Hello! I'm "Sparrow" Roberts. This site is mine, but the network belongs to all the tremendous (and merely wonderful) people who are on it. Things began simply as The Online Guide to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, but given that music is so paramount here, and so compelling, I wanted a way to publicize the particular genre that I love (chula, or samba chula, the primordial African samba which is in so many words the highly moving delta blues of Brazil) in the hope that there might be a few more people around the world who will feel as I do. My methodology was inspired in pre-Civil War African Americans' "grapevine telegraph" (from where we get the expression "I heard it through the grapevine"). That is: EVERYBODY can publicize what THEY love, recommending other people (these recommendations appear on one's I RECOMMEND THEM tab), and then THOSE people recommend people, and those people recommend people...these recommendations-in-series forming long followable internet vectors running throughout the universe of music in our time and capable of opening the world (or some of it anyway) up to people and music we'd never otherwise discover, while conversely offering musicians both unknown and established a means to reach new and perhaps more distant audiences (like free, world-spanning publicity).
We began with a musician who rose from poverty only to have his major label career crushed under the boot of Brazil's dictatorship (and be forced into exile under the threat of death): Raimundo Sodré. And with men of stunning talent, known only to their communities and a miniscule set of chula insiders here: João do Boi and Bule Bule (who may be seen in)...
Tours through old Salvador -- the Centro Histórico -- and for the more adventurous, into the Recôncavo around the other side of the bay (analogous in Brazil to the Mississippi Delta in the United States), to the sambas-de-roda and festivals out there (depending on what's going on). To learn something about samba-de-roda (primordial, African samba), the following two entrances below into our music section will put your hand on a heartbeat unlike that anywhere else...
Blood & Sugar, Places & History
Blood, Sweat, and Prayers
A Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos (The Church Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks) is located in and dominates the Largo do Pelourinho. The church was built over a period of a hundred years or so beginning in 1704 (the towers and facade were begun in 1780) by the enslaved members of O Irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos do Pelourinho (The Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men of Pelourinho) for their own use (they weren't allowed inside the other churches, you see). One probably would be hard-pressed to find many other churches with statues of black saints so prominently and forthrightly displayed. Work on the church was always done at night so that the slaves' normal daytime work would carry on uninterrupted. There's a slave cemetery out back.
Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Our Lady of the Rosary) was the name given to the Virgin Mary by Saint Dominic (São Domingos de Gusmão, in Portuguese), founder of the Dominicans, who "received" a rosary from Mary in a church in southern France around the year 1200. The Dominicans founded the lay brotherhood of the Rosary in Cologne, Germany, in 1408...the brotherhood arriving in Brazil in 1685 and eventually becoming a society of black men. Before they built their own church the brothers met in one of the side altars of the Igreja da Sé (which was located in today's Praça da Sé and destroyed in 1933 in order to provide a convenient turn-around for Salvador's street cars) before a statue of Nossa Senhora do Rosário. The statue was eventually transferred to their new church and remains there to this day.
The Tuesday evening Mass (6 p.m.) is accompanied by (in part) Afro-Bahian drumming.
Plunder and Splendor
A Igreja de São Francisco (The Church of Saint Francis) and its attached convent are up the cobbled streets and to the left at the far side of the Terreio de Jesus, standing at the end of an adjacent square (Praça Anchieta), beyond a large stone cross. This is where sweat was turned into splendor, and where the descendents of those not allowed to enter in centuries past now gather en masse for Tuesday evening masses (held at 6:00 p.m.). The place is awash in gold leaf, and it hosts a rococo gallery of saints and angels which, again, one would be hard-pressed to find in any other church -- lasciviously voluptuous cherubim (putti), others cockily propped, one arm raised, one hand resting on thrusting hips, protuberant manhoods now chastely and crudely excised -- all carved, of course, by slaves.
The keystone for the present church was laid in 1686.
Masses on Tuesdays at 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m.; Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:15 a.m. and 6 p.m.; Fridays at 7:15 a.m.; Saturday at 7:30 a.m.; and Sundays at 8 a.m.
Inspired in a house other than that of The Lord?
Interior of the Igreja de São Francisco; construction of the principal altar began in 1708
Away from the main altar, towards the entrance...
The paintings adorning the ceiling are the work of Frei (Brother) Jerônimo de Graça and were begun in 1733.
Natura Moderatrix Optima, according to Horatio. Azulejos dating from 1743-46, in the cloisters.
Thijs Weststeijn has a beautifully conceived and written monograph on the cloister azulejos here...
Catedral Basílica on the Terreiro de Jesus
Naves of the Catedral Basílica
The sacristy; no bones in the drawers, just priestly vestments.
Igreja do Paço, on the Rua do Paço
Igreja do Paço from the Escadaria (Stairway)
Above is a scene from the film O Pagador de Promessas (The Payer - or Keeper - of Promises, which won the 1962 Palm d'Or at Cannes), set on the steps leading up to the Igreja do Passo.
