By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Rio Times looks north to the state of Bahia this week in the series on Brazil’s World Cup 2014 host cities, and more specifically the capital Salvador, which will see matches leading to the biggest prize in sport contested there in three and a half years time.
After Rio de Janeiro, Salvador is Brazil’s second most popular tourist destination, and visitors will have no trouble keeping themselves entertained during their stay. There are over thirty miles of sand to enjoy, and in 2007 English newspaper The Guardian rated Porto da Barra the world’s third best beach in a poll. Further inland, the city also houses four parks, of which Park of the City is by far the most striking and home to the famed Praça das Flores, a vast square housing over 5,000 different types of plants and flowers.
Should you find yourself with a couple of days to kill, a trip to the island of Itaparica is a must. The ferry ride takes just an hour, and the beautiful sands are far more calm than the bustling beaches to be found in Salvador itself; ideal if you are after some peace and quiet.
The city has not been blessed with a long lineage of footballing superstars, but Bahia has one son currently involved in the Seleção set up. Barcelona full back Dani Alves began his illustrious career with Salvador side Esporte Clube Bahia, before moving to Spain with Sevilla and then Barcelona.
And newly elected Bebeto, who now has a position in the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro following the October 3rd election, was born in the city itself. A World Cup winner in 1994 and Carioca legend after stints at Flamengo, Vasco da Gama and Botafogo, he has now made the unlikely jump from the football pitch to politics.
Salvador will have a brand new stadium ready for the World Cup, and in place of the Estádio Fonte Nova, which was demolished in August, the Bahia Arena will be erected in its place. As with all the stadiums the capacity is reduced; Fonte Nova could hold over 66,000 fans but the Arena will house just 44,100.
Construction is underway with a completion date of December 2011, and the stadium will be used for the 2013 Confederations Cup before the main event begins the following year.
As with the other cities in Brazil’s North East, Salvador has a constant tropical climate, and average temperatures for June and July don’t drop below around the 25 degrees Celsius mark, though it will be the rainy season.
Playing conditions are therefore likely to be sticky and humid especially for afternoon kick offs, so most games will be played at a slower pace here than in the south as players grapple with the trying environment.
The city’s Deputado Luís Eduardo Magalhães International Airport is already used to welcoming hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, and flights from all over Europe, South America and the USA head directly to Salvador. However, the current public transport system in the city is poor. At the time of writing, Salvador’s metro system has just eight stops and does not stretch beyond the city center.
Fortunately, in July 2011 work will begin on modernizing and expanding the two lines, as well as merging the bus and metro networks so both can be used on a single ticket, identical to the transport plans in neighboring Recife. The new trains will stop at the airport, situated around twelve miles outside the city, easing the burden on getting to and from the center.