By Candy Pilar Godoy, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – No trip to Salvador, Brazil’s third largest city, would be complete without time spent in Pelourinho. Known as the city within a city, ‘Pelo’ is the colorful old neighborhood located within the Cidade Alta (Upper City). Colonial architecture, thriving artistry, and breathtaking churches are sprawled throughout the cobble-stoned streets, spawning a beauty and energy that go unmatched.

A view of Pelourinho, Salvador, Brazil, News
A view of Pelourinho, photo by Maximilian Dörrbecker/Flickr Creative Commons License.

The area became the city center while under Portuguese colonial rule beginning in the 1500s. Home of the first slave market on the continent, Pelourinho, meaning pillory, was named for the heinous whipping post in the central plaza where African slaves, brought in to work on sugar plantations, received public punishments.

As a sign of the times, the area flourished, rich in culture, bawdy revelry and decadence, before the demise of the sugarcane industry moved the capital to Rio in 1763. Slavery was outlawed in 1835 and Pelo fell into disrepair over time until 1985, when it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Restoration work has been ongoing since 1993, revitalizing the fusion of historical and cultural richness it has to offer. Today, Pelourinho is the nexus of music, dining, and nightlife in Salvador. Scenic streets packed with cafés, churches, shops, and restaurants warrant a meander and, if time allows, a glimpse into the district.

The baroque styled Igreja e Convento São Francisco stands as one of Brazil’s most impressive churches. Built in the 1700s, the church is covered in gold leaf, ornate wood carvings, and hand painted azulejos (Portuguese tiles). An eighty kilogram silver chandelier dangles above the stunning display of wealth.

Pelourinho was the site of a popular Michael Jackson music video in 1996, Salvador, Brazil
Pelourinho was the site of a popular Michael Jackson music video in 1996, image recreation.

While in Pelo, an important site is the Museu Afro-Brasileiro, located in the Faculdade de Medicina building, Brazil’s first ever medical school. The museum exhibits wood carvings, pottery, baskets and other crafts linked to African roots in Brazil. There are also lengthy panels showcasing orixás (deities of the Afro-Brazilian religions), sacred objects, and ceremonial apparel on display.

For a bite to eat, head to the streets to sample Bahian delights. Acarajé (shrimp and spices served on deep-fried black eyed peas fritters) can be found on any corner, as well as snacks of pé de moleque, a sweet made of nuts and sugar, and fried shrimp and cheese on a stick.

Live music and dance can also be found in the open air, with drum corps pounding out rhythms in plazas and dance circles forming on the streets. Stick around on Tuesday nights, known as Terça da Benção (Blessing Tuesday), when Pelourinho explodes with people, music, and dance spilling out onto the steps of Escadas do Carmo.

For more organized entertainment, buy tickets to see the world renowned Balé Folclórico da Bahia at Teatro Miguel Santana. The lively folkloric show features capoeira, Afro-Brazilian dance, Maculelê (stick dance) and the dance of the orixás accompanied by live percussion and vocals.

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