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Brazzil - Places - March 2004

Brazil: Salvador's Dizzying Bazaar of Senses

In spite of its humble beginnings, the Saint Joachim Market has
emerged as the largest open-air marketplace in Salvador, Brazil,
and one of the largest in all of Latin America. Salvador's City Council
is considering honoring the place as a historical landmark due
to the important role it has played and continues to play.

Guido Groeschel and José Martins

We are in the lower section (Cidade Baixa) of the city of Salvador in Bahia. In the distance and rising above us on our right is the imposing Elevador Lacerda (Lacerda Elevator), a 279-foot tall funicular that links the Upper and Lower Cities, transporting some 50,000 people daily. On our left are the blue waters of the Bay of All Saints (Baía de Todos os Santos), glittering in the bright morning sun.

As we continue down the street beyond the Ferry Boat Terminal we run into a beehive of activity. There, amidst an assortment of snack bars (lanchonetes) the stalls of market vendors stretch ahead as far as the eye can see.

The stalls closest to us are filled with the earthy tones of handmade ceramics: a multitude of urns basking in the light, bowls stacked precariously, and wind chimes swaying in the breezy humidity.

In front of us flows a river of humanity. Buyers and sellers. Porters, their shirtless male torsos glistening underneath heavy loads borne on shoulders broad. More tones—the faces are a spectrum from ebony to ivory and many of the infinite points in between. They come and go, disappearing in the throng ahead. Noise—voices merge, reaching a crescendo, then dipping, then rising to crescendo again.

Beyond—more people, more colors, and a mixture of aromas call out to the visitor. We are at the threshold of a universe unto itself. Smells and tastes. Colors and shapes. Souls and stories. We are at the Saint Joachim Market (Feira de São Joaquim). And it beckons us to enter.

Some History

According to Catholic tradition Saint Joachim (São Joaquim) played several roles in the life of Christ: he was the husband of Saint Anne, the father of the Virgin Mary, and the grandfather of Jesus. The figure of Saint Joachim gained form out of a tenuous historical origin. The Bible does not mention Joachim, and the earliest reference to him can be traced to the so-called Infancy Gospel of James, dated the 2nd century A.D.

In spite of his dubious bibliography, Joachim has assumed a place in the pantheon of Catholic saints, and in secular art he is often depicted leading the Blessed Mary as a child.

The Saint Joachim Market, similar to its namesake, was constructed on a weak foundation. In spite of its humble beginnings, the Saint Joachim Market has emerged as the largest open-air marketplace in Salvador, Brazil, and one of the largest in all of Latin America.

Also, just as the Catholic Church has recognized Saint Joachim with a feast day celebrated every July 26, the Salvador's City Council is considering honoring the Saint Joachim Market as a historical landmark due to the important role it has played, and continues to play, in the lives of so many residents of the city.

The market has not always been known by the name Saint Joachim. In fact, it has changed names and even locations more than once during its history which spans the better part of a century.

The market emerged in the 1920s. Originally it was dubbed A Feira do Sete, or the Dock Seven Market, because of its location next to Warehouse Seven at the docks in Salvador's Cidade Baixa.

In these early years the market was supplied in large part by saveiros, a classic form of Bahian sailboat on the edge of extinction. These graceful vessels with their massive single sails once proudly transported to the city market merchandise from the fertile Recôncavo region of Bahia.

In 1958, the Dock Seven Market overcame political resistance from the city government in Salvador and was established as a permanent market. Later the market moved to another area close by and acquired a new name, A Feira de Água de Meninos.

In 1964, a fire devastated the marketplace. The city responded by relocating the market to nearby São Joaquim, an enclave of the city that runs along the waters of All Saints Bay. So in a fitting symbolic twist, the market rose from the ashes and was re-born, taking the name Saint Joachim from the church that is close by. And rise like the phoenix the Saint Joachim Market did.

Shopping City

The numbers speak for themselves. Today, the Saint Joachim Market stretches over several city blocks, with one of the blocks alone containing 22 streets. In total, the market covers nearly 9 acres. Some 7,500 people work in the Saint Joachim Market. Many sell their wears from one of the 3,500 vendor stands and storefronts.

Others transport goods accounting for the 640 handcarts that circulate around the market grounds. Perhaps most impressive is the estimated 40,000 people who visit the Saint Joachim Market daily. The growth of the market has not occurred in isolation from the rest of the world. Indeed, the mark of globalization is easy to see from Chinese electronics to drums imported from Africa.

As we pass through the threshold of stalls laden with ceramics, we find ourselves in a labyrinth of alleys filled with stalls of varying shapes and sizes. Each of the food stalls presents its own plentiful offering destined to be transformed into one of a myriad of Bahian drinks or dishes.

Rolling hills of aromatic oranges that end up as fresh-squeezed juice sold in street-side stands.

Open sacks bulging with white manioc flower (farinha) traditionally sprinkled over rice and beans.

Bottles of bright-orange palm oil (dendê) used to fry the popular Bahian bean fritters (acarajés).

Blocks of soft white cheese that beach vendors cut into small cubes and grill on spits.

Cases of sugarcane liquor (cachaça) that finds its way into the lemon-flavored caipirinha cocktail.

Slabs of dried cod that end up rolled into small balls, sautéed, and eaten with a spray of lime.

Tabletops of fish and shrimp to fill moquecas and ensopados, savory Bahian stews.

Bags brimming with spicy ground red pepper that provide the zest to so many Bahian dishes.

Pink sunsets of large mangos to complement pineapple, melon, and papaya in succulent fruit salads.

Jars of sparkling amber-colored molasses (rapadura) for candied sweets like the pé de moleque

Together the rainbow of colors and the complex array of aromas can overwhelm the visitor, not unlike the barrage of saints and other symbols in a Catholic Cathedral can perplex the uninitiated.

Even after this sensual barrage it is difficult to overlook the drums and interesting figurines that occupy other vendor stalls. These are just some of the wares of Candomblé and Umbanda, the two major religions of African origin in Brazil. In addition to supplying ingredients that end up in the plates and cups of many in the city of Salvador, the Saint Joachim Market also is an important outlet for the wide range of items used in religious celebration.

Tomé de Sousa arrived in Bahia in 1549 to solidify a colonial foothold in the Americas for the Portuguese crown. This helped unleash a chain of events that gave birth to the rich culture that took shape around All Saints Bay. The Saint Joachim Market is a rich microcosm of that culture.

Guido Groeschel first visited Brazil in 1990 and has lived in Bahia for two years. José Martins is a native of Brazil and longtime resident of Salvador. Together they lead guided tours of Bahia with Brazil Beleza—www.brazilbeleza.com—an owner-operated tour company specializing in intimate guided tours for discerning travelers who want more out of a trip to Brazil. You can reach Guido and José at info@brazilbeleza.com
© Guido Groeschel and Jose Martins 2004

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