Blog Post

Salvador: Inauguration of Centro da Cidade

Salvador de Bahia is an undiscovered jewel within a vast country, and the Centro da Cidade cultural center will attempt to change that by providing a high-tech interactive presentation of Bahian culture, material and immaterial.

The Portuguese settlement of Brazil started in the region surrounding Bahia dos Santos (Bay of Saints) also known as the Recôncavo Bahiano, in the early sixteenth century, and the main city of the region, São Salvador de Bahia, better known as Bahia, was the capital of Brazil until the colonial administration moved to Rio de Janeiro in the late eighteenth century.

The Historic Center of Salvador, a 2012 Watch site, includes the Pelourinho (named after the slave pillory located at the center of the fortified city) and surrounding neighborhoods, which make up the upper city, and the port area, or lower city, where commercial and shipping activities related to the sugar industry took place. In the mid-twentieth century, as government offices and the more affluent inhabitants moved out to the suburbs, the historic center suffered economic and social decline, until the 1970s, when the local government decided to purchase the residential properties and reallocate its low-income residents, in an attempt to clean up the area and develop it as a commercial and tourist center. This extreme measure did not have the expected results and the physical decay of the historic fabric continued unchecked until the inscription of the Historic Center to the World Heritage List in 1986, which encouraged the government to develop a special program for the revitalization of Salvador, under the premise that it was necessary to bring back residential as well as commercial and tourism activities in order to establish a sustainable city center. In 2010, this approach was consolidated by the development of a Participatory Revitalization Plan for the Historic Center of Salvador, which is currently in process of being implemented by the Office of the Historic Center of Salvador (Escritório de Referência do Centro Antigo de SalvadorERCAS), under the sponsorship of the federal government of Bahia.

One of the objectives of the revitalization plan is to promote Bahian culture in all its expressions among its local inhabitants as well as visitors. The vehicle selected to do so is a narrative written by anthropologist Antonio Risério, presented in an interactive and entertaining format to capture the attention of a young audience, but also providing in-depth information for those who seek it. WMF and American Express supported the launching of this project by financing the development of the conceptual design and temporary exhibit at the Palacio dos Esportes, an Art Deco building located at the entrance of the Historic Center of Salvador, in front of the Praça Castro Alves, a triangular plaza with breathtaking views of the Bay of Saints. The inauguration took place on August 8, on the main floor of the building, with the presence of the Governor of Bahia, Jaques Wagner, and will remain open to the public for a month.

Salvador: The City

One of the most impressive religious complexes in town is the church and convent of São Francisco de Assis, and the adjacent Franciscan Third Order church. The complex is full of ornate jacarandá wood carvings and a wealth of Portuguese tiles, probably in larger quantities than in any existing Portuguese convent. One of the tile series depicts a panoramic view of Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake, including the Tower of Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery, both restored with the support of WMF in the 1990s.

Besides its extraordinary architecture, Salvador has a rich intangible cultural heritage, the product of centuries of syncretism between European, African, and indigenous traditions. For instance, the eighteenth-century church of Sant’ Anna contains Koran inscriptions in Arabic, painted by African Muslim slaves converted to Catholicism, and even today, the Catholic Lord of Bonfim (Good End) is worshiped by Santeria practitioners as the god Oxalá, while the traditional fight-dance known as capoeira (named after a type of cane that has a similar movement when blown by the wind) is performed along the music of Olodum, also known as samba reggae.

The market of São Joaquim sells live animals and other candomblé (Santeria ceremony) offerings and supplies, while contemporary art is displayed at the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia within an eighteenth-century industrial complex restored by Italian architect Lina Bo Bardi in the 1950s. This type of site, which included a warehouse, dock, manor house, and chapel, were common in the region during colonial times, and were part of the extensive system of sugar production and shipping, the main economic activity of the towns around the bay including the city of Bahia. One of these towns is Santiago do Iguape, which includes a site from the 2000 World Monuments Watch, the ruins of the seventeenth-century convent of São Antonio do Paraguaçu, a Franciscan baroque complex, apparently with Indo-Portuguese influences from Cochin and Kerala.