Planning Your Trip to Bahia - Information About Bahia History
Bahia. “O Brasil nasceu aqui.” (Bahia. Brazil was born here) This sentence is more than just an advertising phrase; it expresses a reality. From Bahia emanates the cultural and historic traditions of Brazil. The Portuguese Navigator, Amerigo Vespucci, made his way to the Atlantic coast of the South American continent, arriving in the beautiful bay of Bahia de Todos os Santos. He named it after the date on which he arrived, November 1st of 1501, the day of all saints. Almost half a century later the Portuguese decided to divide the colony of Brazil into captaincies and Bahia was granted to Francisco Pereira Coutinho, who arrived in 1535. However, the first Governor Tome de Sousa officially founded the city of Salvador in 1549.
For a short period in the late 17th century, Salvador was under the control of the Dutch crown. Through naval and land battles, however, Bahia reverted to the Portuguese crown and remained under its domain until its independence in 1823. The growth of the capital city of Salvador came with the advent of sugar plantations at the end of the 16th century and continued throughout the 17th century. The plantation economy required a strong workforce, which was imported from West Africa. Hence the beginning of Brazil´s slave trade. For the next three centuries, Salvador, Bahia became the most prosperous and important slave trade center not only in Brazil but in all of the Americas.
The 18th century brought with it the growth of coffee based economy and the discovery of gold and diamonds in southern and central Brazil. Bahia lost its primary economic significance to the Portuguese Crown and, in the 19th century, Salvador was replaced by Rio de Janeiro as the capital of Brazil. Throughout these centuries, Bahia was shaped by a myriad of different cultures; the African influence, with its candomblé religion, was by far the strongest. By the 17th century, Brazil had already imported a half million slaves to work on the sugar plantations, resulting in a population composed mainly of African descendants. By the time of abolition in the late 19th century, Brazil had already imported about 3 or 4 million slaves.
The economy of the state remained basically agricultural until the introduction of petrochemical industries and tourism in the 20th century. The state of Bahia is the most visited state and the Bahian economy is the fastest growing in Brazil. This state has vast mineral resources, possessing gold, rock salt, chromite, magnesite and copper, making it one of the richest states in Brazil. These mineral resources attracted the attention of global investors who, in the 1970s, invested in the region of Camaçari (50 kilometers away of Salvador) to create what is today called Polo Petroquimico de Camaçari, (the petrochemical center of Camaçari).
The sugar plantations and agricultural resources in Bahia gave path to a more modern economy, the industries. Bahia is now in the top five most populated states of Brazil, with more than 12 million inhabitants, making it the principal state of the Northeast region. As a port city, boats and ships have always been an important part of Salvador´s history. Ships import and export goods internationally and move cargo from the port of Salvador to other cities and national regions. Today, enormous ocean going freighters tie up and depart from Salvador’s commercial docks every day, which lie in the downtown area. Small boats and fishermen continue to be an evident and important part of Bahian culture and history.
The local fishermen use small wooden crafts, jangadas, canoes and pirogues to navigate the coast, swamps, lakes and rivers. Many of them concentrate on catching shrimp with nets, as well as fishing for bigger fish with nets and lines. These activities have been part of daily life in Bahia for hundreds of years. Today, Salvador and the state of Bahia preserve their historical colonial significance in their architectural monuments, magnificent mansions, baroque churches and forts, but mainly, in the natural expression of their people, the cultural life, and their natural beauty.
Walking through Salvador´s historic center of Pelourinho, one is surrounded by classic 18th and 19th century European architecture, much of it Iberian. Restoration projects have recuperated the glory of many of the oldest buildings, and the Pelourinho is protected today by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Most of the old streets continue to be covered by cobblestones, just as in the days when horse drawn carriages were the principle forms of transportation.
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