Macau Front of House

Cherry Barnett investigates the tiny colony of Macau located west of Hong Kong as Lisbon prepares to relinquish its title as 1994 European city of culture.

As Lisbon is preparing to relinquish its title as 1994 European City of Culture, an informal accolade should be given to its tiny Portuguese colony of Macau located west of Hong Kong.

Here, efforts to preserve a European atmosphere within the enclave are now apparent to even the most casual visitor. One recent highlight is the restoration of the Dom Pedro V Theatre whose importance, but rapidly decaying state, had long been discussed far outside Macau. The restoration finally became a prestigious project for a Portuguese architect practising in Macau, Maria José Freitas.

Macau was not without music, opera and theatrical performances before the mid-nineteenth century, but even though forts, churches and grand houses were numerous – it remained until the 1850s without a purpose-built theatre.

Plans for the 250-plus seat theatre, named after the ruling king of Portugal and opened in 1858, were the work of a Macanese engineer, Pedro Marques. Situated in a small fashionable square which it shares with the church of St.Augustine, a façade was added to the theatre in 1879 to designs by a scholar- architect Baron Cercal.

Classical to the extent of a square exterior plan and round auditorium within, the building also evokes the richness of Catholic European taste, combined with a restrained elegance. Certainly, there can be no extant theatre building of European architecture to match it east of India.

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