Didem Doğan

Salvador de Bahia-First Capital

“Salvador de Bahia de todos os Santos,” meaning the saint of all holy saviours in Portuguese, was established in the 16th century as a Portuguese colony and a port city. The city was settled on a hill and its uptown was the administrative and religious centre, was (and still is) connected by an elevator to the lower city, which was the locus of its trade. 

Salvador de Bahia had the honour of being the first capitol city of Brazil until 1763 when the capitol city was moved to Rio. Pelourinho, the old city centre on the world heritage list of Unesco is impressive with its architecture, houses that line narrow cobblestones, churches and palaces, music reverberating in all directions, and down the hill, a breeze that comes from the sea. As most of the slaves from Africa settled down here, it was around the same time that two prominent features of the Brazilian culture, i.e., African religions and music were brought here. One can confidently assert that candomblé (the religious and spiritual practice originating in Africa), samba, and carnival, still practiced today ,were all originated in Salvador. 

One of the chief figures of the Brazilian literature, Jorge Amado’s life which bears testimony to the 20th century, also coincides with this city’s history. He was a novelist whose books were burned in public in 1935 due to the leftist nature of his political thought; later on he espoused communism, found reception and praise amongst French authors, and his novels took on the themes of Brazil’s hybrid culture and synchronisation of diverse religions. The city where he passed away devoted to him a museum open to public in order to commemorate him.

You need a couple of days to explore Salvador and surroundings. Bahia’s Modern Art Museum is a huge complex of buildings dating back to 18th century with its well-preserved garden on the beach called Solar de Unhão where ships unloading sugar used to approach the port in the past. The museum also houses the biennale of Bahia (the state whose capital city is Salvador). It is an amazing place to watch the sunset and take a seat in a corner of the garden listening to the remarkably talented musicians that you come across everywhere in Brazil. Before you end your day to watch the sunset at Solar de Unhão you can spend a whole day at the historic downtown, namely Pelourinho. 

Salvador’s old town made up the upper and lower parts connected by an elevator can be visited in one whole day. At the upper part you will find three main squares: Pelourinho/Largo de São Francisco, Largo de Carmo and Largo de Santo Antônio Além de Carmo. Pelourinho, the word itself originates from the place Largo where slaves were punished and exhibited in front of everyone for various reasons. A lot changed since it was the centre of slave trade in the 16th and 17th centuries. At the 1990s a big renovation process took out thousands of inhabitants in the old town and turned the area into a tourist spot. Three blocks around Pelourinho you will find renovated buildings with cafés, bars, restaurants. The streets have the finest examples of Portuguese architecture since the city is the oldest colonial town in Brazil, and one of the oldest in all Latin America. It is a Unesco world heritage site since 1985.

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