Today we begin a series of articles on fascinating cities visited during our tours. First here is Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, the city from which we embark on our tour "Grand Rail Tour of Brazil."
With around 2.5 million inhabitants, Salvador de Bahia is one of the largest cities in Brazil. Located on All Saints Bay, the city of Salvador was the first capital of Brazil from 1549 to 1763 and is still the heart of the nation today. Afro-Brazilian culture thrives here, and the city offers both dreamy beaches and a beautiful, historic old-town district with impressive monasteries and churches from the Baroque period. Salvador is built on different levels of a mountain range, dividing the city into an upper town (Cidade Alta) and a lower town 70 meters below (Cidade Baixa). Salvador's upper town offers fantastic views of the harbor and of All Saints Bay. The approximately 70m-high Lacerda elevator is the fastest way to travel between the upper and lower towns.
As in any other Brazilian city, youngsters in Salvador de Bahia are crazy about football. Little Ronaldos, Peles, Neymars, and Ronaldinhos play football (soccer) in every neighborhood, emulating their great idols.
A fun fact about Salvador de Bahia is that Michael Jackson apparently appreciated the city's flair: nineteen segments of his music video "They Don't Really Care About Us" were shot there. In his honor, a Michael Jackson memorial cardboard cutout still waves to the people from a balcony in a square in Salvador.
Pelourinho is Salvador de Bahia's historic city center. UNESCO recognizes the restored pastel-colored houses and baroque churches of the old town as a world cultural monument. Magnificent paintings, elaborate carvings, ornaments laden with gold, and wall paintings in the ornate cathedral reflect the wealth of old times.
The name Pelourinho means "pillory." Here in old days the slaves were whipped and put on display. Citizens could also be confined to the "Pelourinho" for a certain period because of legal offenses such as homosexuality or theft. For a long time, the Pelourinho fell into disrepair as an inner-city favela, where people lived in the most inhumane conditions. In 1991 the Pelourinho and its surrounding streets were completely renovated. Hotels and restaurants as well as dance and capoeira schools re-conquered the old town and have attracted many domestic and foreign tourists to Salvador.
The Carnival in Salvador da Bahia is the largest street carnival in the world. It begins on the Thursday evening before Ash Wednesday. Huge trucks, so-called "tríos elétricos," drive through the city with loudspeakers, while masses of people stream through the narrow streets of the old town of Pelourinho. The revelry on the cordoned-off streets lasts for six days and six nights, with the celebrations featuring a different motto every year.
Even outside of Carnival season, African rhythms enchant the streets of Salvador. There is hardly any other region of Brazil with such a vibrant Afro-Brazilian influence, this being particularly evident in music, food, and religion.
With origins in Bahia, Candomblé is the most widespread Afro-Brazilian religion and is a mixture of the religion of the Yoruba, elements of other African faiths such as Bantu and Ifé, and Catholicism. In Candomblé, spiritual forces called Orixás are worshiped. Each Orixá is associated with certain character traits, natural elements, foods, minerals, colors, skills, and mythical figures from African history.
Between the districts of Barro and Itapoã, there are more than 30 beaches. In addition to miles of pulsating party shoreline, many secluded beaches are ideal for long, relaxing walks.
Salvador de Bahia has a historically interesting suburban train, one of the oldest electrified railway lines in South America. This railway line was inaugurated on 28 June 1860, and until 1972 it carried passengers to the municipality of Simões Filho, 28 km (17.4 miles) away. Since then, the operating company has gradually reduced the length of the line so that today it reaches only to Paripe, about 20 km north of Salvador.
Salvador da Bahia has a lot to offer: endless dream beaches, a thriving Afro-Brazilian culture full of joie de vivre, and an old town whose melancholy history still attracts filmmakers, musicians, painters, and writers to this northeastern coastal city. Discover Salvador de Bahia with us on our tour "Grand Rail Tour of Brazil." This fantastic tour takes you to exciting regions in Greater Salvador, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. There is also the option of visiting the magnificent Iguazu Falls at the end of the tour.