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Day 31: Salvador

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A young Salvadorean paints the brightly coloured facades of the old town.
Michael Palin - BrazilBahia is the fifth-largest of Brazil's twenty-six states, with a land area just about the size of France. In terms of Brazilian history it is one of the most significant. It was on its long and pristine coastline that the first European set foot in Brazil – by accident, as it turned out. A Portuguese expedition headed by one Pedro Alvares Cabral was blown off-course whilst trying to sail round Africa. Somewhat confused, they stepped ashore on 22 April 1500 near what is now Porto Seguro, in southern Bahia State. They discovered thick forest along the shore. A later, and this time deliberate, Portuguese expedition found this to be an abundant source of a wood they called pau-brasil, which produced a valuable red dye which glowed like hot coals (brasa in Latin). So the new-found land took its name from its chief product. Brazil.

They also discovered an indigenous people called the Tupinambá, who had in all probability been Brazilians for at least 10,000 years. Once the Europeans landed they set about converting them to Christianity, or if it suited them better, slavery. It's been estimated that there were then five million indigenous people in Brazil. The number now is around 350,000.

The Portuguese soon discovered that an enormous natural harbour lay a couple of hundred kilometres up the coast from where they had first accidentally stumbled on Brazil. It offered shelter and abundant safe havens and in their devoutly thankful way they christened it the Baía de Todos os Santos – All Saints' Bay – as it was discovered on All Saints' Day in 1506. At over 180,000 square kilometres (7,000 square miles), it is believed to be the second-largest in the world after Hudson Bay. In 1549 Tomé de Souza set up the first capital of Portuguese Brazil on the eastern headland of the bay and called it Salvador da Baía de Todos os Santos. The state became Bahia and Salvador the name of the capital. It remained the capital of Brazil for over two hundred years. Sugar and cotton production made Bahia rich but, like all the other unlocked wealth of Brazil, that could never have been achieved without the millions of slaves brought over from Africa. This potent mix of a relatively small number of Portuguese, a much greater number of indigenous tribes and a huge number of slaves created modern Brazil. The city of Salvador may have ceded its capital status, first to Rio and then to Brasília, but it remains the third-biggest city in Brazil, with a population of over three million, eighty-two percent of whom are black. Salvador is the biggest African city outside Africa.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 31: Salvador
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Salvador
  • Book page no: 132

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