The Portuguese Pedro Álvares Cabral landed at what is now Porto Seguro, on the southern coast of Bahia in 1500, and claimed the territory for Portugal. Brazil officially discovered in 1501 was to become the keystone of Portuguese Atlantic territories, and the model for European plantation economies. The Portuguese founded Salvador, Bahia in 1549 on a hill seventy meters above sea level. The city, situated in the least accessible position on the coast, meets the huge body of water the Portuguese named Bahia de Todos os Santos – Bay of All Saints. Salvador served as the first capital of Brazil between 1549 and 1763. The city and surrounding captaincy functioned as the administrative and religious capital of Portugal's colonies in the Americas until 1763. The Dutch held control of Bahia from May 1624 through April 1625. Bahia was also the last area of Brazil to join the independent confederation; some members in the elite remained loyal to the Portuguese crown after the rest of the country was granted independence. After several battles, mostly in Pirajá, the province was finally expelled the Portuguese on July 2nd, 1823; this date is Bahia's Independence Day. Bahia is a main producer and exporter of cacao in Brazil. In addition to important agricultural and industrial sectors, the state also has considerable mineral and petroleum deposits.
Cities in the Recôncavo
The Recôncavo is the region of fertile lands spread around the Bay of All Saints. The red earth of this expansive region has excellent properties for growing crops. The sugar-plantation system was firmly entrenched in the countryside by the end of the 16th century, and continued to grow from the dibilitating labor forced on African slaves for another 300 years. By 1570 there were 18 engenhos - sugar mills; and by 1584 there were 40.
Tobacco came later to the recôncavo. Tobacco was a more sensitive crop to grow than sugar and the estates were much smaller; fewer slaves were needed—about four per tobacco farm—so many poorer Portuguese settlers went into tobacco production and a less rigid social hierarchy developed. Cattle ranching, also came to the recôncavo and spread inland, radiating west into the arid region called the sertão. Saubara, Cachoeira, Santo Amaro, Acupe, São Félix are quilombo communities that richly abound in Afro-Brazilian cultural legacies. Each city adds special cultural elements to the mystic of the recôncavo. Saubara has Chegança de Marujos when groups dress in brilliant white naval uniforms parade through the city playing pandeiros. Acupe features Nego Fugido an enactment of young people escaping rath of slavery on sugar plantations. Cachoeira celebrates the Boa Morte Festival, and Santo Amaro is a matrix of samba de roda and capoeira.
Santo Amaro is an old sugar town. In colonial days Santo Amaro made its fortune from sugar. Today, bamboo has replaced sugar cane on the hillsides. Santo Amaro is known for beautiful beaches, and roots samba among other natural and cultural treasures. The major industry is paper production.
Cachoeira is 121 km from Salvador and 40 km from Santo Amaro. The city sits below a series of hills beside the Paraguaçu river. The river is spanned by the Ponte Dom Pedro II, a bridge built by the British in 1885 as a link with Cachoeira’s cross river twin town, São Félix. Affectionately known as the jewel of the recôncavo, Cachoeira has a population of 32,000 and is at the center of Brazil's best tobacco-growing region. Apart from tobacco, the main crops in the area are cashews and oranges. The town is full of beautiful colonial architecture. Cachoeira is also a renowned center of Candomblé and the home of many traditional artists and artisans.
Diego Álvares, the father of Cachoeira's founders, was the sole survivor of a ship bound for the West Indies that was wrecked in 1510 on a reef near Salvador. The Portuguese Robinson Crusoe was saved by the Tupinambá Indians of Rio Vermelho, who dubbed the strange white sea creature Caramuru or `FishMan'. Diego Álvares lived 20 years with the Indians and married Catarina do Paraguaçu, the daughter of the most powerful Tupinambá chief. Their sons João Gaspar Aderno Álvares and Rodrigues Martins Álvares killed off the indigenous people, set up the first sugar-cane fazendas and founded Cachoeira. By the 18th century tobacco from Cachoeira was considered the world's finest, sought by rulers in China and Africa. It was more profitable than sugar.
When crossing the old Ponte Dom Pedro II, a narrow bridge where traffic can only move in one direction at a time, cars must wait their turn. If you are adventureous you can take a moto-taxi, that is a taxi ride on the back of someone’s motorcycle - be careful! When vehicles pass over the bridge the old structure emits a wild cacophony of sounds.
Apart from the view towards Cachoeira, São Félix boasts a major attraction: the Centro Cultural Dannemann, along the riverfront. The Centro Cultural Dannemann has displays of old machinery and the techniques used for making charutos (cigars). The rich tobacco smells, the beautiful wooden working tables, the sight of workers handrolling tobacco, workers who at times smoke their cigars takes you back in time. The art space in the front of the building has exhibitions of sculpture, painting and photography. The handmade cigars sold here make good souvenirs or presents.