Legend says Salvador has 365 churches, one for every day of the year. Sometimes it seems to have more. And there are Pelourinho, Elevador Lacerda, Mercado Modelo, names to arouse memories or awaken longings for the unknown. Plus Candomblé, beaches, parties, museums
Continued from the previous issue.
Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco
Next door to the Igreja São Francisco is the 17th-century Church of the Third Order of São Francisco. Notice the frontispiece, in the Spanish baroque or plateresco style, which remained hidden until it was accidentally discovered in the 1930s when a workman hammered off some plaster to install wiring. Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 8 to 11.30 am and 2 to 5 pm.
Igreja São Pedro dos Clérigos
The Igreja São Pedro dos Clérigos is on Terreiro de Jesus, next to Cantina da Lua. This rococo church, like many others built in the 18th century, was left with one of its towers missing in order to avoid a tax on finished churches. It opens only during mass (usually from 8 to 9.30 am on Sunday), and if you visit during this time, do not disturb the service.
To see the city's oldest architecture, turn down Rua Alfredo de Brito, the small street which descends into the Pelourinho district.
'Pelourinho' means 'whipping post', and this is where the slaves were tortured and sold (whipping of slaves was legal in Brazil until 1835). The old slave-auction site on Largo do Pelourinho (also known as Praça José de Alencar) has recently been renovated and converted into the Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado (Jorge Amado Museum). According to a brass plaque across the street, Amado lived in the Hotel Pelourinho when it was a student house. The exhibition is disappointing, but you can watch a free video of Dona Flor or one of the other films based on Amado's books. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm.
Next door is the Museu da Cidade. The Exhibitions on display include costumes of the orixás of Candomblé, and the personal effects of the Romantic poet Castro Alves, author of Navio Negreiro, and one of the first public figures to protest against slavery. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm.
Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, across the Largo do Pelourinho, was built by and for the slaves. The 18th-century church has some lovely azulejos and is beautifully lit up at night. The church is open Monday to Friday from 8 am to 5.30 pm, and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm.
Igreja do Santíssimo Sacramento da Rua do Paço From Pelourinho, go down the hill and then continue uphill along Ladeira do Carmo. You will reach a set of steps on the left, which lead up to the church in an approach reminiscent of the Spanish Steps of Rome. The first Brazilian film to win an award at the Cannes film festival, O Pagador de Promessa, was filmed here.
Igreja da Ordem Terceira do Carmo
This church, at the top of the hill on Ladeira do Carmo, was founded in 1636 and contains a baroque altar and an organ that dates from 1889.
Igreja e Convento de Nossa Senhora do Carmo & Museu do Carmo
Next door, this religious complex is moderately interesting. Among the sacred and religious articles in the museum is a famous sculpture of Christ created by Francisco Chagas (also known as O Cabra). There's also a treaty declaring the expulsion of the Dutch from Salvador on 30 April 1625. The document was signed at the convent, which served as the general's quarters at the time. The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 8 to 11.30 am and from 2 to 5 pm.
For a glimpse of old Salvador, continue walking for a few blocks past dilapidated buildings which teem with life. Also notice an odd-looking public oratory, Oratório da Cruz do Pascoal, plunked in the middle of Rua Joaquim Távora.
Praça Tomé de Souza
While not officially recognised or protected by the Brazilian historical architecture society SPHAN, this plaza in the center has several beautiful and important sites. The Palácio Rio Branco was built in 1549 to house the offices of Tomé de Souza, the first governor general of Brazil. The palace has been rebuilt and refurbished over the years, and the large, cream-colored, birthday-cake building is now headquarters for Bahiatursa.
The Lacerda Elevator, inaugurated in 1868, was an iron structure with clanking steam elevators until these were replaced with a new system in 1928. Today, electric elevators truck up and down a set of 85-meter, vertical cement shafts in less than 15 seconds, and carry over 50,000 passengers daily.
Things weren't always so easy. At first, the Portuguese used slaves and mules to transport goods from the port in Cidade Baixa to Cidade Alta. By 1610, the Jesuits had installed the first elevator to negotiate the drop. A clever system of ropes and pulleys was manually operated to carry freight and a few brave souls. You should watch out for petty crime around the elevator, particularly after dusk.
