Salvador da Bahia: The Heart of Afro-Brazilian Culture
I was in love with Brazil before I stepped foot in the country. My infatuation began through the African-inspired samba music that my parents played on Saturday mornings in our home. The name of this popular Brazilian dance originates from the Angolan word, "sembu", which means "invitation to dance" (source). The dance is believed to have originated in a former slave market, Pedra do Sal. Afro-Brazilians with roots in West Africa brought their dances and practices with them, but this dance was also a form of worship. The hypnotic rhythms are tied to the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomblé, which calls on the orixa (orisha) or gods during dance. Candomblé is a mixture of Yoruba, Fon, and Bantu beliefs that originated in West Africa and were carried to Brazil through the slave trade and was first established in the 19th century.
There was no better way to explore my love of Afro-Brazilian culture than through traveling directly to the source in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. Salvador is a Black city in the North of the country and is incredibly significant because of its preservation as UNESCO World Heritage Site but also because it was the first capital of Brazil, where much of Afro-Brazilian culture continues to emanate.
Salvador is a beautiful place, complete with a promenade that wraps around the coast of the city, as well as museums, a lighthouse, and other fascinating sites. Below is a list of my favorite sites and places to visit when you are in Salvador.
1. Pelourinho - Know in Portuguese as "pillory" or the area where enslaved Africans received punishment, this area has been transformed to tell a different story rather than one of pain and bondage. As the central historical district of Salvador, this area is full of colorful colonial buildings and cobblestone roads. But even more than that, it is teeming full of life with the celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture. During the day you can enjoy the open air bars and restaurants, surrounded by live music and dance performances. This is also an area where you can buy your souvenirs and admire the art work in the streets.
2. Museu Afro Brasileiro (MAFRO) - a must see at this museum are the 27 wood carvings of the orixhas from the Candomblé religion. There are also beautiful masks and history of the Afro-Brazilians from the colonial period until the modern era. The entrance fee is R$6.00 (about $1.43) or $3.00 for international students. In the square outside of the museum you will find people practicing capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian form of martial arts that combines acrobatics and dance often performed to the beat of drums.
3. Bale Folclórico da Bahia at Teatro Miguel Santana - this folklore dance performance is not to be missed. Learn about the spirit of Bahian culture with daily shows, except for Tuesday and Sundays. The show consists of Afro-Brazilian folkloric dances as well as elements of capoeira and ballet that pays homage to the history and culture of Salvador. The live musical ensemble is an additional treat. I promise that you will be amazed by this show.
4. Restaurante Uauá - Located directly across the street from the Teatro Miguel Santana, enjoy a delicious traditional dish of moqueca, a rich Brazilian seafood stew. The restaurant is located on the second floor and with it's open terraces, you can hear and see the sights and sounds of Pelourinho. If you are lucky you might even get to see one of the famous drum groups practicing in the streets.
5. Farol da Barra (Barra Lighthouse) is located on Praia (beach) Farol da Barra off the promenade and overlooks All Saints Bay. This beautiful lighthouse is considered a main attraction and is very easy to get to. Once you arrive, you can climb the 100 steps to get to the top where you can see endless skies or stick around and wait for the sunset. There is also a nautical and military museum that you can check out. Make sure when you are done that you buy one of the famous acarajé, a Bahian-style black bean fritter that is filled with shrimp. One of the most popular is the Acarajé da Dinha kiosk. One of these tasty treats will cost you about R$11.00 ($3.00).
6. Mercado Modelo/Modelo Market - located in the old customs building, this is the perfect place to come to get all of your gifts and trinkets to take home. There are stalls throughout the market selling beautiful wood carvings, stunning art work, Brazilian instruments, and of course t-shirts and key chains. Come here to find all your tourist needs in one place.
7. Elevadora Lacerda - Just an elevator, but it connects the upper city to the lower city and will get you to Mercado Modelo. With beautiful views from the upper city, you can see a panorama of All Saints Bay and Mercado Modelo down below. It costs about R$0.15 to ride.
8. Go to the Praia (Beach) - the beach in Salvador is free and the water is divine. There is a great beach Praia Farol da Barra that is located in front of the Monte Pascoal Praia Hotel and this is also a perfect location because it is just a 2 minute walk to the promenade, which is full of excitement.
And finally, while you are in Salvador, be on the lookout for impromptu music sessions that occur in the streets, especially in Pelourinho. These were some of my fondest memories of my time in Brazil and I hope they will be the same for you.
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