The urbanization of Macau and its influence to the city in the mid to late 19th century 03: Land reclamation and its influence

Macau’s economy revived in the mid-19th century after a transformation of industry from intermediary trade to service-based economy, including gambling, smuggling, tourism and selling opium and labors. Lots of people immigrated to Macau, but the increasing population soon revealed the problem of land shortage. The slow response of urban development to the changing society resulted in hygiene and safety issue. The crowded street increased the danger of fire accidents. In addition, the silt and rubbishes in the sea blocked the water channel of Macau to the foreign countries. This gave a negative impact to the economy of the city.1


Figure 1. The economic situation of Macau before the mid-19th century was documented.
The harbor of Macau had lots of silt with a shallow sea level, which brought difficulties for the ships to park. After Hong Kong opened its port, the merchants abandoned Macau. The increased competition worsened Macau’s economy.

Around 1850, land reclamation was implemented to improve the silting issue on the harbor area. In addition, new towns could be built for the dense population and created more commercial opportunities. In 1865, the reclamation was first executed in the area around the Macau Government Headquarters in Praia Grande (南灣). A luxurious residential area was constructed in this region. From 1866 to 1937, reclamation was conducted in other parts of Macau, including the interior port of the west Macau Peninsula, Taipa and Coloane.2

Figure 2. A transformation of the land of Macau

The reclamation had increased the depth of the water around the pier and regulated the sea current to prevent silting. This provided a more suitable environment for the merchant ships to park. New piers and more warehouses were built, highlighting the improvement of Macau’s port transshipment capacity. A significant increase in the business activities along the harbor is revealed.3

Furthermore, a better planning was conducted on the new lands. In the map below (see Figure 3), a contrast of the street layout is shown. The new streets were planned in a grid manner, which is more organized than the older districts in the center of Macau Peninsula. Through such design, a better ventilation on the street was provided and the underground sewage system could be constructed more easily. The roads were wider to reduce the impact of fire accidents and enough natural illumination on the street was ensured. The dimension of the streets were also designed to accommodate the size of different transportations such as rickshaws.Casinos and hotels were built and became popular among the tourists.5

Figure 3. A general plan of Macau and Harbour development, 1927.

Figure 4. Image of the street of Macau in the late 19th Century.
Rickshaws were one of the most common transportations during the time.

The reclamation provided an opportunity for the Chinese to develop commerce and handicraft business on the inner land and sold the products to the markets.However, this change of the society and the living environment led to the disappearance of the old fishing industry as well as the culture developed from it. The map below shows that before the reclamation, there were temples near the seashore (see Figure 5). These temples were built by the villagers to worship the gods of the sea and they believed the gods could protect the fishermen. This revealed a close relationship of the Chinese with the sea in the past. Fishermen would always worship the gods before sailing. During special occasions, such as festivals and wedding days the fishermen would celebrate around the temple. However, the reclamation buried this old tradition of Macau. The loss of land and the increased in inner land business opportunity resulted in more people to abandon the finishing business, which was less stable and safe. The decreasing reliance of people to the sea inevitably caused a diminish in the religious culture of the relating industry (see Figure 7).7

Figure 5. The location of the Chinese temples.

Figure 6. A-Ma Temple.
The water in front of A-Ma Temple became a land.

Figure 7. The memory of a Macau’s fishermen.
Before 60s and 70s, people would worship the god of the sea before sailing and eating. They believed the god would bring them good lucks. However, as Macau became more urbanized, less people rely the sea and believe the god. For example, when someone is sick, they would visit a doctor in town instead of worshiping the gods. The children were no longer born on a boat, but in the hospitals. The change of the society had caused a diminish of the religious culture of the fishing industry.

Figure 8. The streets signs suggested the boundary of the land and the sea of Macau before the reclamation.

To conclude, the reclamation brought a positive influence on Macau’s economy. It expanded the capacity of port transshipment on the pier and created new spaces to accommodate the large population as well as developing more business opportunities for the residents. However, the increasing inner land business opportunity had resulted in a disappearance of the fishing industry and the culture of it. Such decrease in the connection of the Chinese with the sea had inevitably led to the diminishing of the religious belief.


Click here for more information  of the impact of land reclamation: MACAU (1999-2009) / URBAN PLANNING OF COTAI: 2. LAND USE TENSION BETWEEN CASINOS & THE PUBLIC by Suen Ting




[1] 林廣志、李超:《人口結構與經濟轉型:一近代澳門為例》,中國學術期刊電子雜誌社,2017年, 13-14, 25。

[2] 吳堯、朱蓉:《澳門建築》, 三聯書店(香港)有限公司,2013年,71。

[3] Costa M. L. Rodrigues. ‘The History of Architecture in Macao.’ In Review of Culture (English Verision). Vol. 38-39. Instituto Cultural of Macau, 113.

[4] 吳、朱:《澳門建築》,80。

[5] 路家、陳逸鋒:《逐海而居——一個「漁」「船」「港」的故事》,同趣文藝工作室,2017年, 66。

[6] 林、李:《人口結構與經濟轉型》,26。

[7] 路、陳:《逐海而居》,75。



Fig 1. An extract from《粟香隨筆》by 金武祥,Qing dynasty.

Fig 2. Illustration in《 澳門建築》(Macau Architecture).

Fig 3. Map created by João Carlos Alves and João Barbosa Pires in 1927. Image source from: ‘Macao Between The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Town Planning and Infrastructure’ by José Manuel Fernande.

Fig 4. Illustration in ‘Review of Culture’ (Chinese Version), Vol. no.96.

Fig 5. Image source from: ‘逐海而居:海上保護神’, Memory de Macau.

Fig 6. Illustration in 《逐海而居》.

Fig 7. An extract from《逐海而居》.

Fig 8. Illustration in 《逐海而居》.

2 Comments on “The urbanization of Macau and its influence to the city in the mid to late 19th century 03: Land reclamation and its influence

  1. This is a very wide and rich survey of the influence from land reclamation. Topics like environmental concern, infrastructure upgrade, trading and business and also religion are all linked up through the thread of land reclamation.However, it is also because of the multiplication of subjects and the limited length here the content appears rather general. Certain arguments develop too quickly that they lack sufficient support (for example, your analysis of the religious inclination). Maybe consider using the categories of historical document and bibliography to cross reference more detailed materials to this post so the blog could develop certain depth beyond the general review.

  2. How important do you think it is to keep these memories of old fishing industry when there were very little people still doing such business in Macau. Do you think the government did enough to record these memories?

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