The name Macau is derived from “A-Ma-Gau” or Place of A Ma. The A Ma Temple is one of Macau’s famous landmarks situated on the southern part tip of the peninsula. The temple was listed as a “Historic Center of Macau” on the World Heritage List of year 2005. Certainly, with such a high-regarded title, a thorough and interesting history is indeed behind it.
Around 400 years back, the Portuguese people landed on the peninsula near the known temple. They then asked local people the name of the land they were in, but the Macau inhabitants misunderstood and thought that the Portuguese men were asking for the name of the temple instead. Macau dwellers answered “Ma Ge”, which was the name of the temple. Later, the Portuguese translated the name “Ma Ge” into Macau to refer to the entire land.
The temple is actually one of the three most popular Halls of Buddha in Macau and is the oldest temple in the city. Constructed in 1488 during the Ming Dynasty, the temple was erected to honor Mazu, the beloved sea goddess who continues to bless the fishermen of Macau. Many claim that the goddess was named Lin Mo who was born in Putian City, Fujian Province. This poor girl was a very intelligent girl compared to other children of her age as she could instantly predict good and ill luck. According to folktales, Lin Mo or Mazu was on her way to Canton when a wealthy junk owner refused to take her to her destination, she was then accommodated by a lowly fisherman that took her on board. Unfortunately, a storm wrecked the entire boat leaving only the girl as the survivor. Upon arrival in Macau, she vanished and reappeared as a goddess. Since then, she helped many fishermen and merchants ward off calamities and help turn danger into safety. With gratitude, the fishermen then built her a temple on the very spot where she reappeared as a goddess.
Upon entering the A Ma Temple, stone lions guard the entrance to the temple where silence is highly regarded amidst the spectacular views. The temple contains six main divisions that all make up a series of classical Chinese architectural treasures. Prayer halls, pavilions and a court yard dawns the temple on a hill that connects along winding paths through the moon gates and the tiny garden. Various poems and inscriptions are carved on the stone along the cliff which is a pleasure to read. Upon crossing the gateway of the temple, the Hongren Hall can be seen. This is believed to have the longest history in the complex.
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A statue of Mazu can also be found here where worshippers can pay tribute to the goddess. Further down will be the Hall of Avalokitesvara, which was constructed mainly of stone and bricks in a very conservative style. Finally, the Zhengjiao Chanlin, which is a Buddhist hall evidently designed tastefully with regard to size and its architectural style.
The temple is well visited during Mazu’s birthday and the Chinese New Year as many disciples gather to burn incense, pay homage and pray for good fortune. The A Ma Temple showcases not only an ancient architectural complex but a display of the rich and proud Chinese culture of the Macau City.