20 Rua das Portas do Carmo, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
Pelourinho Salvador da Bahia Reviews
Salvador's historic city center Oct 03, 2006
Pelourinho is often referred to as "touristy" in guidebooks and articles on Salvador. It is touristy, but it has a lot of things that make it worth visiting. Unlike touristy areas in the United States that seem to have nothing to do with the actual culture of a city, Pelourinho is more like a concentrated version of the culture of Salvador. There you will find restaurants, bars, capoeira schools, headquarters of cultural groups, places to stay, churches, museums, and helpful tourism offices.
This area was once the center of the slave trade in Salvador. Pelourinho means "pillory" and in colonial times there was a post there where slaves were beaten. Today, it has been revitalized and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a place to find all things Afro-Brazilian. I didn't quite understand the concept of Pelourinho before I saw it in person, I imagined it would be like a neighborhood of a city. It's not as big as a city neighborhood and it's more enclosed with cobblestone streets and several squares surrounded by candy-colored colonial buildings. Locals often refer to it as "Pelo".
DURING THE DAY
Praca de Se:
This is the square where you can get on and off the Elevador Lacerda. Here there are great views of the Mercado Modelo, the bay, the Elevator and the butt fountain. The official name is "Fonte da Rampa do Mercado" (Fountain of the Market Ramp) but everyone calls it the "bunda" because that's what it looks like- two butts stacked on top of each other. There's a big fountain in Praca de Se and some statues including the big Baiana statue that they light up at night. There's not too much here, but there are some shops and an internet cafe.
Terreiro de Jesus:
When you turn the corner from Praca de Se, you will enter Terreiro de Jesus. In this square, people are often practicing capoeira. You can watch, but when you take pictures, people might ask you to donate money. It is optional and you should know that sometimes people asking for money in Pelourinho have nothing to do with the organization that is performing. This goes for both capoeira and drumming at night. This large square is where the Museu Afro-Brasiliero located. On the opposite side you will find Igrega de Sao Francisco. This elaborate church was built by the slaves, but they weren't allowed to worship there in colonial times.
Along the streets:
The streets between Terreiro de Jesus and Largo do Pelourinho are where the bulk of the shops, restarants, classes and tourism offices are located. Like everywhere else in Salvador, you can bargain for the best price at the shops. Sometimes you might see posters at your hotel or around town for classes, but if you just walk through the streets and squares of Pelourinho, you will find several "Escolas" (schools) that offer a variety of drumming, capoeira and dance classes. Two schools that seem to come up a lot are Escola Danca and Associacao de Capoeira Mestre Bimba.
Largo do Pelourinho:
The main attraction here is Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, a church built by the slaves, for the slaves. They weren't allowed to worship at other churches and at this church they maintained many of their African traditions and languages. The mass here is partly done in Yoruba, a West African language. Also in Largo do Pelourinho is Casa de Jorge Amado, a museum dedicated to Jorge Amado, a writer with an interesting history. To get the most out of this museum, you need to be able to read Portuguese.
Tuesday night is definitely the night to be in Pelourinho. This weekly event is called Bencao which means "blessing". I believe it begins in August and continues to Carnival time. It is a free event. At 6pm they have mass at the Sao Francisco and Rosario dos Pretos churches and this is followed by a ton of activities. Taxi's usually drop you off at Praca da Se where the big fountain is turned on and a group of people are breakdancing. When you turn right, you enter the Terreiro de Jesus where there is a ton of stuff going on. There is a big stage with live samba, axe, and reggae groups performing. There are a ton of kiosks set up that sell food and beverages. Along the streets, the blocos afros (large groups of drummers that perform in Carnival) begin their "rehearsals". They make their way through Pelourinho and stop every so often to perform and bring out a singer. As these events die down, people move on to the bars where you can sit and order food and drinks and dance to live forro bands. The most popular bar on Tuesday is Habeas Copus. Don't worry if you've never heard of forro and don't know how to dance to it... someone will definitely show you how!
There are several restuarants where you can try Bahian food in Pelourinho. Most are okay and not spectacular and they will be full of tourists. I preferred going out to eat in the Barra or Rio Vermelho neighborhoods, but eating in Pelourinho is convenient when you plan on partying there later. The most famous restaurant there is Sorriso da Dada which was started by a woman named Dada, who used to clean houses and worked her way out of poverty after opening a restaurant. I guess there are several locations including one in Pelourinho. I never went, but volunteers who did said it was just average. Apparently Dada no longer cooks for any of the restaurants. Cantina da Lua is another place I've never tried and it's in Terriero de Jesus. It seems like they must have some kind of deal with a tour company there, this is where you see large groups of people with nametags. Jardim das Delicias is around the corner and pretty decent, check out my review on it. There are a lot of the places so check around, and the large bars typically serve food as well.
Other Nightime Activities:
Another great nighttime even in Pelourinho is the Bale Folclorico da Bahia. This is located at Teatro Miguel Santana on Rua Gregório de Matos. For more info on this, check out my "Bale Folclorico da Bahia" review. A lot of the associations, afoxes and blocos give cheap performances of capoeira, dance and music throughout the week so that's also something to check out. On any given night, you can get a drink and listen and dance to samba, forro, reggae and one of the numerous nightlife establishments.
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