As the first capital of Brazil, Salvador de Bahia witnessed the blending of European, African and Amerindian cultures. It was also the first slave market in the New World, with slaves arriving to work on the sugar plantations. A special feature of the old town are the brightly colored houses, often decorated with fine stuccowork.
Founded in 1549 on a small peninsula that separates Todos os Santos Bay from the Atlantic Ocean on the northeast coast of Brazil, Salvador de Bahia became Portuguese America’s first capital and remained so until 1763. Its founding and historic role as colonial capital associate it with the theme of world exploration.
Salvador de Bahia’s historic center — an eminent example of Renaissance urban structuring adapted to a colonial site — is the Cidade Alta (Upper Town), a defensive, administrative and residential neighborhood perched atop an 85 m (278 ft) high escarpment. This densely built colonial city par excellence of the Brazilian northeast is distinguished by its religious, civil and military colonial architecture dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
Salvador de Bahia is also notable as one of the major points of convergence of European, African and American Indian cultures of the 16th to 18th centuries.
The settlement of Salvador de Bahia, strategically situated overlooking an immense bay on the Brazilian coast, was aimed at centralizing the activities of the metropolis in Portuguese America and facilitating trade with Africa and the Far East. The city grew quickly, becoming Brazil’s main seaport and an important center of the sugar industry and the slave trade.
The historic center’s main districts are:
- São Bento
- Santo Antônio
Pelourinho is characterized by its fidelity to the 16th-century plan, the density of its monuments, and the homogeneity of its construction.
In addition to major buildings dating to the 17th and 18th centuries — such as Catedral Basílica de Salvador, the churches and convents of São Francisco, São Domingos, Carmo, and Santo Antônio — the Historic Center of Salvador de Bahia retains a number of 16th century public spaces:
- Municipal Plaza
- Largo Terreiro de Jesus
- Largo de São Francisco
The historic center also includes baroque palaces, among them the Palácio do Arcebispado, Palácio Saldanha and Palácio Ferrão. There are many streets lined with brightly colored houses, often decorated with fine stuccowork, that are characteristic of the colonial city.
Salvador de Bahia was also — from 1558 — the first slave market in the New World, with slaves arriving to work on the sugar plantations. Echoes of this multicultural past survive to the present day in the historic center's rich tangible and intangible heritage.