Descending into the lower city you'll be confronted by the Mercado Modelo. Filled with souvenir stalls and restaurants, it's Salvador's worst concession to tourism. If you've missed capoeira, there are displays for tourists outside the buildinganyone contemplating taking photos is well advised to negotiate a sensible price beforehand or risk being suckered for an absurd fee. The modernist sculpture across the street is referred to as bunda (arse) by the localswhich gives it a much more appealing aspect. There are many cheap lanchonetes in Cidade Baixa and the area is worth exploring.
Mercado São Joaquim
To see a typical market, take either the 'Ribeira' or the 'Bonfim' bus from the bus stop beside the elevator (base station). Get off after the Pirelli Pneus store on your left, after about three km. Mercado São Joaquim is a small city of waterfront barracas, open all day, every day except Sunday. It's not exactly clean (watch out for the green slime puddles)and the meat neighborhood can turn the unprepared into devout vegetarians. You are bound to come across spontaneous singing and dancing at barracas where cachaça is served.
Igreja Nosso Senhor do Bonfim
Take the 'Bonfim' bus across the road from the market to the Igreja Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, further along the Itapagipe peninsula. Built in 1745, the shrine is famous for its miraculous power to effect cures. In the Sala dos Milagres you will see votive offerings: replicas of feet, arms, heads, heartsparts of the body devotees claim were cured.
For Candomblistas, Bonfim is the church of Oxalá and thus their most important church. In January, the Lavagem do Bonfim, one of Bahia's most important festivals, takes place here and Candomblé priestesses (mães de Santo) lead the festivities together with Catholic priests. There are also huge services at Bonfim on the first and last Friday of each month.
When you approach the church you'll undoubtedly be offered a fita (ribbon) to tie around your wrist. With the fita you can make three wishes that will come true by the time it falls off. This usually takes over two months and you must allow it to fall off from natural wear and tear. Cutting it off is said to bring bad luck. The church is open from 6 am to noon and 2.30 to 6 pm Tuesday to Sunday.
From the church there is a very interesting half-hour walk to the bay, where you'll find the old Monte Serrat lighthouse and church (good crab at the barracks). Nearby is Praia da Boa Viagem, where one of Bahia's most popular and magnificent festivals, Procissão do Senhor Bom Jesus dos Navegantes, takes place on New Year's Eve.
The beach is lined with barracas and is animated on weekends. It's a poorer part of town and quite interesting. From Boa Viagem, there are buses back to the bus stop beside the Lacerda Elevator (base station).
Museu de Arte Sacra da Bahia
This museum is housed in a 17th-century convent, which has been beautifully restored. The sacred art on display includes excellent and varied sculptures and images in wood, clay and soapstonemany were shipped to Salvador from Portugal. Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 9.30 to 11.30 am and 2 to 5.30 pm.
Museu de Arte Moderna
On the bay, further down from the center toward Campo Grande, is the Solar do Unhão, an old sugar estate that now houses the small Museu de Arte Moderna, a restaurant and a ceramic workshop. Legend has it that the place is haunted by the ghosts of tortured slaves. One look at the ancient pelourinho (whipping post) and torture devices on display makes the idea credible. However, it's a lovely spot; the art exhibits are often good and the restaurant has a tranquil atmosphere and a view.
This area has a reputation for crime (especially mugging of tourists), and buses don't pass close to itit's better to take a taxi to and from the Solar do Unhão. Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 1 to 5 pm.
Before doing anything in Salvador, find out about the schedule for Candomblé ceremonies so you don't miss a night in a terreiro. The Federação Baiana do Culto Afro-Brasileiro (Tel.: 321-0145), at Rua Alfredo do Brito 39, Pelourinho, is open Monday to Friday from 8 am to noon and provides information on Candomblé services. Pass through the clinic and speak to Ari in the back room. Bahiatursa has many Candomblistas on its staff who can provide the addresses of terreirosthe Eventos & Serviços guide available at Bahiatursa offices lists a monthly schedule with transport details. Activities usually start around 8 or 9 pm and can be held any day of the week.
