By Stephanie Foden, Contributing Reporter
SALVADOR, BRAZIL – Bahia’s sun-drenched capital, Salvador, is an architecture gem; founded in the 1500s it is one of the oldest cities in Brazil and home to impressive colonial and baroque styles. The city was the first capital of Brazil and remained so until 1763, and much of the historic architecture still exists, as well as many new modern developments.
The array of buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries and cobblestoned streets in the historic center, Pelourinho, are considered the largest colonial set in the Americas. The area was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 and is a focal point of the city’s tourism.
After defeating the Dutch in the 17th century, Portuguese settlers built and refurbished several beautiful forts along the All Saints’ Bay. The São Marcelo Fort is a perfectly round port erected on a small reef bank about 1000 feet off the coast.
Famous Brazilian writer Jorge Amado deemed the Renaissance-style fort the “belly button of Bahia.” Its rooms are now a museum of its history, exhibiting the Portuguese navigation routes, life of its soldiers and the city’s history.
After wondering around the city, it’s easy to see the contrast between old and new. Beginning in the 20th century, a wave of new age buildings swept the city giving many parts of Salvador a modern edge.
The Lacerda Elevator may be the most well-known piece of architecture in Salvador. The popular post card image is the main link between upper and lower cities. First built in 1872, the lift was renovated and turned into an Art Déco design in 1930 and named Lacerda in honor of its original engineer.
The structure now has four elevators with air-conditioning and offers stunning views of the bay. It’s open every day and can be ridden for just R$0.15.
Yet the financial district’s Casa do Comércio building might be the best example of modern development. Built in the late 1980s, this odd-looking stack of glass boxes defies the onlooker’s sense of gravity.
This was the first skyscraper raised in the area, which is now a thriving city center. Today the now-landmark houses a theater, several office buildings and a penthouse restaurant (which also offers some cooking courses) with a 360-degree view of the skyline.
The modern city shelters a large number of buildings with meaningful cultural and historical significance, many of which have been abandoned. While this might seem like a tragic thought, it does add a certain alluring element to the city.
“There is this whole ideology that new is better,” said State University of Bahia’s Maria Palacios, a sociologist who worked on the restoration of Salvador’s historic center. “So you don’t see many middle class people living here [in the historic center],” Palacios added.
Yet eyes are on Salvador’s stadium this month as it hosts three Confederation Cup matches. The Arena Fonte Nova opened just two months ago after remodeling and now seats 55,00 people. The Fonte Nova will be the Northeast’s main hub for the 2014 FIFA World Cup as it hosts six games.