Centro Histórico in Salvador, Brazil

Most of the interesting sights are concentrated in the Cidade Alta (Upper City). From Praça Municipal to the Carmo area, 2 km north along the cliff, the Centro Histórico is a national monument and protected by UNESCO. It was in this area that the Portuguese built their fortified city, and it is here that some of the most important examples of colonial architecture in the Americas can be found today. The historic centre has undergone a massive restoration programme. The colonial houses have been painted in pastel colours. Many of the bars have live music, which spills out onto the street on every corner. Patios have been created in the areas behind the houses, with open-air cafés and bars. Artist ateliers, and antique or handicraft stores have brought new creative blood to what was once the bohemian part of the city. Many popular traditional restaurants and bars from other parts of Salvador have opened new branches in the area.

Praça Municipal (Tomé de Souza) and the Praça da Sé

These adjacent squares, connected by the Rua da Miserícordia, link with neighbouring Terreiro de Jesus (Praça 15 de Novembro) to form an almost entirely pedestrianized area. A decade ago this area was tawdry but it has been tidied up in recent years. It's a good place to see impromptu capoeira shows (but beware of taking pictures and getting aggressively pressured into parting with cash) and there's good shopping at the many street-side stores and stalls.

Praça Municipal
is the oldest part of Salvador. From here the city grew in a bewildering panoply of architectural styles, many of which can be seen around the square. Dominating the view are the neoclassical columns of the former council chamber (1660), now the
Paço Municipal
, and the imposing
Palácio Rio Branco
. Like many of Brazil's opulent eclectic buildings, this was built in homage to the French for the state-governor, in 1918. The palace now houses municipal offices. On the western side of the square is the star of many postcards: the huge, art deco
Elevador Lacerda
, which whisks people from the Cidade Alta to the Cidade Baixa, 70 m below, in a manner of seconds. It was built in the late 1920s to replace an old steam lift, which in turn replaced the original rope and pulley system first installed by the Jesuits. There are wonderful views over the bay from here.

Heading north from the
, Rua da Misericórdia runs past the church of
Santa Casa Misericórdia
, (1695), with its high altar and beautiful painted
tiles, to
Praça da Sé
. This is one of central Salvador's most attractive squares, decorated with modernist fountains, shaded by mimosa and flamboyant trees and lined with stately buildings, many of which house smart shops or European-style cafés. The square preserves a statue of Salvador's founder, Thomé da Souza, and affords good views of the bay. Look out for the Fallen Cross (Cruz Caída) a sculpture sitting on a plinth by one of Latin America's foremost sculptors, Mário Cravo Junior (www.cravo.art.br). It is dedicated to the old Igreja da Sé (cathedral), which was pulled down in 1930, together with an entire street of 18th and early 19th century townhouses, to make way for the now defunct tramline. The cathedral's contents has been uncovered and are now displayed in a sad looking viewing pit, another of
which showcases the remains of slaves and mariners who were buried in the church's grounds in the 16th century.

Terreiro de Jesus (Praça 15 de Novembro)

Less than 100 m northeast of Praça da Sé, the Terreiro de Jesus is a large
surrounded by handsome colonial townhouses and some of the city's most impressive churches. The square is the centre of tourist activity and bustles with bars, cafés and myriad souvenir stalls proffering everything from
. It's particularly lively on Tuesday and weekend nights when there are shows or concerts , and there are regular displays of capoeira - presented without joy and for the tourist dollar; if you stop to watch, you'll be expected to pay. Beware, too, of the persistent
(brightly coloured ribbons given as a good luck present), who swoop down like hawks on new arrivals. The streets that run off the south side of the Terreiro are frequented by drug dealers and beggars - best avoided, especially after dark.

