Macao is home to more than 30 museums – but only a handful are so far off the beaten track, they deserve attention. We’ve curated a list of eight which offer unique glimpses into the past.
Macao – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005 – is a city steeped in history. Visitors and locals can see remnants of the past on the streets and in the alleyways, from the most famous sites like the Ruins of St Paul’s to the lesser-known gems such as the beautiful Dom Pedro V Theatre. However, much of Macao’s historical treasures are not out in the streets and parks. They are in the SAR’s museums – and some of these fantastic buildings are more off-the-wall and unique than you’d think at first glance.
There are 32 museums in Macao. That’s a lot for a city that covers just 32.9 square kilometres of land. And that includes the most obvious – such as the Macao Museum, which overlooks the city from the fort above the Ruins of St Paul’s, the Macau Museum of Art and the Mandarin’s House – as well as the small and niche establishments that offer an alternative glimpse into the past. Here is a list of eight museums that you may not already know – but you certainly must visit.
Heritage Exhibition of a Traditional Pawnshop Business
Espaço Patrimonial uma Casa de Penhores Tradicional
You don’t have to pawn your favourite watch to get into this small museum – entry is free. Situated along Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, the restored Tak Seng On Pawnshop represents a time when pawn businesses greatly impacted Macao’s economic growth. Established in 1917 – only a few years after the end of the Qing dynasty and at a time when the Republic of China was just beginning – by wealthy local merchant Kou Ho Ning, the shop flourished in the heyday of Macao’s pawn industry but it was closed in 1993 due to a decline in the industry and lay vacant for many years. From 2000, however, it was restored by the government’s Cultural Affairs Bureau and today it can be seen in all of its historical glory.
Inside the museum – which, in 2004, received an Honourable Mention in the UNESCO 2004 Asia-Pacific Awards for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage – visitors can examine the equipment while admiring the wooden interior design. There are the old pawnbroker’s business records to see, as well as the shop counter, pawn goods in the fortress-like storehouse and multi-layered shelving across the facility. Be transported back 100 years as you wander through this little piece of history.
Exhibition Room of Master Lu Ban’s Woodcraft Works
Sala de Exposição dos Trabalhos de Carpintaria do Mestre Lu Ban
Exit the Heritage Exhibition of a Traditional Pawnshop Business and follow a narrow street and you shall find the Exhibition Room of Master Lu Ban’s Woodcraft Works. This museum, which opened to the public in July 2015, sits in the Carpenters Guildhall in Rua de Camilo Pessanha – a guildhall that was constructed around 1840 as one of the earliest professional association bases in Macao’s history. It was restored in 2013 and 2014 and now pays homage to master artisan Lu Ban,
a woodworker par excellence from China’s distant past. The structural engineer and carpenter, who lived around 500BC in the East China region, is revered as a god of builders and contractors.
Woodwork is considered as one of Macao’s oldest professions. And it’s showcased to great effect in this museum. To the right of Lu Ban’s altar is a one-room exhibition filled with diagrams and drawings of traditional woodcrafts and carpentry works. At the centre is also a display of the traditional tools that were used in this age-old craft. The items are encased in glass boxes stacked on top of each other to form a large ‘Lu Ban lock’ – a kind of ancient Chinese puzzle made of six bars. There are more than 80 tools in the exhibition, including saws, ink markers and drills. Due to co