Continuing our Brazil features this week inspired by Michael Palin’s Brazil series, we’ve come to Salvador da Bahia (or simply Bahia as locals call it). Located in Brazil’s north east, this city is at the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture. It’s a vibrant city full of colonial Portuguese architecture and with a dynamic arts and music scene. Here are our top 10 things to do in the city.
1) Visit the Igreia Sao Francisco – One of the best examples of barroco style architecture in the world, the San Francisco church is a must-see sight. The ornate gold embellished interior and 80kg silver chandelier will have you completely dazzled.
2) Learn about Bahia’s history at the Museu Afro-Brasileiro – Here you’ll discover the origins of the people from Bahia as the exhibits document the slave trade and development of the city of Salvador. The museum houses Bahia’s most important collections including wood carvings, pottery and baskets. One of the highlights of the museum is a room lined with 27 exquisitely carved wooden panels inlaid with shells and metals and depicting the orixás – deities of Afro-Brazilian religions. These are made by Carbyé, one of Salvador’s most renowned artists.
3) Ride the Elevador Lacerda to the Cidade Alta – The perfectly restored art deco Elevador Lacerda takes more than 50,000 passengers per day to the Upper City, through a set of four elevators which travel along vertical shafts, 72m high. The Jesuits installed the first elevator here in about 1610, using just ropes and pulleys.
4) Wander the streets of Pelourinho – The UNESCO World Heritage site of Pelourinho takes up most of Salvador’s Cidade Alta with its vibrant colourful architecture that dates back to the Portuguese colonial era. This place is best when you do that getting lost type of exploring.
5) Buy some fitas for good luck at Igreja do Bonfim – One of Bahia’s most famous symbols are fitas or multicoloured ribbons, which come from the 18th century church of Bonfim. One of the most popular places for pilgrims in the whole of Brazil, Bonfim’s fame comes from the fact that it is supposed to have miraculous curing powers. Head to the Sala dos Milagres (Room of Miracles) at the side of the church to see locals leave letters, photos and wax replicas of body parts representing those that need curing.
6) Pick up some crafts at Mercado Modelo – The city’s main market is a great place to get your hands on some handmade crafts and souvenirs and after you’ve finished you can head to the nearby square to watch people performing capoeira.
7) Catch a folkloric dance performance – A trip to Bahia cannot be complete without experiencing true Afro-Brazilian culture at a folkloric performance. Here you’ll witness the pros doing capoeira, which has its origins in traditional slave fighting. You’ll also enjoy great music and delicious food. One of the best places to catch a show is at the Teatro Miguel Santana.
8) Watch the sunset from Solar do Unhão and the Museu de Arte Moderna – Set on a hill, overlooking the waterfront is an old 18th century sugar mill. The main building houses a small modern art museum showcasing works by Portinari and Di Cavalcanti. When you’ve finished head up the path that leads to a quaint sculpture garden – a great place from which to watch the sunset. If you go on Saturday evenings you’ll be treated to live jazz performances too.
9) Stop at a street stall to buy some acarajé – This typical Bahian snack is like a small fritters made from black-eyed peas and onions fried in palm oil and smothered with spicy shrimp paste called vatapá.
10) Marvel at the views from Forte de Santo Antônio da Barra – Bahia’s most impressive fort – Antonio da Barra is well worth a visit. Built in 1598 it is well known for its lighthouse and also houses a small nautical museum. Make sure you stay and watch the sunset too; the peninsula here is apparently the only place in Brazil where the sun sets over the ocean.