Proud Heart and Soul of an Afro-Brazilian City
The Pelourinho district, the architectural enclave and highlight of Salvador’s hilltop Cidade Alta (Upper City), has been reclaimed, restored, and transformed into the cultural heart of a city long famous for the richness of its Afro-Brazilian heritage and colonial history. A wealth based on the unseemly but lucrative importation of African slaves peaked in the early 18th century, when most of Pelourinho’s remarkable gold-drenched Baroque churches were completed. They are some of South America’s most outstanding, clustered around what is now Pelourinho Square, whose name means “the pillory” or “whipping post” (one of the myriad reminders of the city’s historical and emotional ties to Africa and slavery).
The home of Salvador’s affluent European descendants until the beginning of the 20th century, Pelourinho then descended into squalor and physical collapse. But a massive restoration begun in 1992 secured its return as a haunt of poets and artists and a showplace for Bahian craftsmanship. Easter egg-colored landmark buildings now house a number of minor but interesting museums, art galleries, and cafés and restaurants.
When Casa da Gamboa, Salvador’s most famous restaurant, opened a branch in Pelourinho, it further established the neighborhood’s role as a cultural and culinary outpost. There are some large international beachside hotels, but they don’t come close to the character and architectural flavor of the Hotel Catharina Paraguaçu, a pink colonial mansion with rooftop views of the Rio Vermelho beach that’s just a taxicab ride away from Pelhourino.