State of Bahía
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Salvador de Bahía
Salvador de Bahía was the first capital of Brazil. It is mostly populated with descendants of African slaves, earning it to be known as «The black Rome», in addition to its reputation of city with 365 churches. The rest of the population is composed of a minority of Europeans and natives. It paints a picture of the country the way we imagine it from Europe: colored, festive, with streets filled with music and shows. A stay in that mythic city is a real awakening of your senses: a very rich and polished up architecture, a very typical cooking that tickles your taste buds and exhales scents at every corner, a ubiquitous music (bossa-nova, tropicalism, axé) accompanied by sensual dances or capoeiras. Obviously, it is perfectible according to cleanliness and maintenance of some buildings, public or private. Poverty is everywhere and you will often be requested by begging children. Favelas are numerous. Insecurity there is very real, as much as in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. That is why you should avoid working-class areas and the center (except the Pelourinho district to some degree) at night. But even though you can feel uncomfortable at first sight, you will finally understand those imperfections are parts of its appeal. It is a city that remains in its original state, which accepts and shows itself the way it is. It is authentic and sincere, which finally makes it charming. Then, you will understand it is like a person you have to accept with its failures. You will quickly be caught and attracted to its charms, and at the end of your stay, you will leave it feeling blue because it makes a lasting impression on you.
Pelourinho district and its surroundings
The Pelourinho (photo) is the must-visit historic district, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Set on top of the heights, it proudly towers above the lower city. Its colorful Colonial architecture is a real delight for your eyes. Its cobbled pedestrian streets – with slopes for some of them - seem to be filled with history and mystery. The numerous Baroque churches proudly show their interior decoration over-elaborated with architectural niceties and adornments. Unfortunately, the Pelourinho is not spared by insecurity. That being said, The Military Police canvasses the area which is reassuring. Feel free to ask them advice about the safe streets or the streets to be avoided. You can ask shopkeepers, restaurant owners or others as well. On the other hand, do not ask especially strangers: you could run into someone with bad intentions who could willingly lead you to a cut-throat street. Finally, never use the stairs from the upper city to the lower city, neither by day nor by night. Take the Elevador Lacerda, elevator built for that purpose in use from 6 A.M. to 11 P.M. Outside of those hours, do not hesitate to take a cab even for such a short distance.
The Casa do Benin is a cultural site to which the Bahianese attach a lot of value. Indeed, it pays tribute to that African country from where some of them are from, especially through art objects and photographs.
The Terreiro de Jesus is one of the hubs of the city, where tourists meet locals. Many shows take place there: music, dance, capoeira. You also meet any kind of eccentric people. We met a street osteopath who manipulated us in exchange for a few Reais!.. Very wide, it is of rectangular shape and has sumptuous historical buildings. The Catedral Basílica, in Baroque style, is quite impressive. It is so outsized that it houses no less than thirteen altars in different styles: Rococo, Classical, Renaissance... If you go on walking along the Terreiro, you will get into the Cruzeiro São Francisco, cobbled square with a rectangular shape where a huge cross stands. It leads to the Church and the Convent of São Francisco, Colonial architectural ensemble in Baroque and Neo-Classical style of the 18th century, covered with golden sculptures. The façade is beautiful, and the interior decoration is remarkable: gold leaf, patterned silver, superb crystal chandelier, azulejos (decorated glazed tiles). You can even find jacaranda pieces notably in the sacristy! If you walk on and turn left in an adjacent street, you will admire the Church Ordem Terceira São Francisco, that is less famous but that enjoys an extraordinary façade embellished by many ornaments and architectural details, which distinguishes it from other churches in town. On the other hand, the interior decoration is rather sober, in Neo-Classical style. It houses a little museum on the theme of priesthood. In the basement stands a crypt which contains the ashes and bones of people who built it.
Praça Da Sé is also a must-visit. The Belvedere Da Sé offers a unique view on the Bay of All Saints. However, never venture in the streets between that square and the Terreiro de Jesus.
The Largo do Pelourinho, triangular in shape with slope, is another important place in the Pelourinho district. It is cobbled, which gives it more character. Colored façades there are numerous. The Church Nossa Senhora do Rosarío dos Pretos, built by black slaves to devote themselves to their cult, displays its pastel blue façade in Baroque and Rococo. Its two towers that rise majestically are sumptuous. The numerous fitas (famous lucky bracelets) tied to its gateway give the place more colors.
If you leave the Pelourinho to walk down the Ladeira do Carmo, you will find the Church Ordem Terceira do Carmo from the 17th century, which we owe to the Carmelites, as the name suggests. It is combined with a big convent that contains a luxury hotel and a museum. The set enjoys a beautiful patio. The interior decoration of the church – over-elaborated – has a Rococo style. It has some magnificent jacaranda furniture and an impressive big sterling silver altar. However, it is a pity that the sacristy is not open for visitors because it is the richest and the most decorated in the country. Finally, the view of the rooftops of the Pelourinho is unique.
