The most densely populated place in the world, Macao consists of a rocky, hilly peninsula connected to China's Zhongshan (Tangjiahuan) island and an island consisting of the former islands of Taipa and Colôane, now joined to each other by landfill (an area known as Cotai). The island is connected to the peninsula by bridges. The capital, the city of Macao, is approximately coextensive with the peninsula and contains almost the entire population of the province.
Macao's historic structures include the remaining facade of St. Paul's Basilica (built 1635 by Roman Catholic Japanese artisans; burned 1835), a fascinating example of late Italian Renaissance architecture, with mixed Western and Asian motifs; St. Domingo's church and convent (founded c.1670); the fort and chapel of Guia (1626); the fort of São Paulo de Monte (16th cent.); and statues of da Gama and Luís de Camões, who wrote (1558–59) part of The Lusiads there. Macao is separated from China proper by a barrier gate (built 1849, replacing one erected by the Chinese in 1573) and waterways.
The inhabitants are overwhelmingly Chinese and about half are Buddhist; there is a Roman Catholic minority. Cantonese and other Chinese dialects, as well as Portuguese, are spoken. Macao is ruled under the Basic Law as approved by the National People's Congress of China in 1993.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.