“Bahia has a way no other place can match”, this verse by Bahian Dorival Caymmi fits Salvador like a glove. A city that is Renaissance, Baroque, mulatto, musical, super-friendly and spiced with the aroma of scented water and palm oil. On your wrist, the Bonfim ribbon and the promise that at least one of your three wishes will come true, while, in your soul, the blessing of all the saints who reside in the sapphire waters of the bay.
1 – Brief history
In 1501, a year after Álvares Cabral discovered Brazil, the navigator Gaspar de Lemos and Amerigo Vespucci arrived at Baía de Todos os Santos, christening the place thus because they arrived on the celebrated date of 1st November.
This bay – the second biggest in the world – was inhabited by Tupinabas Indians. Around 1509, Diogo Alves Correia, who survived the sinking of a French ship, was the first European to marry a native Indian. The village (Velha) where he settled was a strategic port for passing ships.
On the orders of King D. João III a system of hereditary captaincies was implemented, although they were not as successful as initially expected. The Portuguese monarch then made Thomé de Souza Governor of Brazil. He landed in Porto da Barra in March 1549 and ordered the construction of the fortress city, São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos. For two centuries (until 1763) Salvador was the capital of Brazil and Catholic America.
It’s impossible to talk about this region without mentioning the transatlantic slave trade, which began in the 16th century with Portuguese expansion on the African coast. The first mention of Africans in Salvador dates back to 1550, most coming from the coast of West Africa. They were transported to Brazil to work on the plantations of Bahia de Todos os Santos and in the gold mines. The Africans lent joy and musicality to Brazilian culture, or, as mentioned by Gilberto Freyre, “a musical and sweet way of talking. They also spiced up Bahian cuisine. “Slavery was abolished in 1888. Today, Salvador is the blackest city in the world outside Africa.
2 – What Bahians have…
The colourful streets of Salvador’s historic centre smell of palm oil. Even with our eyes closed, the mouthwatering aroma we sense allows us to find our way to the acarajé stall of the Bahian woman in the Terreiro da Cruz. This dish is the foundation of Bahian cuisine and one that feeds the deities of Candomblé. The variety of the local cuisine – which can be discovered in greater depth at the Gastronomic Museum – is the result of a combination of the ingredients of the so-called earth (local), the kingdom (Portugal, Europe and Asia) and the coast (those from the African coast.) This base produced moquecas (fish stew), meat stews, vatapá and caruru. Cold beer and caipirinha are also a constant. The feast is not over without black cocada, quindim de Yáyá, baba de moça or the delicious bolinho de estudante.
This is the place to start your lesson on local cuisine. We kick off with abará, which is the same as acarajé, but boiled instead of fried. We try the carucu, a tasty pâté of okra and fish, squid and cod. Little space is left for the Chicken Xim Xim, the maxixada, bean stew and cassava porridge.
Praça José de Alencar, nº 13/19\\\ www.ba.senac.br
O Cravinho – Casa de Cachaça
“The” place to drink cravinho (rum, cloves, honey and lemon), which the management tells us is anti-flu. It also serves Bahian snacks.
Terreiro de Jesus, 3 \\\ http://ocravinho.com.br/
Ruben Carvalho says that “Bahian food is the most natural in the world”. We can guarantee that the meat, grilled to order, was certainly the tenderest. The food is accompanied by a Bahian folklore show with orisha dances, puxada de rede theatre, xaxado, maculelé, excellent capoeira dancers and group samba.
Cruzeiro de São Francisco 9, 13 \\\ www.ocoliseu.com.br
Uauá, is a city in Sertão da Bahia, as well as a restaurant where the fish moqueca is divine. The cured beef and fried cassava is not far behind.
Rua Maciel de Baixo, 36 \\\ (71)3321-3089
Located in the Modelo Market overlooking the bay, serving excelente casquinha de siri (sand crab) and bean stew.
Praça Visconde de Cayru, 250, Mercado Modelo
Open since last March, Cuco combines Mediterranean cuisine with regional dishes, providing an interesting surprise for the palate. Don’t turn down the homemade rum (cachaça) at the end of your meal, whatever you do.
Largo do Cruzeiro de São Franscico, N. 6 \\\ www.facebook.com/cucobistro
Acarajé da Cira
If you want the best acarajé, you have to go to Cira’s stall in Itapuá. This traditional Bahian dish fried in palm oil is sliced open like a sandwich. Inside it has vatapá, tomato and onion salad and dried prawn. Another popular morsel is bolinho de estudante which we eat straight after.
