Macau has an interesting history as a trading post, with its colonial legacy still influencing its culture and cuisine today. The gambling industry has brought affluence to the area and the new international casinos have given Macau an upgraded look and feel.
The first settlers of Macau are believed to have been fishermen from mainland China from the Fujian province. Macau was originally known as Ou Mon and was an important trading post on the Silk Road. The Portuguese first came to the area and southern China in 1513, after trading with Goa and Malacca. By 1535, the Portuguese were allowed to anchor ships and build warehouses in Macau. In 1557, Macau came under Portuguese rule, when they obtained a lease from Beijing. The name Macau was used by the Portuguese, derived from what locals called the area "Ma Gao," translated to a "place of A Ma," the goddess of sailors.
Macau continued to grow until the decline of the Portuguese power. In 1862, Macau was officially recognized at a Portuguese colony. The area played an important role in WWII as a neutral port and the economy flourished during this time. Japan controlled Macau for a short period in 1945.
When the Communists came to power in China in 1949, they officially declared the Protocol of Lisbon which established Macau as a Portuguese colony null and void. A similar stance was taken with Hong Kong, but neither action prompted any change in status. In fact, Macau remained a Portuguese colony until 1999, the last remaining European colony in Asia. Macau then became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. Even today, there are still remnants of the Portuguese legacy in Macau, such as the façade of St Paul’s Cathedral and Luis de Camoes Park.
Macau’s gambling history dates back to 1850, when the government legalized it. The casinos are the biggest source of income for Macau, representing roughly 50 percent of the economy. Initially, it was only Chinese games that were played, but as large international casinos opened up so did the breadth and variety of offerings. Today, Macau boasts 33 casinos, most of which operate on a 24-hour basis.
Macau’s culture is a blend of Portuguese and Chinese. Although Chinese make up 95 percent of the population, the colonial influences still remain. In particular, there is a minority group of "Macanese," people that are part Portuguese and part Chinese that have created their own unique identity especially evident in the blended cuisine. The main religion in Macau is Buddhism, which is a direct result of the Chinese being the largest ethnic group. The next largest faith is Roman Catholic.