The Terreiro de Jesus takes its name from the 'Church of the Society of Jesus' that dominates it. It is now
Catedral Basílica
, devolving its ownership to the main body of the Catholic church in 1759, after the Jesuits were expelled from all Portuguese territories. The cathedral, whose construction dates from between 1657 and 1672, is one of the earliest examples of baroque in Brazil - a style that came to dominate in the 18th century and reached its full glory in Minas Gerais. The interior is magnificent: the vast vaulted ceiling and 12 side altars, in baroque and rococo, frame the main altar and are completely leafed in gold. This lavish display is offset by a series of Portuguese
on in blue, white and yellow, which swirl together in a tapestry pattern.

The church is built on the site of the original Jesuit chapel built by Padre Manuel da Nóbrega in the 16th century. Nóbrega was part of the crew on that came from Portugal with Brazil's first governor-general, Tomé de Sousa, arriving in Bahia on 29 March 1549. Together with Padre José de Anchieta, he founded many of the Jesuit seminaries and churches that later became the cities of modern Brazil, including Rio, Recife and São Paulo. Antônio Vieira, one of the greatest orators in Portuguese history and a campaigner for the protection of the
in the Amazon, preached some of his most famous sermons in the church. Inside is the
tomb of Mem de Sá
, the great Portuguese
general who more than perhaps anyone was responsible for the establishment of the Brazilian territories: after liberating Rio from the French, he quelled an insurrection that threatened to overthrow the colony. Note the interesting sculptures, particularly those on the altar of Saint Ursula in a huge chest carved from the now almost extinct
tree, encrusted with ivory, bone and turtle shell.

Across the square is the church of
São Pedro dos Clérigos
, which is beautifully renovated. Alongside is the church of the early 19th-century
Ordem Terceira de São Domingos
, which has a beautiful painted wooden ceiling.

There are a number of interesting museums on the square. The
Museu Afro- Brasileiro
, charts the history of the Portuguese slave trade. Between 1440-1640, Portugal monopolized the export of slaves from Africa and they were the last European country to abolish it. Over the course of 450 years, they were responsible for transporting more than 4.5 million Africans - some 40% of the total. There are also panels comparing West African and Bahian
(deities) and some beautiful murals and carvings by the artist Carybé (Hector Julio Páride Bernabó) who lived most of his life in Bahia. Carybé became famous with the
movement, illustrating Mario de Andrade's
, and won the prize as the best draughtsman in Brazil in 1955. He was later celebrated for his depictions of
rituals and
. In the basement of the same building, the
Museu Arqueológico e
, houses archaeological discoveries from Bahia, such as stone tools, clay urns, an exhibition on the people of the
Rio Xingu
of the Alto area. The
Memorial de Medicina
(museum of medicine) is in the same complex.

Facing Terreiro de Jesus is the Largo Cruzeiro de São Francisco, crowded with souvenir stalls and dominated by a large wooden cross and the church and convent of
São Francisco
. This is the jewel in the crown of Salvador's colonial centre and one of the finest baroque churches in Latin America. The simple façade belies the treasure inside and the 64 years it took to complete the church after it was recovered from the invading Dutch who had sacked the city in 1686. The entrance leads to a sanctuary with a spectacular trompe l'oeil painting by local artist
José Joaquim da Rocha
(1777). From here, a set of cloisters decorated with minutely detailed and hand-painted
; many are by the celebrated Portuguese artist
Bartolomeu Antunes de Jesus
and depict scenes from the life of St Francis. A beautiful sculpture of St Peter of Alcântara, venerated for his mystical visions attained in a state of painful ecstasy, is agonisingly captured by the Bahian artist
Manoel Inácio da Costa
, who carved the sculpture from a single hunk of rainforest wood. Some say that the saint's pale complexion and drawn features are an allusion to da Costa's tuberculosis. The main body of the church is the most opulent in Brazil - a vast, ornate exuberance of woodcarving in
depicting a riot of angels, animals, floral designs and saints, covered with some 800 kg of solid gold and dedicated to the patron saint of the poor. Many believe that the distorted features of the carvings are a silent protest against the Portuguese on the part of the indigenous and African slaves who decorated the church (in a similar vein to the protest made by artists like Aleijadinho in Minas Gerais).