To visit a capoeira school, it's best to get the up-to-date schedule from Bahiatursa, which has a complete listing of schools and some class schedules in its monthly Eventos and Serviços guide. The Associação de Capoeira Mestre Bimba is an excellent school. It's at Rua Francisco Muniz Barreto 1, 1st floor, Terreiro de Jesus, and operates Monday to Saturday, from 9 to 11 am and 4 to 7 pm.
The beaches of Pituba, Armação, Piatã, Placaford and Itapoã may not be as famous as Ipanema and Copacabana, but they are more beautiful. Although these beaches are all within 45 minutes by bus from the center, Pituba, Armação and Piatã are becoming increasingly polluted and are not recommended for swimming. The state government has made plans for a new central treatment plant which will pump outfall five km out to seain the meantime, it's advisable to head for Placaford, Itapoã or further north.
If you just want to experience Salvador's beach scene, Barra has the first beaches and is the liveliestbut swimming is not advisable on the Atlantic Ocean side, due to heavy pollution. Surprisingly, the water on the bay side at Barra certainly looks clear and invitinglocals love it, so you can make up your own mind. There are plenty of restaurants, barracas and bars along the waterfront, although it can get a bit sleazy at night. You can see Bahia's oldest fort, the polygonal Santo Antônio da Barra, which was built in 1598 and fell to the Dutch in 1624. The view from the fort of Itaparica is splendid.
Salvador's Carnaval receives greatest emphasis, but it is by no means the only festival worth attending. There are many others, particularly in January and February, which attract huge crowds. Since the 17th century, religious processions have remained an integral part of the city's cultural life. Combining elements of the sacred and profane, Candomblé and Catholicism, many of these festivals are as wild as Carnaval and possibly more colorful.
Carnaval in Salvador is justly world famous. For four nights and three days, the masses go to the streets and stay until they fall. There's nothing to buy, so all you have to do is follow your heartor the nearest trio elétricoand play.
Carnaval, usually held in February or March, starts on a Thursday night and continues until the following Monday. Everything, but everything, goes during these four days. In recent years, Carnaval has revolved around the trios elétricos. The trios play a distinctively upbeat music from the tops of trucks that slowly wind their way through the main Carnaval areas (Praça Castro Alves, Campo Grande and Barra). Surrounding the trios is a sea of dancing, drinking revelers.
Carnaval brings so many tourists and so much money to Salvador that there's been an inevitable tendency towards commercialization, although this trend is still light years behind Rio. Fortunately. local residents have been very critical of this trend, and arts and community groups have now been given a greater say in the arrangements of Salvador's Carnaval. A more authentic festival has resulted from this: events have been decentralized, and freer and more impromptu expression is encouraged. Let's hope the spontaneity continues.
Take a look at the newspaper or go to Emtursa or Bahiatursa for a list of events. Don't miss the afoxés (Afro blocos, large groups of Carnaval revelers), such as Badauê, Ilê-Aiyê, Olodum, Timbalada, Muzenza and the most famous, Filhos de Gandhi (Sons of Gandhi). The best place to see them is in Liberdade, Salvador's largest black district.
Also, explore Carnaval Caramuru in Rio Vermelho and the smaller happenings in Itapoã, the old fishing and whaling village which has a fascinating ocean procession on the last day of Carnaval, when a whale is delivered to the sea.
The traditional gay parade is held on Monday at Praça Castro Alves. Many of Brazil's best musicians return to Salvador for Carnaval, and the frequent rumors that so and so will be playing on the street are often true (for example, Gilberto Gil and Baby Consuelo have both taken part).
Many clubs have balls just before and during Carnaval. If you're in the city before the festivities start, you can also see some of the blocos practicing. Just ask Emtursa or Bahiatursa.
Hotels do fill up during Carnaval, so reservations are a good idea. Stay near the center or in Barra. Violence can be a problem during Carnaval, and some women travellers have reported violent approaches from locals. A common experience you may encounter at Carnaval is when you are sucked into the crowd right behind a trio elétrico and have to dodge all the dancers with their flying elbows!