Continue the walk along the Rua do Carmo, and the Rua Direita de Santo Antônio in its extension. You will admire superb colored façades of old houses far from the bustle of the Historic Center. Some were refurbished into restaurants or pousadas (typical hotels or hostels that offer a quality personalized service, and that allows you to get closer to local culture). You will end up at the Praça de Santo Antônio Além do Carmo, where stands the Church of Santo Antônio. The view of the Bay of All Saints is breathtaking.
In the lower city, do not miss out on the picturesque Mercado Modelo, even if you have nothing to buy. Mainly dedicated to tourists, that indoor market adjoining the port was previously used to receive and sell slaves. A stone's throw from there, the MAM (Museu de Arte Moderna) where temporary exhibitions take place, stands in an ancient aristocratic villa, as much beautiful as large. Nearby stand other villas and outbuildings, the whole in an enclosed and nicely wooded place, as much enjoyable that it is near the city but yet preserved from its bustle. It leads to a very quiet small beach.
Near the stadium Arena Fonte Nova, the Dique do Tororó, wide artificial lake, offers a very nice walk along the pedestrian and cycle paths around it. In the middle rise magnificent statues of Orixás (divinities from Africa introduced in Brazil with the importation of slaves), more than 3 meters high. They are lighted by a luminous fountain.
South of the center, as you drive down the Avenida 7 de Setembro which goes along the coast, you will admire sumptuous Colonial houses in Vitória district. Make a stop in Barra, famous for its iconic lighthouse surrounded by grasses where locals and tourists mingle to contemplate the sunset. The promenade, even though it has nothing extraordinary, is pleasant and lively with its numerous bars and restaurants. Moreover, it is rather safe. It offers a view at the best place of the spectacle of waves from the Atlantic Ocean lapping the beach.
Ondina beach is much appreciated, especially on weekends and vacation. It is the stylish district, where luxury hotels and restaurants abound. If you are looking for a vibrant night life, chose the bohemian Rio Vermelho district.
In the North, on the Itapagipe Peninsula, lays Boa Viagem beach. The Forte de Monte Serrat (or Forte São Felipe) seems to keep watch on the area. Fortress of the 16th century, its immaculate façades very bright under the sun blazing down offer a striking contrast with the greenery of the grass around it and the blue color of the Atlantic Ocean. You will see period cannons at every turret. Nearby, on the Ponta de Humaitá, small strip of land in the ocean, stands the Church Nossa Senhora de Monte Serrat surrounded by old houses and a small lighthouse.
As you proceed, you will not miss the Church Nosso Senhor do Bonfim. Built in the 18th century on the top of a hill, it draws in the crowds all year long, especially in January during the traditional stairs washing with perfumed water by Bahianese women in typical dress, in front of a very large audience in an indescribable atmosphere. It has nothing extraordinary according to architecture, but its «miracles room» is the main attraction: totally unusual, it contains in a narrow space photographs, messages, various objects, and above all members of human bodies made of wax cured or waiting to be cured by prayers. Like the Church Nossa Senhora do Rosarío dos Pretos, it is surrounded by gates to which many fitas are tied.
Finally, you will get into the very pleasant Ribeira district, from where you can see the Church Nosso Senhor do Bonfim from a lightly distant and totally different view point. Not much touristy and very popular, you can mingle with locals there and enjoy a walk along the beach sipping agua de coco. It is a whole coconut skillfully opened on its top with a machete in front of you by the seller, who puts then a straw into the hole. Do not try to do that at home!.. You can admire the Church Nossa Senhora da Penha de França, and to end with a flourish, the beautiful ancient sailboats made of varnished wood in the Pôrto dos Tainheiros.
Praia do Forte
Real landscape of postcard or wallpaper of computer, Praia de Forte will undoubtedly enchant you with its desert golden sand beaches planted with coconut trees, its islands, its lagoons and its straw huts. Naturally, the village – old fishing village – undergoes the influence of touristic development, but with no excess though it is a much appreciated seaside resort. Mainly made of colored and decorated wooden buildings, it is very clean and pleasant. On the seaside rises the Church São Francisco de Assis, very small and sober with its white and light blue walls.
The Jubarte whales will be no longer a mystery for you as soon as you visit the Instituto Baleia Jubarte. Boat trips are proposed during the observation period from July to October. According to the Tamar Project (photo), it focuses on the preservation of sea turtles, that you can see swimming in pools.
The Castelo do Garcia D'Avila, built in the 16th century on a beautiful small beach, bears witness to the beginning of the Portuguese conquest. Indeed, the Nordeste was the first region in Brazil to be colonized. It prospered in the 17th and the 18th centuries, thanks to sugar cane cultivation which was a hallmark for the country. Unfortunately, it was made at the expense of the Atlantic Forest, most of which was cut down. Nevertheless, The Sarapinga Ecological Reserve remains. About two kilometers from the center, it owns and preserves 600 hectares of it and gets down with protecting the local flora and fauna.
Praia de Guarajuba is the perfect beach for swimming and idleness in the sun or under the shade of coconut trees, in a paradisiacal environment. Powerful rolling waves come and wash it up.
Published on April, 27th 2016