Next door is the church of the
Ordem Terceira de São Francisco
, (1703), with its intricately carved sandstone façade being the only example in Brazil of the Spanish plateresque style - a late Gothic form that takes its name from its mimicry in stone of the elaborate filigree work undertaken by silversmiths. There's a huge and intricately decorated altar piece inside and a chapterhouse covered in striking images of the Order's most celebrated saints and a series of
many depicting scenes of Lisbon before the devastating earthquake in 1755.

The Pelourinho

The streets north of the Terreiro de Jesus, which run over a series of steep hills to the neighbourhood of Santo Antônio, are referred to as the Pelourinho. The area takes its name from the whipping post where the African slaves were auctioned off or punished by their Brazilian-Portuguese masters. Its steep cobbled streets, lined with brightly painted colonial houses and churches, form the centre of one of the largest conglomerations of colonial architecture in the Americas. It is one of Salvador's most popular areas for nightlife, particularly popular on Tuesdays and at weekends.

Until 1993 the area was very run down; subsequent refurbishment has greatly improved the area but there is still some way to go before it becomes as salubrious as the centre of São Luís or Ouro Preto. The city's African Brazilian communities suffered decades of neglect under Bahia's long-serving governor Antônio Carlos Magalhaes and, despite the current, more progressive executive, the city's wealthy business and social elite remain notoriously uninterested in Salvador's African heritage and oblivious to the world's interest in African Brazilian culture.

The Pelourinho's main thoroughfares run north off the Terreiro de Jesus. Rua Alfredo Brito and Rua João de Deus and the side streets that run off them are lined with three- or four-storey townhouses occupied by shops, restaurants and boutique hotels. Both descend in steep cobbles to the
Largo de Pelourinho
, a large sunny square watched over by one of Salvador's most important African-Brazilian monuments, the church of
Nosso Senhora Do Rosário Dos Pretos
, built by former slaves over a period of 100 years, with what little financial resources they had. In colonial times, black Bahians were not even allowed to walk in front of the churches reserved for the white elite, let alone go inside them, and had to worship in their own building.The side altars honour black saints such as São Benedito and the painted ceiling and panels by Jose Joaquim da Rocha are very impressive. The
overall effect is of tranquillity, in contrast to the complexity of the cathedral and the São Francisco church. The church remains a locus for black Bahian culture and has strong connections with
. On Tuesdays, following a show by Olodum on the Pelourinho, t
here is an African-Brazilian mass with singing accompanied by percussion from repiques, tambors and tamborins. There is a haunting
slave cemetery
at the back of the building.

At the corner of Alfredo Brito and Largo do Pelourinho is a small museum dedicated to the work of Bahia's
most famous author Jorge Amado,
Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado
. Amado was born and brought up around Ilhéus but spent much of his life in this house. The people of this part of Salvador provided the inspiration for the larger-than-life characters that populate some of his most famous novels including
Dona Flor e seus dois Maridos
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
, 1966). Information is in Portuguese only, but the walls of the museum café are covered with colourful copies of his book jackets and all of his work is on sale.

Museu Abelardo Rodrigues
, preserves one of the most important and impressive collections of religious art outside the São Paulo's Museu de Arte Sacra . It is housed in one of the Pelourinho's
best-preserved and most stately 18th-century town houses - once a Jesuit college - and showcases some impressive statuary, engravings, paintings and lavish monstrances from Brazil, all over Latin America and the Far East. All were collected by the Pernambucan who gave the museum its name.

Museu da Cidade
, is in two adjacent 18th-century houses and has exhibitions of arts and crafts, old photographs of the city, many fascinating objects from
rituals and effigies of the
. From the higher floors there is a good but seldom photographed view of the Pelourinho.

