or wining and dining in the modern Las Vegas of the East amidst 14 casinos and ritzy hotels. There are also other sights such as Buddhist temples, war bunkers, the excellent Museu de Macau, Macau Tower and the Fisherman’s Wharf theme park.