Rua Aristides Milton, Itapuã
3 – Everything, everything in Bahia makes us happy…
Maria Betânia sings, “Bahia, Brazil’s first season”, is the birthplace of Música Popular Brasileira and all of Salvador sings about the curves of the young mulatta who has “candomblé in her rhythm.” Bahia gave Gilberto Gil, “balance”, while it gave all of us samba, bossa nova, carnival and also axé, forró, reggae, afoxé and olodum. In Baixa dos Sapateiros, Dorival Caymmi found “the most elegant brunette of Bahia.” This “land of happiness” is sung by the Novos Baianos in “Brasil Pandeiro” and other songs. The fertile soil of Bahia has produced musicians and singers, such as Dorival Caymmi, João Gilberto, Tom Zé, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethânia, Gal Costa, Daniela Mercury and Ivete Sangalo, amongst many others.
Vinicius de Moraes immortalised Itapuã beach in song. The poet also wanted to have been born from the womb of Mãe Menininha. From the Terreiro do Gantois, Dorival Caymmi paid tribute to the most revered Holy Mother in Salvador. More focussed on earthly pleasures “Maria Caipirinha” by Carlinhos Brown can be seen as the story of many a Bahian.
Some people get to know this magical place through songs and once they arrive, looking at that huge bay, they recognise places that have long been part of an invisible musical map. Stealing the lyrics of Gilberto Gil: “It is the blue we see/ In the blue of the Bahia sea / It is the colour that begins there / And lives in my heart”.
4 – Hail my orisha
In 1937, when Jorge Amado wrote The Captains of the Sands, religions of African origin were forbidden and practised in secret paces by recently freed black people. White, black, mulatto, those involved were the protogees of Mãe de Santo Don’aninha and Father José Pedro. The plot of the novel focusses on the relationship that Bahians have with religion.
Deeply religious, it does not turn its back on Catholicism, neither does it neglect offerings to its orishas, deities that personify the forces of nature. Populated by terreiros that date back to the time of slavery, Salvador is the capital of syncretism, where various faiths co-exist in perfect harmony. For centuries, Catholicism was imposed upon black people, who were forced to find an equivalent in the Catholic saints.
From the 1960s onwardsm there was a movement by artists and intellectuals to incorporate these African rhythms into music. Through “Canto de Ossanha” Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes helped Candomblé to be accepted in Brazil and further afield. Today, tourist packages include Candomblé ceremonies and even visits to a mãe de santo and her whelk shells.
5 – Being Bahian
“Baianos are not born, they make their debut; they don’t die, they just leave the scene.” These are the words of Nizan Guanaes, Bahia marketing guru and “one of the most influential Brazilians in the world.”
Being Bahia is a state of mind, well described in the expression “Smile, you’re in Bahia,” which the Bonfim ribbon sellers constantly repeat. Historian Roberto Carlos says that “everything is possible in Bahia.The prostitute participates, the gigolo falls in love. It’s Never Never Land.” And he assures us that “when Bahians are not celebrating, they’re rehearsing.” One thing is certain, Bahians don’t sleep much. Most of the people we meet, get up around five in the morning to do sport, Tai Chi, walk their dog or swim in the sea. They have a calm breakfast and then go to work. In the afternoon, they leave work and sit with friends and enjoy a snack or a beer. In Salvador, there are specific days to go to the Pelô, as Tuesday is the day for blessings, an 18th-century tradition where the bread of Santo António is blessed. At six o’clock, in the Rosário dos Pretos church, there is an African-Bahian Mass that includes instruments used in the terreiros de candomblé (places of worship). The religious aspect of the celebration has long since been surpassed and the squares of the historic centre, with names of characters created by Jorge Amado, are full of music and people looking to feel the axé (good energy) that only exists in Bahia.
6 – Christian Bahia
People say that there are 365 churches in Salvador da Bahia. According to the information of the Archdiocese of Salvador, there are nine more. Dorival Caymmi – a songwriter who would be 100 years old in 2014 – swore it was 365, one for every day of the year and it was this number that went down in Bahian folklore. Regardless of how many there actually are, it is impossible to ignore them and their different stories. One of the most fascinating is that of the Conceição da Praia church, whose stones were shipped from Portugal and assembled in the Cidade Baixa district.
Conceição da Praia Basilica
It’s one of the first buildings in the Cidade Baixa. Designed by José Joaquim da Rocha, founder of the Bahian school of painting, the nave ceiling shows incredible perspectives. Its contents are the first complete demonstration of D. João VI Baroque in Brazil. Take a moment to admire the altar in silver and white gold.