Below Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Pretos is the
Conjunto do Benin
, casadobenin@yahoo.com.br, which has displays of African-Brazilian crafts, photos and a video on Benin and Angola. It hosts exhibitions, dance shows and other artistic events. The
Casa da Nigéria
, offers a similar programme orientated more to Yoruba culture and has showcases of African and African Brazilian arts and crafts, photographs and an important library. Yoruba language classes are available here and both cultural centres are important nexuses of African-Brazilian culture and society in Bahia. The
Quilombo do Pelô
hotel , also serves as a cultural centre for Jamaican culture. There are occasional shows in the restaurant - where Jamaican food is served - and the hotel receives many Jamaican celebrity guests.

Towards Morro do Carmo

The Ladeira do Carmo climbs up the steep
Morro do Carmo
hill running north from the Largo do Pelourinho, past the
Igreja do Santissimo Sacramento do Passo
and the steps that lead up to it (which were the setting for the city scenes in Anselmo Duarte's award winning socio-political tragedy,
O Pagador de Promessas
, 'keeper of the promises'), to the
Largo do Carmo
. This little
, at the junction of the Ladeira do Carmo and Rua Ribeiro dos Santos, is watched over by a series of Carmelite buildings. The most impressive is the
Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo
, once a piece of striking baroque dating from 1709 but completely gutted in a fire 67 years later and restored in the 19th century. It is in a poor state of repair but houses one of the sacred art treasures of the city, a sculpture of Christ made in 1730 by
Francisco Xavier 'O Cabra' Chagas
('the Goat'), a slave who had no formal training but who is celebrated by many locals as the Bahian Aleijadinho, who carved
O Cabra
. Two thousand tiny rubies embedded in a mixture of whale oil, ox blood and banana resin give Christ's blood a ghostly, almost transparent appearance and the statue itself is so lifelike it appears almost to move. There is a small museum with a collection of ornate icons and period furniture. The adjacent
Igreja do Carmo
, has a pretty interior with some beautiful wood carving, while the
Convento do Carmo
, which served as a barracks for Dutch troops during the 1624 invasion, has been tastefully converted into Salvador's most luxurious hotel .

Cidade Baixa and Mercado Modelo

Salvador's lower city, which sits at the base of the cliff that runs from Santo Antônio in the north to Praça Municipal and Lacerda lift in the south, was once as delightful and buzzing with life as the Pelourinho. Today, its handsome imperial and early republican 19th-century buildings, many of them covered in
, are crumbled and cracked. Others have been pulled down and replaced with ugly concrete warehouses. There are numerous gorgeous baroque churches in a similar state of disrepair. With the exception of the ferry docks, the whole area is dangerous and down at heel - especially at night. However, there are plans for restoration and a large US hotel group has bought one of the 19th-century mansion houses.

There are few sights of interest. Even if you are glutted with religious architecture after wandering the Pelourinho it's hard not to be impressed by the striking, octaganol
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia
. The church, which dates from 1736, was built in
marble in Portugal by Manuel Cardoso de Saldanha, disassembled bit by bit with the stones given numbers, then transported to Salvador and reconstructed. It has an unusual octagonal nave and diagonally set towers, modelled on churches in Portugal such as the Guarda cathedral. Inside it is magnificent, with a stunning ceiling painting of an Italianate panoply of saints gathered around the Madonna in glorious Renaissance perspective - the masterpiece of Mestre Athayde (José Joaquim da Rocha).

Bahia's best souvenir shopping is in the
Mercado Modelo
. This former customs house is thick with stalls selling everything from musical instruments to life-size sculptures hacked out of hunks of wood. Look out for the colourful handbags, made out of hundreds of can ring-pulls sewn together with fishing twine, and the
effigies and postcards. There are frequent capoeira shows on weekdays, occasional live music and numerous cafés and stalls selling Bahian cooking.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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