It features capoeira by Mestre Canjiquinha (1925 - 1994) and several of his students, one of whom went by two apelidos (nicknames)...Gigante (because of his small stature), and Bigodinho (because of his little moustache). Irony lost out, and nowadays he is known as Mestre Bigodinho (since this was written Mestre Bigodinho has passed).
The putative day is December 4th, date of the Festa de Santa Bárbara, which to this day remains the area's biggest festival).
Jazigos in the Igreja da Ordem Terceira (Church of the Third Order) de São Francisco
Snow, Sugar, Tides, and a place to run away from...
As for Bahia's oldest church (or more accurately, oldest still existent church), that would be A Igreja da Nossa Senhora das Neves (The Church of Our Lady of the Snows) -- built in 1552 and situated on the Ilha de Maré (Tide Island, itself set in the northern end of the Baia de Todos os Santos). Construction was mandated by Bartolomeu Pires, a catholic priest and owner of one of the island's sugarcane plantations, and, not surprisingly, on the far side of the island a Nagô quilombo was founded (still existent today as the fishing village of Praia Grande -- "Big Beach").
The Mercado Modelo is, in my estimation, and in spite of being a tourist trap, pretty cool. It is located in the lower city across the street from the Elevador Lacerda, and is the old Customs House now transformed into a warehouse of handicrafts stalls. The rear part of the structure is given over to bars (very local) and restaurants (on the street level, and upstairs on a huge balcony). If you want to buy in the Mercado Modelo be prepared to haggle, and be prepared to shake off vendors insistent on selling something to you whether you want to buy or not. I like the (again, very local) scene behind the Mercado Modelo on the lower level, though I could do without the noise level produced by the capoeira there; the drumming reflects from the overhanging roof and can make conversation difficult.
In case you're interested, Salvador's first customs house was built in the upper city by governor Tomé de Souza in 1550. Eventually somebody figured out that it would be easier to have one down by the water, within easy access of incoming ships, and a new customs house was built on the current site in 1861. It functioned there until 1914, when new harbor warehouses were constructed and customs tasks transferred to them. The abandoned and unused customs house (the third actually, the second having been demolished to create a public square) was taken over by handicrafts sellers who moved over after the original Mercado Modelo (which was built in 1912) burned down (in 1969). There was a two-year wait while the customs house was refurbished, and it (or the new Mercado Modelo rather) has been operating since 1971.
The original Mercado Modelo
The site of the old Mercado Modelo is now occupied by a statue by Mário Cravo, the statue officially entitled "Fonte da Rampa do Mercado" ("Fountain of the Market Ramp") but more commonly referred to by locals as "A Bunda" ("The Butt").
Fonte da Rampa do Mercado
Rampa to the left, dugout canoes for fishing center
And a couple of hundred yards beyond this aptly nicknamed construction, out in the bay, there lies another christened comparison to a human part -- Jorge Amado's "belly button of Bahia" (o umbigo da Bahia) -- the Forte São Marcelo.
The "Belly Button" of Brazil...Forte São Marcelo
In 1912 the fort was used by the federal government to bombard the Palácio Rio Branco during a sailors' revolt!
Igreja do Bonfim
The Igreja do Bonfim commands a high position on the peninsula of Itapagipe (an area of land which spreads out from the cidade baixa into the bay) and is notable for being a place of veneration not only for Catholics but for Candomblistas. It is the endpoint of a yearly procession called the Lavagem do Bonfim (Washing of Bonfim), which is more accurately a reference to the washing of the church's steps by mães de santo (candomblé priestesses) who lead the procession from the Mercado Modelo to the igreja. This happens in mid-January, and the procession following the mães de santo is actually an enormous party, with drumming and dancing and eating and drinking slowly spreading from the area around the Mercado Modelo to the area around Bonfim. The church houses a curious room called Sala dos Milagres (Room of Miracles) where people leave votive offerings in thanks for cures, the votives forming a rather bizarre collection of hanging plastic replicas of multitudinous problematic body parts.
The Igreja do Bonfim is closely associated with fitas do Senhor do Bonfim ("fita" is "ribbon", and the Senhor do Bonfim is both Jesus Christ and his syncretized counterpart Oxalá), which are sold by wandering vendors both in Pelourinho and in front of the Igreja do Bonfim itself (unhappily, "sold" isn't really a very good way to put it, "pushed" and "foisted" being more like it). The idea behind the fitas is that they are tied around one's wrist with three knots, the knots corresponding to three wishes made as the knots are tied, and when the fabric wears out and the fita drops off...the wishes will be granted.
The length of the ribbons was originally determined by the length of the right arm of the statue of Jesus at the top.
