Macau's oldest Chinese temple -- and the longest surviving building in Macau -- is situated at the bottom of Barra Hill at the entrance to the Inner Harbour, across from the Maritime Museum. Parts of this temple, dedicated to A-Ma, goddess of seafarers, date back more than 600 years. According to legend, a poor village girl sought free passage on a boat but was refused until a small fishing boat came along and took her onboard. Once the boat was at sea, a typhoon blew in, destroying all boats except hers. Upon landing at what is now Barra Hill, the young girl revealed herself as A-Ma, and the fishermen repaid their gratitude by building this temple on the spot where they came ashore. The temple was already here when the Portuguese arrived; they named their city A-Ma-Gao (Place of A-Ma) after this temple, now shortened, of course, to Macau.
At the entrance is a large rock, with a picture of a traditional sailing junk engraved more than 400 years ago to commemorate the Chinese fishing boat that carried A-Ma to Macau. The temple, spreading along the steep slope of a hill with views of the water, has good feng shui. Several shrines set in the rocky hillside are linked by winding paths through moon gates. The uppermost shrine honors Kun Iam, the goddess of mercy, and affords good views of the Inner Harbour. If you happen to be here on the 23rd day of the Third Moon (Apr or May), you'll be treated to the A-Ma Festival (similar to the Tin Hau Festival in Hong Kong), with its throngs of worshippers and Cantonese opera performed on a temporary stage in front of the temple. At the very least, your visit may coincide with an explosion of fireworks, traditionally set off to scare away evil spirits and now a popular demonstration for visiting tour groups (avoid mornings, however, when most tour buses come here).