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80 Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque 81 5. Ruínas de São Paulo Ruínas de São Paulo (Ruins of St Paul’s) Chapter 5 The building discussed here is known worldwide , and is visited by every tourist to Macao. The Ruins of St Paul, on a hill twenty-six metres above sea level, must constitute one of the most famous baroque images: every tourist climbs up the steps to see them and is photographed against them. Macao promotional tourism features St Paul’s Ruins; they are Macao’s Eiffel Tower, its Sydney Opera House. São Paulo was built by the Jesuits in the first thirty or so years of the seventeenth century and burned down in 1835. It is now approached by six flights of eleven stairs each, divided by landings and with a balustrade running up each side. 1 The stairs climb upward through ten metres. The photograph shows the journey towards the façade up a ramp towards the free flight of stairs which can be seen as a single discrete unit. Nickolaus Pevsner argues that the design of staircases was crucial to the Renaissance and even more to the baroque, which exploited their ability to give a sense of movement. 2 Macao makes attractive use of staircases, both inside and outside, even in the most casual contexts. (Note the staircases in photographs 16 (the Ho Tung Library) and 21 (the São José).) The stairs of São Paulo are disconnected in direction from the façade, being, as the photograph shows, de-centred to the left because earlier on, there were buildings where there is now an elegant floral display running the length of the stairs. A nineteenth-century pen-and43 . Night overview of São Paulo ink sketch by Chinnery illustrates the point: before, there was no overall view of the façade. Lacan thinks of architecture as ‘organised around emptiness’. Hegel considers architecture as masking death, preserving it and superseding it, as Denis Hollier says ‘architecture is something appearing in the place of death, to point out its presence and to cover it up: the victory of death and the victory over death’. 3 If it is a cover, its existence is expressed best in the idea of a façade. The granite façade of St Paul’s, all that is left, becomes the essence of architecture, because this façade is literally all there is to see: a gate in the middle of the city leading nowhere. Does people’s desire to be photographed in front of the façade, as a way of asserting their identity, show an unconscious sense that the ruin is all there is? Perhaps as a façade, architecture is a face, a mask, a personification. This baroque façade is both an allegory in itself (a personification), and has allegorical designs upon it. It uses writing, having Latin, Greek and Chinese — no Portuguese — inscriptions on it. São Paulo is called locally, ‘Da San Ba Pai Fong’ (São Paulo memorial tablet), for its similarity to a Chinese memorial tablet: as if this writing in stone is both a manuscript which has been lifted through ninety degrees, and a monument; a work for memory and potentially both inviting and minatory; a gateway, which in Chinese thought, leads to transformation. ‘Da San Ba Pai Fong’ evokes the two-dimensional feature of the 82 Walking Macao, Reading the Baroque façade: the name comes after the fire that destroyed the church, so that the memorial is to death, and the memorial stone is a tombstone. Writing and erasure take place together, the signifier remains but the signified is under erasure. If São Paulo is approached as a text, the relationship of writing to death becomes a topic for speculation. São Paulo may be analysed from the top of its five levels to the bottom. The uppermost level comprises a dove surrounded by sun and a moon and four stars, and the pediment is surmounted by four obelisks and a cross. The cross is invisible from the ground below: if there is no place from which the whole façade can be seen, this belongs to the Gothic aesthetic, which stresses the part and not the whole (only God sees the whole). The level below shows Christ under a scallopshell canopy with, to the right and left of him, the emblems of his passion. To the left, the crown of thorns, a whip...


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