Headline: Historic battles
Publication - Date: 25.10.2006
Byline: Fox Yi Hu, Macau
Macau historians have barely recovered from the joy of seeing city
landmarks inscribed in Unesco's World Heritage list last year. So you
wouldn't expect that they're already having to defend some of them from
developers. But fast and furious urban development is swelling the city in
all directions: the remains of old Macau are feeling the squeeze.
Heritage activists last summer had to fight off a building plan that
threatened to block the sea view from the A-Ma Temple, a World Heritage
site honouring the goddess of seafarers. Then, they had to protest
against a government plan to demolish the Little Blue House - a historic
mansion that isn't on the World Heritage list.
The activists, including historians, architects and legislators,
prevailed both times. But they had hardly drawn breath before the bell rang
for the next - and more daunting - fight. Now a property development
scheme threatens to throw up a gigantic concrete screen of high-rise
buildings that will obscure the 300-year-old Guia Fortress - a World
Heritage site with a landmark lighthouse.
The 17th century fortress is home to the Guia Chapel, which has
frescoes with both western and Chinese themes. It's an early example of
Macau's multiculturalism. The Guia Lighthouse, which dates back to 1865, was
the first modern lighthouse on the Chinese coast. The two structures
are regarded as symbols of Macau's maritime, military and missionary
The fortress stands atop the 91-metre-high Mount Guia, the highest
point on the Macau Peninsula. Last month, the government relaxed a
long-standing restriction on the maximum height of buildings near the fortress.
That opened the way for developers to plan new buildings - as high as
135 metres - at the foot of the hill. The new structures would form a
300-metre-long "great wall", hiding the historic structures.
To the dismay of heritage activists, one of the new buildings will be
occupied by the central government's Liaison Office in Macau. It's
intended to be 99.9 metres tall, to symbolise Macau's 1999 handover to
China. A group of local historians and architects met to discuss the matter,
but some of them reportedly lost heart after learning that the Liaison
Office was involved.
Historian Chan Wai-hang warns that the buildings will block the view
from the fortress, undermining its World Heritage value. "The
surroundings of a site are taken into consideration when Unesco assesses its
value," he said.
If anyone doubts this, they have only to look to the mainland, where
Unesco has threatened to remove at least two sites from the World
Heritage list and warned against the damage to a few others. A stern Unesco
warning forced the government in Hunan to bulldoze 340,000 square metres
of new buildings built at the Zhangjiajie Wulingyuan Scenic Spot, to
restore it to its original condition.