Procissão do Senhor Bom Jesus dos Navegantes
This festival, which originated in Portugal in 1750, is one of Bahia's most popular celebrations. On New Year's Eve, the image of Senhor dos Navegantes is taken to Igreja Nossa Senhora da Conceição, close to Mercado Modelo in Cidade Baixa. On the morning of New Year's Day, a maritime procession, consisting of dozens of boats, transports the image along the bay and returns it to the beach at Boa Viagem, which is packed with onlookers eager to celebrate with music, food and drink.
Festas de Reis
Also of Portuguese origin, this festival is held in Igreja da Lapinha on 5 and 6 January.
Lavagem do Bonfim
This festival, which takes place on the second Thursday in January, is one of Salvador's most popular events and is attended by huge crowds. The festival culminates with the ritual lavagem (washing) of the church by mães and filhas de santo. Abundant flowers and lights provide impressive decoration, and the party atmosphere continues with the Filhos de Gandhi and trios elétricos providing musical accompaniment for dancers. If you want to do the nine-km walk to the church, it's best to leave early with the mães, before the trios elétricos blast into action.
Festa de São Lázaro
This is a festival dedicated to the Candomblé orixá, Omulu, and culminates on the last Sunday in January with a mass, procession, festival and ritual cleansing of the church.
Festa de Iemanjá
A grand maritime procession takes flowers and presents to Iemanjá, the Mãe e Rainha das Águas (Mother and Queen of the Waters). One of Candomblé's most important festivals, it's celebrated on 2 February in Rio Vermelho and accompanied by trios elétricos, afoxés and plenty of food and drink.
Lavagem da Igreja de Itapoã
Celebrated in Itapoã, 15 days before Carnaval, this warm-up for Carnaval is all music and dance, with blocos and afoxés.
Festa de São João
This festival is celebrated on 23 and 24 June with pyrotechnics and many parties on the street where genipapo, a local liqueur, is consumed in very liberal quantities.
The festival of Santa Bárbara is the Candomblé festa of the markets. Probably the best spot to see the festivities from 4 to 6 December is in Rio Vermelho, at the Mercado do Peixe.
Festa de Nossa Senhora da Conceição
This festival takes place on 8 December and features a procession in Cidade Baixa followed by Candomblé ceremonies in honour of Iemanjá.
Passagem do Ano Novo
New Year's Eve is celebrated with all the zest of Carnavalespecially on the beaches.
Places to Stay
Salvador has many hotels, but they can all fill up during the Carnaval season, so reservations are a good idea. Bahiatursa can help you find lodgingjust provide the staff with a general idea of your preferred price range and type of lodging. Bahiatursa also has lists of houses that take in tourists and these can be a source of excellent, cheap lodgings when hotels are full, especially during summer holidays and Carnaval. But beware, the tourist office makes selective referrals and it helps if you don t look too burnt-out or broke.
On the outskirts of Itapoã, there are several campgrounds, such as Camping Ecológico (Tel.: 249-5900), Alameda da Praia s/n (no number), and Camping Clube do Brasil (Tel.: 242-0482) also at Alameda da Praia, s/n (no number). At Pituaçu, about 14 about 14 km from the center, there's Camping Pituaçu (Tel.: 231-74 1 3), on Avenida Pinto d'Aguiar.
Places to Eat
Bahian cuisine is an intriguing blend of African and Brazilian cuisine based on characteristic ingredients such as coconut cream, ginger, hot peppers, coriander, shrimp and dendê oil. Dendê, an African palm oil with a terrific flavor, is used in many regional dishes (you'll also smell it everywhere). Since dendê has a reputation for stirring up trouble in travellers' bellies, you are advised to consume it in small quantities until you've become acclimatized.
The Pelourinho area is packed with restaurants, though many of them cater for tourists and are expensive. The best value for lunches are the popular comida-a-quilo restaurants, where you serve yourself and pay by weight.
Salvador is justly renowned for its music. The blending of African and Brazilian traditions produces popular styles, such as trio elétrico (which dominates Carnaval), tropicalismo, afoxé, caribé, reggae, lambada, jazz and Gilberto Gil.
