Founded in 1549 as Brazil’s first capital, and the seat of the Portuguese government for more than two centuries, today Salvador de Bahia is a metropolis with over three million inhabitants. The oldest section of the city, the Centro Antigo, houses 80,000 residents alone. At its core is the colonial-era Centro Histórico, which is composed of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century houses and churches. This historic urban landscape is a significant component of Brazil’s historical and cultural development over many centuries. Nevertheless, the physical and social fabric of the Centro Antigo has deteriorated due to the decrease in population that started there in the 1970s. Economic decline, crime, decaying infrastructure and other challenges left the historic heart of the city vulnerable. Between 2008 and 2010 the Escritório de Referência do Centro Antigo coordinated an effort by the local, state, and federal governments to design a participatory rehabilitation plan for Salvador with the assistance of UNESCO.
2012 World Monuments Watch
The historic center of Salvador de Bahia was included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch, and Watch Day was celebrated in October 2012 with site visits and presentations for local children from lower-income neighborhoods. With support from American Express, we helped fund the design of an interactive interpretation center—the “Centro da Cidade”—which focused on the history and culture of Bahia and aimed to promote the culture of Bahia in all its expressions among its local inhabitants as well as visitors. The design was unveiled with the inauguration of a temporary exhibit in August 2013 at the Palácio dos Esportes, an art deco building located at the entrance of the historic center.
A second phase of the project with American Express in 2014 was a photography and poetry competition designed to stimulate local collective memory and raise public awareness about the built heritage of Salvador de Bahia. Before the conclusion of the contest, three cultural gatherings and a literature course focusing on ten historic monuments around the city provided new educational opportunities. In September 2014 the entries of the competition’s finalists were displayed in an exhibition called “Diálogos Possíveis.” The winners received their prizes in October 2014 at the Casa de Castro Alves, a cultural center and former home of a nineteenth-century poet.
Our project helped invigorate Salvador’s creative community and promote the preservation initiatives within its rehabilitation plan. The positive changes come just as Brazil was set to capture the global spotlight with the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.