Senhor do Bonfim Church
The result of a promise kept by captain from the Portuguese town of Setúbal for having found a safe harbour at the end of his journey. A replica of the saint was shipped from Portugal and the church was built between 1746 and 1772. Former slaves and others have cleaned the churchyard and church steps since the 18th century. It all began with the preparations for the feast of Senhor do Bonfim (which takes place on the second Sunday in January) and is now the most popular celebration in the city after Carnival.
This ritual was separated from Catholic celebrations and takes place on the second Thursday in January, as the followers of Candomblé began to identify Senhor do Bonfim with the orisha Oxalá. Dressed in white, Bahian women walk eight kilometres from the Conceição da Praia do Bonfim church to the churchyard of Bonfim with scented water. The celebrations fade to the sound of electric trios.
Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Negros Church
Dressed in shades of blue, at the end of the Pelourinho slope, this church was built for black people to worship, after being founded in 1685 by one of Brazil’s first fraternities of emancipated slaves. Boasting both colonial and Rococo architecture, visitors hear Mass followed by a procession in which Nossa Senhora do Rosário, a white saint, is worshipped by black people. Black culture has influenced the traditions of the homily, with the choir being accompanied by drumming, while the saints’ prayer gives thanks to the orishas.
At Terreiro de Jesus we find the Cathedral, which was once a Jesuit college. Reminiscent of a ship turned upside down, the façade is made entirely of lioz limestone imported from Portugal. According to historian Roberto Carlos, “the ideas of Father António Vieira were more fertile here”.
Church and Convent of São Francisco
Known to be “poor on the outside and rich on the inside”, the São Francisco church boasts about 730 kilos of gold and is one of the finest examples of Brazilian baroque. Inside is half a ton of woodcarvings gilded with the precious metal that made Brazil the land of opportunity. The ceiling of the gatehouse offers a perspective of José Joaquim da Rocha featuring the Virgin Mary, while the cloisters are lined with 136 panels of tiles inspired by the book Teatro moral da vida humana, which “would be used to teach catechism to the illiterate”. Look for the altar of Santa Ifigénia, the first black person to be canonized, and of São Benedito, another black saint, who carries a white boy in his arms.
Ordem Terceira de São Francisco
Neighbour of the church and convent of São Francisco, the cloisters boast a panel of tiles that depicts Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake, as well as the wedding cortege of D. José. The Mannerist façade is the only one of its type in the country and considered to be one of the most important examples of Baroque in Brazil. It was covered with mortar until the 20th century and was discovered by accident by an electrician.
Nossa Senhora da Conceição Lapinha Church
Dating back to the 17th century, this is the only church built in the Mozarabic style in Brazil. The Second of July Parade (Bahia Independence Day, 1823) leaves from the Largo da Lapinha, winding its way through the historic centre. The caboclos also parade and there is political satire using posters, costumes and songs.
7 – Pelô and other neighbourhoods
The city’s main picture postcard image and a World Heritage Site since 1985, it resembles a Portuguese walled city with an injection of color, having been built like medieval towns. Full of mansions, Pelourinho (Pelô) was the commercial and administrative centre of the city until the 20th century and undoubtedly the neighbourhood with the most Baroque churches per square metre. We used the Elevador Lacerda – which connects uptown to downtown –, which is said to be “the fastest and cheapest way for a Bahian to go up in the world”. The tour and the stories begin at Praça Municipal, where we find the Rio Branco Palace, the Town Hall (1549), the head office of the Prefeitura, designed by Rio architect Lelé, and the elevator that brought us here, which has been operating since 1873.
In the cathedral square, we pass the statue of Pedro Fernandes Sardinha, the first bishop of Brazil that “charged a lot to forgive sins”. His end was not a happy one, after being eaten by Indians. His successor Pedro Leitão was more fortunate. “The Indians didn’t like pork”, jokes Roberto Carlos. In Ladeira do Pelourinho, we stop at the door of number 68. It was here that Jorge Amado wrote Sweat, Quincas Berro D’ Água and Dona Flor. Here we are, finally, in the city’s most famous square, a place where slaves were beaten and sold. One of the mansions houses the Jorge Amado Foundation. It was here that Michael Jackson recorded part of the video for They Don’t Care About Us, which became an anthem against social injustice. Today, the shop that lent its balcony to the singer is a huge success and you can even be photographed next to a cardboard cut-out of the singer.