Bars and clubs tend to come and go quickly in Salvador, so ask around and check the newspaper to confirm the following suggestions. If you want to plug into the arts, Fundação Cultural Estado da Bahia (Tel.: 321-0222) is at Praça Tomé de Souza, Palácio Rio Branco, sala 31. The Fundação publishes a monthly guide, Agenda Cultural, which gives a comprehensive rundown of music events, theater and dance performances, and art exhibitions. The weekly magazine Veja contains a supplement with tips on the hottest nightspots. Teatro Castro Alves (Tel.: 235-7616), on Praça Dois de Julho (Campo Grande), is the biggest music theater in Salvador. The big acts play here, and they're often Brazil's best.
Pelourinho is now the nightlife capital of Salvador; its cobbled streets are lined with bars, and blocos practice almost every night.
Olodum play on Sunday nights in the Largo do Pelourinho and draw crowds of dancers into the streets. The famous Filhos de Gandhi have their center close by, at Rua Gregório de Matos 53, and rehearse on Tuesday and Sunday nights. Didá, a music and dance school at Rua João de Deus 19, has a street practice on Friday nighta highlight is a 15-piece, all-female drum outfit.
During summer, the city sponsors a festival of music called Ritos &Agitos, with free live music at several outdoor venues, including Largo de Tereza Batista and Praça Quincas Berro d'Água (known locally as Praça Dois M) in Pelourinho. Praça Dois M is also home to several hip barsHabeas Copos and Kibe & CIA are two of the popular spots.
Other music venues around Pelourinho include Coração do Mangue, a small bar at Rua Francisco M Barreto 27 with a street stage and live music on Tuesday and Friday; and Bar do Reggae, at Rua Gregório de Matos 36, with dancers spilling out onto the street just about every night. Gueto, at Rua Alfredo de Brito 33, is the place to go for dance music.
Tuesday night is probably the biggest night in Pelourinho. Traditionally, important religious services known as 'Tuesday's Blessing' have been held every Tuesday at the Igreja São Francisco. The services have always drawn locals to Pelourinho, and since the restoration of the area, the weekly celebrations have turned into a mini-festival. Olodum play at the Teatro Miguel Santana on Rua Gregório de Matos, and other bands set up on Terreiro de Jesus, Largo do Pelourinho and anywhere else they can find space. Crowds pour into Pelourinho to eat, drink dance and the party lasts until the early hours of the morning.
Ilê Aiyê, one of the most exciting Carnaval blocos, gives free concerts every Saturday (at least during summer) in the Forte de Santo Antônio Além do Carmo, in Barbalho, from 9 pm. African culture is kept alive in Liberdade, which is a good place to see afoxé. It's best to go with someone who knows these areas.
Around the beaches, Rio Vermelho has some good nightspots, and many of the better hotels, such as the Salvador Praia, have fancy nightclubs. A few of the happening bars are Zona Franca, at Rua João Gomes 87; Intermezzo at Largo da Mariquita s/n (no number), with outside tables; and Extudo, at Rua Lídio Mesquita 4.
Barra is full of bars, discos and music. Some places are quite good, but it's more touristy and is starting to get a sleazy reputation. Habeas Copos, at Avenida Marquês de Leão 172, is an old favorite (and attracts an older crowd); Zimbabwe, at Rua Afonso Celso 473, has good music and specializes in afrodisíacos (aphrodisiac drinks)!
Pituba beach has several bars with music such as Tocaia Grande, Rua Minas Gerais 784, which specializes in Arabian appetizers.
Those in search of danceterias (dance halls) could try Bell's Beach, a slick place at Avenida Octávio Mangabeira, Praia do Corsário, Boca do Rio; or head towards Amaralina to visit New Fred's (Tel.: 247-4399), at Rua Visconde de Itaboraí 125, which is a huge lambada mecca with room for 600 dancers.
Folklore shows, usually consisting of mini-displays of Candomblé, capoeira, samba, lambada, etc, are presented in the evening at Senac in Pelourinho; Solar do Unhão, south of the city center; and Moenda (Tel.: 231-7915), at Jardim Armação, next to the Centro de Convenções.