The length of the fitas (47 centimeters) corresponds to the length of the right arm of a statue of Jesus positioned on the church altar, the statue having been carved in Setúbal, Portugal during the 18th century. The original fitas do bonfim were first produced in 1809, in accordance with common Portuguese custom. They were made from silk, worn around the neck, and were hung with small medallions bearing saints' images. And they were used after a cure via miraculous intervention, after the placing of an image or wax representation of the affected body part within the church (per above).
You see them all over nowadays, one very common place to hang them being the rear view mirror of Salvador's taxi cabs (quite often together with a figa, a good luck charm used to ward off the evil eye).
Faculdade de Medicina (The Old Medical School, on the Terreiro de Jesus
The Faculdade de Medicina, located on the Terreiro de Jesus in Pelourinho, was the first medical school in Brazil (founded in 1808; prior to this classes were taught in the Santa Casa da Misericórdia a couple of blocks away). It's a beautiful structure (originally the Colégio dos Jesuitas and currently in the process of being renovated), and it houses a couple of museums, the most interesting being the Museu Afro-Brasileiro (to the left as one enters the building).
Some of Carybé's orixás
The museum's collection deals principally with artifacts and explanations (in Portuguese) having to do with the arrival of Africans in Bahia and the resulting cultural links between Bahia and Africa. Of particular interest are the enormous and awe-inspiring wood carvings of orixás by Carybé in a back room (you may have to ask how to get there).
Beneath the Museu Afro-Brasileiro is the Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, worth a stroll (no extra charge) displaying artifacts unearthed in the Salvador area, from Indian utensils to remnants of colonial era living.
Fallen Cross representing a church felled by greed
The Cruz Caida went up in 1999 and is set at the south end of Praça da Sé, on the bay side (to the west). It's a sculpture by Mário Cravo (of the Rampa do Mercado, above) representing the Igreja (Church) da Sé which stood in what is now the Praça da Sé and which, after standing for 380 years, was demolished in 1933 so that the city's streetcars (now long gone of course) might have a convenient looping-around point. The archbishop who authorized the church's destruction was paid off with a grand new residence close to Campo Grande, and an entire further block of colonial-era buildings went down along with the church. The praça has gone through a number of metamorphoses, to bus terminal, to public square, to bus terminal, back to badly conceived public square constantly in need of attention...
Praça da Sé with a lovely, well thought-out square, alas long gone.
And in another incarnation...belbottoms!
And in yet another, postdating both of the above...this is the Praça da Sé of 1992.
Laying streetcar tracks in the '30s
1940s...when cars were black and Bahian men, rich and poor, wore those wonderful white linen suits
(or Wonderful Ice Cream Suits, as Ray Bradbury would have it).
(Or Pierre Verger...) Salvador's Centro, when men dressed like men.
Gabinete Português de Leitura
Located on the Praça da Piedade, the Gabinete is a reading library established in 1863. It's as lovely on the inside as on the out.
You can get 'bout anything you want, at the Feira de São Joaquim...
The feira is a vast labrynth of narrow passageways supplying the necessities of life in Bahia...religious articles of all types, incense, statuary, beads, plants and herbs, live chickens and goats, drums...there are vegetables and the products of butchers' stalls, tiny lunch stalls...beans and corn and farinha de mandioca, dendé and dried shrimp and peanuts and coconuts and banana leaves and garlic and clove and mint and cilantro, clay cooking vessels and wooden spoons and pots and pans. Most of the clay pottery comes from Maragogipinho, in the south Recôncavo.
The Feira de São Joaquim is located on the water of the bay in the cidade baixa, just south of the ferry terminal, having moved to the spot in 1964 from Água de Meninos closeby when that feira burned down. Considering the two incarnations, it's been in existence since the 1920s.
A common method of transport at the feira
The staples of Bahian cooking
Cinnamon, clove, honey...
Bells and eyes and more...
Maria Padilha and Exu
Clay pottery and more clay pottery...
Which begins "life" here in the town of Maragojipinho, in the south of the Recôncavo
Table of Contents
An Introduction to Salvador da Bahia
A Brief History of Salvador da Bahia
Pelourinho: The Centro Histórico
Our Cana Brava Record Shop in Pelourinho, specializing in samba and related styles
Important Salvador Sites
Festas: The Sacred & the Profana
Carnival in Salvador, Bahia
Candomblé: Ubiquitous Deities
Capoeira: Dance Like a Baryshnikov; Hit like a Kalashnikov
Salvador's Afoxés & Blocos Afros
Fiction from Bahia
The Music of Bahia
› Currently working musicians from Bahia are here!
A Short History of the Music of Brazil
› Currently working musicians from Brazil are here!
A Tour Guide to Salvador & Environs
The Beaches of Bahia
Fab Apartments to Stay in While You're Here!
Salvador Central Members/Nodes