The Rio Vermelho neighborhood was a major residential area and the place where Bahian intellectuals would meet at the beginning of the last century. It is here that the city’s nightlife is concentrated, with bars featuring samba and jazz, as well as stylish restaurants. At the beach’s edge is the Santana Church, which is close to Casa do Peso, which is maintained by fishermen and where local folk worship Yemanjá (the goddess of the sea). On 2nd February, the festivities dedicated to the god begin at five in the morning. Offerings are taken and dropped into the sea. The city’s various terreiros come here, drumming while they pay tribute to one of Candomblé’s main orishas.
The main attractions of this area are Monte Serrat Fort and Ponta de Humaitá, a unique place to enjoy the sunset. Close to Avenida Centenário is the Dique do Tororó, a swamp drained by the Dutch in 1624, which now operates as a recreational area. Another attraction are Tati Moreno’s orishas, who seem to walk on water.
We carry on to the Ribeira, which was a seaside resort in the 17th century and where families from Reconcavo used to spend their summers. Enjoy an ice cream at the Sorvetaria da Ribeira, which boasts a total of 64 flavours and has been open since 1931. Explore Penha beach seafood restaurants and make time to discover the Feira de São Joaquim, a huge area that sells fruits and vegetables, living and dead animals, religious and crafts items from the interior of the state.
Located at the entrance of the Bay of All Saints, where the colonisation of the region began in 1536. In the 1970s, it was a time of counterculture and the tropicalistas settled here. You can visit the Barra Lighthouse and the beaches and stop off at cafés or simply go for a stroll along the seafront, which now is off limits to most vehicles since August. On Sunday afternoons whole families invade the area. There is a variety of street food and even a gastronomic fair with Bahian chefs every fortnight. The Dodô carnival circuit – Dodô and Osmar invented the Trio Elétrico (mobile stage) – leaves here for Ondina. At this time of year, there are number of buildings on the waterfront – such as the art deco Oceania – which are rented and converted into cabins with nightclubs and restaurants.
8 – Art, literature and crafts
A fertile place for talent, Bahia is hometown not only to wonderful musicians, but also famous artists: Calanzans Neto, Mário Cravo and Bel Borba. Glauber Rocha filmed the place in Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol, becoming a reference of Cinema Novo (New Cinema). Originally from the island of Itaparica, João Ubaldo Ribeiro also used it in several times for his literary imagery. Then there are adopted sons, such as Carybé and Pierre Verger. The former was born in Argentine, danced capoeira and attended the Candomblé terreiros. The latter, a French photographer, arrived in Salvador in 1946, mixed with the local people, becoming a student of the Orisha cult. It is also worth mentioning the anonymous artists who produce items that can be found in the city markets. A round of applause to the Bahian women who, in addition to always smiling, know 118 ways to put the turban around your head.
Fonte da Rampa do Mercado Modelo
In the Cidade Baixa district, opposite the Elevador Lacerda, we find Mário Cravo Júnior’s Fonte da Rampa do Mercado. There’s a theory that it is a reinterpretation of mountain arches, sloop sails and church towers and another more popular idea, which is that of the many curves of Bahian women.
Brazil’s first customs building now houses 263 shops that sell lace, naive painting, sculptures, religious items, ceramics, and all kinds of textiles alluding to Bahia.
Here you can find “handmade Bahia”. In addition to this, the institute also offers courses in ceramics, embroidery and weaving within the community.
The main theme of this Bahian artist is life. She started with the organic and, from the 1970s onward, plants and animals gave way to other subjects. She paints on “canvas, paper, wood, iron, silk, cotton, toys, chairs, tables, pottery, bicycles, stones, watches, ties and gourds.” Recently, she has begun experimenting with lights on computers. Her work can be acquired at the Paulo Darzé Gallery.
Maria Adair \\\ firstname.lastname@example.org
Paulo Darzé Galeria \\\ www.paulodarzegaleria.com.br/maria-adair
Mix dance with martial arts, music and African culture and the result is: capoeira. One of the oldest African-based cultural expressions of Bahia, the rhythm comes from the sound of a berimbau. In Forte de Santo António Alem do Carmo there is capoeira every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 19:30.
Prentice de Carvalho
Author of the plaques which carry the names of the streets in Pelourinho. It’s worth going to the Ribeira a Casa de Prentice to meet this Bahian craftsman who has been painting on tiles for 48 years. The conversation is wonderful.
Casa de Prentice \\\ email@example.com
In Terreiro de Jesus we find this shop designed by the son of a prospector who has long been a part of the wonderful world of gems. Here there are both rough and cut diamonds. There is a huge collection of jewels and orders are accepted.
