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A Few Days in Salvador and Morro de Sãu Paulo, Bahia

BRAZIL | Saturday, 2 September 2023 | Views [40]

A Few Days in Salvador & Morro de Sãu Paulo

After a week in Chapada Diamantina, it was time to head to the beach and the capital of Bahia, Salvador. This city is the oldest in Brazil and was once its colonial capital. The elite lived on the hill just behind the port, in an area now known as Pelourinho, the historical center. Before going to the city, however, I wanted to see the ocean. The closest beaches to the airport are in an area called Stella Maris. There is a very large statue of a fearsome looking Lemanjá at the turnoff from the highway to the suburb.  I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to get a photo of her as the traffic didn’t allow for photography. But it was good to see the Candomblé Goddess of the Sea guarding the region.

The beaches in this area stretch for as far as the eye can see and are lined with palm trees and eateries.  There were a couple of vendors going up and down selling hats, bathing suits and beach wraps, and there were a few fishermen trying their luck, and a few people in the water, but for the most part the clean sandy beaches were empty. The waves were strong enough for a few teenagers to surf and body board, but I didn’t see any really swimming. The beaches were beautiful and the sand absolutely perfect, so the lack of people surprised me.  It is winter here now (August 2023), and it was a Monday, so perhaps that was the reason.

After a morning at the beach, I took a cab into the Pelourinho.  The majority of museums in town were closed because it was Monday, but there were a few open and, of course, the churches were open.  I made my way to the center plaza, Terreiro de Jesus, where I made my first stop at the Archbishop’s house museum. Inside was a portrait room of all the Salvadorian archbishops on the ground floor and upstairs a series of rooms showcasing how the archbishops lived.  In one, there were a number of over a meter-high prints showing how the priests converted the indigenous people and animals of the region. The episcopal residence is next to the Cathedral Basilica of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The church was built in 1654 in the Portuguese Mannerist style.  It is filled with almost blinding gold figures.

Next door to the church, still on the Terreiro de Jesus, is the Afro-Brazilian Museu. This museum showcases the influence of African traditions on the development of Afro-Brazilian culture and especially the development of Condomblé, the local religion that evolved during slavery. There are two rooms where wooden plaques, by different artists, portray many of the local orixás, the local deities, including Lemanjá.

At the end of the square, opposite the Cathedral, is the Church of St. Dominic of Guzman that has an intricately painted and beautiful ceiling in Baroque illusionist style. It showcases a Catholic vision of Paradise - that which awaits the faithful after death. In a side room in Neoclassical style, are a number of sculptures and mini-altars. Two side panels had two female saints, Ursula and Cecilia respectively, nailed to a cross. It was the first time I’d seen this particular image. Behind the church in a mini-courtyard, there is a display case with a model of a local female saint who has a lock on her mouth. I couldn’t help but think of Mozart’s Papageno.

Around the corner from St. Dominic’s is a smaller square, with the Cross of St. Francis and the Franciscan church and convent at the top of the square. This church is known for its extensive azulejo tiles that line the courtyard and church’s interior. There are supposedly 55,000 of them, more than any other church in Latin America. Each of the tiled panel tells a moral message that is explained, also in English and Spanish, on small cards at the bottom of the panel. Primarily, they deal with messages against greed and the fact that one can’t take money with one after one’s death.  After this warning, one enters the church and is overwhelmed by the gold everywhere.  And this in a convent dedicated to St. Francis, who had his followers take a vow of poverty. Poverty is nowhere to be seen or felt in this church (other than perhaps a poverty of spirit as one is dominated by material opulence)! I simply can’t imagine what the local people felt when confronted with all this when the church was consecrated in 1686. The nave was built during the first part of the 18th C with its gold gilt Baroque wooden panels.

After all the churches, I wanted a secular perspective and headed to Jorge Amado’s house, which is also a museum dedicated to his life and works.  In front of his house, a band was playing on drums, and music was coming from a couple of the neighboring houses.  Salvador is a city dedicated to music and the next day I made it to the city museum of music, which has interactive displays on the development of local music from each of the sections of the city.  The same format is used in the Carnival Museum, which is a ‘must-do’ if coming to Salvador.

It lies just behind the Archbishop’s residence, and is easy to find. The museum showcases not just the local carnival traditions and history, but also carnival traditions across the globe.  There are luckily headphones available in various languages so that visitors can understand the displays.

The last museum I went to was by the shoreline. There is an elevator that costs 15 cents, that brings people up and down the two levels of the city. Across the street from the elevator is the Mercado Modelo, which has all the handicraft, local foods, and tourist items anyone could wish for. There are two buildings to the Mercado and the first has two floors. Bargaining is a must as the prices for the same item vary considerably from stall to stall. Almost everyone accepts credit cards, though they may charge extra for using it. The music museum is off to the side of the Mercado and going in the opposite directly, almost directly in front of the elevator, is a huge modern white sculpture, that to me looked like a bra on stilts. The walk to the Museum of Modern Art is along the main highway, which makes it a not exactly pleasant walk, but it is less than a mile from the Mercado. The museum is free, which is different from all the others, including the churches, which cost anywhere from R$5-20. There was a what seemed like former chapel that housed an interesting photography exhibit and a couple of other rooms in a nearby building with artifacts, but I was a bit disappointed in the collection. The setting of the museum, though, makes the walk worthwhile as it is on a little spit with a small bay off to the side. 

The next day I did a day trip to Morro de Sãu Paulo, which, according to the guidebooks, is the most beautiful beach in Brazil.  I beg to disagree. The ones in Stella Maris were, IMO, much nicer, but they lacked the beach bum tourist feeling that Sãu Paulo had.  The trip entailed a boat ride to the island across the bay from Salvador, then an almost two-hour bus ride to the opposite end of the island and then another boat ride to Morro de Sãu Paulo. For more information on this leg of the trip, please watch the attached video.  The trip ended with a magnificent view of the full Blue Moon over Salvador from Vera Cruz on Itaparica Island just before the boat ride back to town.

The next day it was on to Brasilia and the end of my month-long journey.

Tags: beaches, churches, museums, towns

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