Historic Centre of S. Salvador da Baía
Salvador da Baía is located on the northeast coast of Brazil, in the Bahia State, Recôncavo area. It was founded by Tomé de Sousa, first governor-general of Brazil in 1549.
The only towns that existed before S. Salvador were S. Vicente in São Paulo (1532), and Olinda, in Pernambuco (1537). The urban settlement rose on the crest of a hill so as to be protected from the enemy. Eventually, as the town expanded and grew in importance, the urban network extended towards the sea, where it developed in a narrow coastal strip. This peculiar growth is still present in today’s local toponomy, as S. Salvador has an upper area known as Cidade Alta and a lower one called Cidade Baixa.
S. Salvador da Baía was the first capital of Brazil between 1549 and 1763, after which the power was transferred to the city of S. Sebastião in Rio de Janeiro. It was the political and economic centre during the sugar cane cycle, and the first slave market in the New World, where slaves started arriving in 1558 to work in the plantations.
Its harbour, located in Bahia de Todos os Santos (All Saints Bay), was one of the busiest in terms of trade and the most important strategically. All fleets heading to Brazil or to trading posts in Africa, India and China stopped there.
S. Salvador is the largest colonial architectural ensemble in Latin America, including about 3.000 buildings dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries.
The historic centre of Salvador still preserves its 16th-century urban layout.
Its Terreiro de Jesus (Jesus Yard) has a number of civil buildings heading towards St. Dominic’s Church.
The Church of the Third Order of St. Francis, designed by Gabriel Ribeiro and built in 1703, boasts an imposing plateresque façade, and houses one of the best examples of Baroque ornamentation. Its cloister features figurative panels depicting important moments of the history of Portugal. In the consistory hall, ten figurative panels depict Lisbon’s urban centre in the 18th century. St. Francis Convent houses the world’s largest collection of Portuguese azulejos (about 55.000).
Construction of the Church of the Third Order of Mount Carmel began in 1709 and lasted for a number of years. However, a fire destroyed the building which was rebuilt in 1788. When it was inaugurated in 1803, it boasted gilted carved wood by José Nunes Santana and paintings on the ceiling by José Teófilo de Jesus.
St. Theresa’s Church and Convent, built by order of the discalced Carmelites, were founded in 1665 on the site of a church that was once devoted to St. Theresa. The convent was inaugurated in 1686 and the church was completed in 1697. It houses the Museum of Sacred Arts of the Federal University of Bahia since 1959, boasting the largest sacred arts collection in Brazil.
The former Casa da Câmara and Cadeia, current Town Hall, stands high on a hill overlooking the harbour, in Salvador’s oldest square. The building has an imposing bell tower that was the model for subsequent administrative buildings. Built between the 17th and the 18th centuries, it has two storeys, with the upper one originally meant to be a meeting room, as well an audience room for magistrates, as well as civil and criminal institutions. The lower floor was used as two jails for men and women. Its front yard housed St. Anthony’s chapel which was regularly attended by prisoners.
The current Basilica of Our Lady of Conception at the Beach is the third building to be built on the same site. Its design is attributed to Manuel Cardoso de Saldanha, while construction took place along the 18th century. The painting on the basilica’s ceiling was attributed to José Joaquim da Rocha, an outstanding Bahian painter from the second half of the 18th century.
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