Pierre Verger Foundation Gallery
In the historic centre, make sure you visit this gallery displaying the magnificent photographs of Pierre Verger, the Frenchman who fell in love in African culture in Bahia. Visitors can buy books and publications on the photographer.
9 – Centuries of history and stories
With nearly 500 years of history, Salvador is an open-air museum containing over 70 museums ranging from the sacred to the profane, from the arts to literature with plenty of Africa in its heart.
UFBA Museum of Sacred Art
Located in the Convent of Santa Teresa de Ávila founded by the Barefooted Carmelites in the 17th century. Visitors can enjoy rare Indo-Portuguese and Ceylon-Portuguese images that travelled to Brazil in the 17th and 18th centuries, a considerable collection of 18th-century silverware that embellished the churches of the capital and pictures by the master José Joaquim da Rocha.
Here, the true past is salvaged and the myth that Africans were primitive is dispelled. Visitors can study the slavers routes, observe the clothing and hairstyles of the era or admire the carved wood panels by Carybé. (See this month’s dividers).
Solar Ferrao Cultural Centre
Located in the street that immortalises the Bahian satirical poet Gregório de Matos, here you can discover the collection of popular art of Lina Bo Bardi, especially the carranca sculptures, which were used to ward off evil spirits. The building houses Claudio Masella’s collection of African art and “sound alchemist” Walter Smetak’s collection of instruments.
Solar do Unhão and the Museum of Modern Art
This traditional colonial residence (mansion, church, mill and slave quarters) houses the Museum of Modern Art and is probably the only museum in the world located at the beach. Enjoy the sunset in the park of sculptures alongside the work of Bel Borba, Mário Cravo Junior, Master Didi and Carybé. The collection includes works by Tarsila do Amaral and Portinari.
Barra Lighthouse – Bahia Nautical Museum
Housed in the Forte de Santo António da Barra, Brazil’s oldest military building (1534), this museum boasts a collection of archaeological finds, navigation instruments and other objects related to the sea. There is also a permanent exhibition on the geography, history, anthropology and culture of Baía de Todos os Santos. Built before the city itself, the lighthouse is a wonderful example of 16th-century Portuguese military architecture.
Sister Dulce Memorial
“Come and be moved by the story of Brazil’s good angel.” Involved in remarkable social causes, the story of one of Santo António’s great devotees is told in the convent where she spent her life.
Jorge Amado Foundation
Located in the Pelourinho square, where many of the writer’s stories take place. The author was also the author of the freedom of religion law that protects Candomblé. We immerse ourselves in the many titles of his work, the garb of the Academia de Letras, his typewriter and the shirts that demonstrated his love for the tropical country.
Casa Rio Vermelho – life and work of Jorge Amado and Zélia Gatai
Opened recently, for the fans of the writer it is very exciting to be able to wander through the garden where the ashes of the eternal Brazilian candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature are buried. The aim is to help visitors get to know the man and the objects he collected on his travels throughout the world. Friends like Calazans Neto, Carybé, Verger and the ceramicist Udo Knoff also left their mark, whether on a tile, a door or a whale made of marbles.
10 – “Whoever comes to the shore”
Boasting a coastline of 50 kilometres, Salvador has beaches for all tastes. Following the maxim, “when in Bahia, do as Bahians do”, these beaches are for those in the know.
In 2007, The Guardian considered Praia do Porto Barra as one of the world’s three best beaches. It’s worth knowing that at weekends, the beach is invaded by folk from the interior, so if you want a quiet day, its best to go during the week.
In Amaralina you can find Bahian women selling acarajés. Beneath the coconut grove in Jardim de Alá, there are a number of masseuses selling outdoor “spas”. The best beach for swimming is Piata with its natural reef pools. Immortalised by the Vinicius song, the Itapuã beach boasts a certain wild feel during the week. At the weekend, much like the rest of the coast, it’s invaded by folk desperate for a tan. Surfing bods can enjoy the Aleluia, Stella Maris and Juaguaribe waves.
The island of Itaparica
Pick up a schooner in the port of Salvador and travel to this island in the middle of the bay. We pass Forte de São Marcelo, which was built during the 17th century and take a break on the Ilha dos Frades. After a refreshing dip, we climb up to the Igreja de Nossa senhora da Guadalupe, before travelling onto Itaparica. First a buffet in the mangroves and then we set off to discover the beauties of the island. The most disconcerting of all is the Fonte da Bica fountain where, according to Neguinho Edson Jorge, the elixir of eternal youth gushes forth.
text Maria João Veloso photos João Carlos
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