Historic centre of Pelourinho, Salvador de Bahia, Brazil Special
Third largest city in Brazil, Salvador, in the state of Bahia on the Atlantic coast, holds the architectural beauty of Portuguese origin that is spiced up with African history, culture and traditions.
The historic centre of Pelourinho is located in the south-western corner of the city that has 3 million people. Most of the population of Salvador have their roots from African slaves who were brought here by the Portuguese between 16 and 19th century to work on plantations of sugar and coffee.
Brazil received one slave worker on average out of three African traded over the Atlantic. These people have left a huge imprint on the cultural map of Brazil in the place where Salvador is the most exposed towards Africa.
The city was founded by the Portuguese as early as 1549 and is one of the first cities in post-Columbian world. Pelourinho (in Portuguese - whipping post) is the oldest city centre that served as a market place to buy and sell the labour force that made Brazil famous in the world for its sugar. Its fastest development came between 18-19th century as a residential and administrative centre. In 1985 it was listed as one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Pelourinho is a definite focal point to every tourist visiting the city and a must see start site for those who explore it more. On the small area of one-tenth square kilometre, within easy reach on foot, there's a substantial collection of baroque churches, musea and colonial houses.
One of the most impressive buildings there is Cathedral Basilica built in 1657 that has both main and side altars covered with gold. The central square of Pelourinho, Terreiro de Jesus, was designed in 1549 by the governor Tome de Souza. Another gem of Pelourinho is Igreja e Convento de São Francisco, built by friars of the Franciscan Order who came to Salvador in 1587. The church has impressive chandelier weighing 80 kg in the main nave. The columns, arches, altars and other elements of architecture are richly decorated with paintings, hand painted azulejos
and golden elements.
On the side of the church's compound, there's a secluded entry to catacombs that house the remains of noble people who could afford being buried there. It's a strange kind of place where quite a thick atmosphere of death and termination of life still hangs in the air.
Another church that has a lot of remains associated with Afro-Brazilian culture and traditions is Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos. It was built by the slaves in the 18th century.
Another place worth visiting is Museu Afro-Brasiliero with an immense collection of candomblé deities. Candomblé is a final product of mixed Afro-Brazilian beliefs that originated in African tribes of Bantu, Igbo and Yoruba and once it was fiercely fought by the Catholic Church as a source of magic and beliefs conflicting with the official Church's doctrine. This system of beliefs is also practised in other South-American countries but it started, developed and thrived right in Salvador when being performed by large group of Brazilians of African origin.
Other specialty of Salvador and its old market is that it has the oldest and the most renowned school of capoeira not only in Brazil but in the World. Capoeira is Brazilian style of fighting while dancing and it has its roots in African culture. It is performed on the main market square in the centre of Pelourinho.
Almost every single corner of Pelourinho is stuffed with small restaurants, coffee and gift shops as well as art galleries where Afro-Brazilian of vibrant colour elements dominate everywhere. There's a special art style that has already been developed in Salvador that in female tourist guides' way of clothing is called bahiana
Don't expect to take a picture with those girls without paying them at least a little; starting price is about $Can5, if you are a skilled negotiator.
Pelourinho, like no other district of Salvador is very safe to visit and enjoy. There's strong presence of municipal police everywhere providing safety and comfort for thousands of tourists visiting Pelourinho.