An Overview of Salvador
Salvador was the first capital of Brazil and holds the title of oldest city. It celebrated its 450th anniversary the year before the country celebrated its 500th year anniversary. The oldest part of town (called “Pelourinho”) today boasts an elevator that eliminates the steep climb from the sea level port to the buildings nestled into the mountainside. Pastel-colored houses, some adorned with those famous blue Portuguese picture tiles, line narrow cobble-stoned streets and wide open squares. Reminiscent of New Orlean’s French Quarter, Pelourinho is far older larger and better preserved (source).
Salvador, now capital of the state of Bahia, was the first major port and the capital of colonial Brazil for almost two centuries. It was built on two levels with administration buildings and residences constructed on the hills; forts, docks, and warehouses on the beaches. To this day, the city is still divided into upper and lower cities. From 1500 to 1815, Salvador was the nation’s busiest port. A significant portion of the sugar from the northeast and gold and diamonds from the mines in the southeast passed through Salvador. It was a golden age for the town; magnificent homes and churches resplendent in gold decoration were built. Many of the city’s baroque churches, private homes, squares, and even the hand-chipped paving bricks have been preserved as part of Brazil’s historic patrimony.
In Salvador, more than anywhere else in the country, the African influence in the makeup of Brazilian culture is readily visible, from the spicy dishes still called by their African names (caruru, vatapa, acaraji), to the ceremonies of candombli which honor both African deities and Catholic holidays, to the capoeira schools where a unique African form of ritualistic fighting is taught (source).
Religion in Salvador, Brazil
The word syncretism applies to cases where two religions are combined; the resulting religion is a religious syncretism. The Bahian syncretism is a combination of African Candomblé and Portuguese Christianity.
Knowing the power that religions may have to produce upheavals, the Portuguese masters prohibited black slaves from professing their original religions. Christianity was tolerated because, besides the strong influence of the Jesuits who came from Europe to Christianize African-American and Indians, in the view of Catholicism, suffering is a way to heaven.
In order to get around the prohibition, the slaves disguised their gods as Catholic saints and worshipped them. The saints are called orixás. The holy places of slaves, equivalent to Catholic churches, are called terreiros. Despite all efforts from the Portuguese, orixás and terreiros remained all over Bahia, side by side with Catholicism. Today, there are approximately two thousand terreiros in Salvador (source).