The S. Francisco Garden is the first public garden of Macao and is steep in history. It used to spread across the site of the S. Francisco Convent built by the Spanish Franciscan friars from Castile on 2 February 1580, hence its Chinese name meaning “Garden of the Castilians”. The Spanish Franciscan friars were later replaced by the friars of the Franciscan Order in Portugal. When the Portuguese religious orders were being banned in 1834, the Macao government took possession of the convent and its assets.
The convent was demolished in 1861 and the S. Francisco Barracks were constructed on its site. The green areas of the convent were transformed into a three-tiered public garden, designed and overseen by Matias Soares. The garden extended from Avenida da Praia Grande all the way up to Rua Nova à Guia. It used to be enclosed with walls and balustrades and closed to the public at night. It was the gathering place for members of the high society in the old days where they had lively chats and leisure walks while admiring the seascape in the distance. In the evenings, musical performances would be staged on the bandstand in the garden for their enjoyment.
In 1870, Clube Militar of Macao was constructed adjacent to S. Francisco Garden. It is a structure of elegant and unique design that blends in harmoniously with its neighbouring garden. It remains an architectural landmark of Avenida da Praia Grande all these years.
Reclamation of new land in the area in front of S. Francisco Garden began in 1920. The construction of Rua de Santa Clara by the government in 1935 had reduced the size of the garden. The green areas of the garden have been preserved but the bandstand was demolished. At the rear end of the garden is an octagonal pavilion in Chinese style which was once a bar. Nowadays, it is a small library managed by the Macao Chamber of Commerce and is a popular place for leisure reading for the public. The two old trees nearby, a Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum camphora) and a Mock Bodh Tree (Ficus rumphii), are there as witnesses to the changes of the garden over the decades.
The staircases of the garden lead to Rua Nova à Guia. The features of the garden range from a fountain with three spouts, children’s playground to a round tower in commemoration of the Portuguese soldiers who died in the First World War, which is nowadays the headquarters of Associação Recreativa dos Deficientes Físicos de Macau.
Despite its limited size, this oldest public garden in Macao is a valuable green leisure space in the downtown area. It is also home to many age-old trees, like Yanmin(Dracontomelon duperreanum), Lebbeck Tree (Albizia lebbeck) and Jambolan Plum (Syzygium cumini). There are also two “King of Trees” amongst them, the Carambola or Starfruit tree (Averrhoa carambola) standing in front of the public toilet and the Mango tree (Mangifera indica) at the side of the staircase on the first level of the garden.