Salvador – The Heartbeat of Afro-Brazilian Culture
Salvador de Bahia is the original capital of Brazil, the base for the early colonial exploration and exploitation of the interior, and the birthplace of Afro-Brazilian culture, with samba, capoeira and candomblé tracing their roots to the city and their ancestry to Africa. This energetic city was founded on the Baia de Todos os Santos (All Saints’ Bay), and the history and contemporary culture are all linked to the colonial and slavery eras.
Salvador is known as The City Where The Music Never Stops, especially during the Salvador Carnaval, the largest street carnival in the world. The festival brings millions of people to follow bands playing axé and other types of Brazilian music while passing slowly along the city streets.
Outside of Carnaval week, the historic centre of Salvador is the touristic centre, a the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pelourinho square and surrounding streets have been redeveloped in recent years, to bring them back to their colourful colonial glory. The Upper City also boasts fantastic views over the bay as well as over the Lower City and the port. Africans brought over the ocean to work the early sugar and coffee plantations of the Bahia interior were unloaded from boats at the port, imprisoned in the dungeons underneath the market of the Lower City, then sold at the Pelourinho whipping post in the square above. The historic part of the city includes the Mercado Modelo, the first slave market in the New World. The churches and convents such as Sao Francisco, Carmo, and the Basilica Cathedral remain impressive and opulent. More baroque buildings line the old town squares such as the Palacio Rio Branco alongside the rather newer Lacerda Elevator which brings people up from the Lower City. The praças teem with life, as samba and capoeira demonstrations compete for tourist attention, while candomble rituals are also seen being practised by the bahiana ladies. Shows featuring the development of the dances, the martial art and from the first African slaves can be found in atmospheric settings around the city, with traditional Bahian dinner too.
Salvador is the capital of Bahia, and the state is renowned throughout Brazil for its cuisine. The bahianas of the city can be seen selling acarajé and other traditional foods, while moqueca and other regional dishes blend Bahian seafood with spices and coconut milk. These can be enjoyed in the historic city, on the beaches of the bay and the Atlantic coast, and also on some of the trips out of the city. The plantations and markets of the interior make for an interesting look at a slightly different Brazilian culture, while All Saints Bay has a history to tell in its islands and stunning beaches that can be visited on boat trips.
Bahia is also renowned for its stunning beaches, and there are many within a couple of hours’ drive of Salvador. Day trips to Praia do Forte take you out of the city to a paradise of palm trees, tropical reef and sea-turtles.
Salvador lost its status as capital of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro in 1763, but remains a vibrant, interesting city, although care must always be taken when visiting, especially in the historic areas. The city can also be used as a base for trips a little further afield in Bahia, such as Morro do São Paulo, Lençois and Itacare.
Salvador is one of the host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, with six matches taking place in the Arena Fonte Nova.
Suitable Destination For: Those who want to experience the Afro-Brazilian culture, look at the old colonial capital of Brazil and explore the beauty of Bahia, its food, its beaches and its colonial past; Music Lovers
Best Time to Visit: Salvador is tropical, temperatures rarely dip below 25˚C during the day. April and May have the heaviest rainfall, with June and July also catching some heavy bursts. Salvador Carnaval runs for a week or more from the weekend before Lent on the Christian calendar, usually in February but sometimes in early March.
Essential Sights & Activities: The historic city around Pelourinho; The lighthouse at the entrance to All Saints Bay, and the bay itself; locals practising the capoeira martial art; samba da roda – the original samba; Bahian Cuisine; Bahianas performing candomblé rituals; Brazilian Music and Drums Bands