Things to Buy
For handicrafts, you can browse in Mercado Modelo, Praça da Sé, Terreiro de Jesus and numerous shops and galleries in Pelourinhoall places where articles and prices are geared to tourists. For a large, local market, try Mercado São Joaquim (also known as Feira São Joaquim), which is just north of the city center. Dedicated shoppers should head for Shopping Iguatemi (Salvador's largest shopping center) and Shopping Barra, both gigantic complexes with dozens of shops.
Getting There & Away
The big three domestic airlines all fly to Salvador, as does Nordeste, which goes to smaller cities in the region like Ilhéus and Porto Seguro. You can fly to most cities in Brazil from Salvador, but make sure you find out how many stops the plane makes: many flights in the Northeast operate as 'milk runs', stopping at every city along the Atlantic seaboard, which makes for a long ride. There are regular international flights between Salvador and: Miami; Frankfurt; Paris; Amsterdam; Lisbon; Madrid; Rome; New York; Buenos Aires; Tenerife; Montevideo; and, believe it or not, one weekly flight to Moscow!
Venice has its canals and gondolas; Salvador has its bluff, elevators, hills, valleys and one-way streets. The Lacerda Elevator runs daily from 5 am to midnight, linking the low and high cities. The Plano Inclinado Gonçalves, behind the cathedral near the Praça da Sé, makes the same link and is more fun (and less claustrophobic), but only operates Monday to Saturday from 5 am to 10 pm. The city's latest addition to the lift world is the Plano Inclinado Liberdade/Calçada, which links two poor neighborhoods north of the city center.
A long evening of Candomblé at Casa Branca, Salvador's oldest terrreiro, is quite an experience. The women dress in lace and hooped skirts, dance slowly and chant in Yoruba. The men drum complex and powerful African rhythms. The terreiro is dominated by the women: only women dance, and only they enter a trance, the principal goal of the ceremony. Men play a supporting role.
The dance is very African, with graceful hand motions, swaying hips and light steps. When a dancer enters the trance, she shakes and writhes while assistants embrace and support her. Sometimes, even spectators go into trances, although this is discouraged.
The mãe de santo or pai de santo runs the service. The mãe pequena is entrusted with the training of priestesses; in this case two filhos de santo: one, a girl over seven years of age, the other a girl under seven. The initiates are called abian.
On a festival morning, the celebration commences with an animal sacrifice. Only initiates may attend this service. Later in the afternoon the padê ceremony is held to attract the attention of Exu, and this is followed by chanting for the orixás, which is accompanied by alabés (atabaque drummers).
The festival we attended was for Omolu, the feared and respected orixá of plague and disease. He is worshipped only on Monday and his Christian syncretic counterpart is either St Lazarus or St Roque. His costume consists of a straw belt encrusted with seashells, straw mask and a cape and dress to cover his face and body, which have been disfigured by smallpox.
When the dancer had received the spirit of Omolu in their trance, some left the floor. They returned with a person dressed from head toe in long straw-like strands to represent Omolu. The dancing resumed.
Although the congregants of Casa Branca are friendly and hospitable, they don't orient their practices to outsiders. Westerners may attend and many white Brazilians are members. After the ceremony, guests are invited to the far end of the house for sweets and giant cakesone cake decorated like the Brazilian flag.
One capoeira group in Salvador is notorious for extracting money from unsuspecting tourists. Unfortunately, the group is also one of the more spectacular to watch. I should have known better, but I stopped to watch them one afternoon and was immediately asked for money "for the school." I handed over what I considered a reasonable sum, and have done so, thought I might as well take a photo. After taking a quick snap of the action, the 'Mestre', a mountain with muscles on his muscles, pulled out of the circle and approached me. He asked me for money, and I explained that I'd already given. "Yes," he said, peering down at me with a broad smile, "but you need to pay more for the Mestre." I refused, but as he became more persistent (and the crowd around grew more amused at the encounter), I reached into my pocket and dropped a bunch of coins into his massive palm. He looked from the coins to me, then threw the coins into the ground in apparent disgust. Moving closer, he took my head gently into his hands and gave me a 'friendly' headbutt!
Excerpts from Brazil - A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro, and Robyn Jones. For more information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications. Used by permission.
Brazil - A Travel Survival Kit
by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey,
Leonardo Pinheiro, Robyn Jones