The Pelourinho district, which is well worth seeing, is part of the Brazilian city of Salvador and is located in the so-called upper city. The former slave market has developed into a prestigious neighbourhood and cultural centre of Salvador.
Pelourinho is part of the Upper Town (Cidade Alta) and delights many visitors with its beautiful colonial architecture and magnificent baroque churches. In 1985, Pelourinho was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The picturesque district is also one of our Top 10 Sights of Brazil and Salvador da Bahia.
Table of contents
PICTURES: Pelourinho in Salvador da Bahia
Photo gallery: Pelourinho in Salvador da Bahia
History of Pelourinho
The Portuguese "Pelourinho" means "pillory", a name that dates back to the time of the slave trade. In the 17th century, Salvador was an important transhipment point for slaves trafficked from Africa. Today's Pelourinho functioned as a slave market where human lives were haggled over.
When slavery was banned in 1888, artists from all walks of life gradually settled in Pelourinho. Musicians, filmmakers, painters and writers have turned the former slave market into a now respected neighbourhood and cultural centre of Salvador.
But in the 1930s, the upper and middle class families moved out of Pelourinho and settled on the beautiful beaches around Salvador. The neighbourhood, affectionately called "Pelô" by the locals, slowly began to decay and the magnificent mansions were converted into tenements for less well-off residents.
With the poverty of the mainly black families, crime and drug trafficking also entered Pelourinho. The most unsafe neighbourhood of Salvador at that time could only be visited by tourists during the day.
"Rescue" by UNESCO
However, with the designation of Pelourinho as a World Heritage Site, its fate changed. In the early 1990s, almost 800 buildings were renovated at great expense. The tenements were turned back into galleries, restaurants and shops, and since 2005 cars are no longer allowed in Pelourinho. Crime has been curbed and Salvadorans are once again proud of their colourful neighbourhood.
Tip: Due to Pelourinho's high tourist popularity, the number of pickpockets remains high.
Today, Salvador's old town enchants its visitors with a special flair. A large part of the population are descendants of former slaves, whose African religion and culture can be found everywhere. The baroque architectural style is unmistakable in Pelourinho and has been restored and preserved since 1990 with the help of UNESCO.
Walking through the narrow cobbled streets between the colourful pastel facades of the houses, you immediately notice that life literally happens on the street. Restaurants and cafes are usually crowded.
The inhabitants of Salvador play cards in the alleys and meet in groups for daily gossip. Capoeira dance groups can be found everywhere. If you're looking for a colourful painting to decorate your home, you're sure to find what you're looking for at the artists' market.
Largo da Pelourinho
The most important square in Pelourinho is the sloping, cobblestone Largo da Pelourinho. This used to be the pillory for delinquent slaves, which gave the neighbourhood its name. Today, its panorama with restored colonial buildings is absolutely unique.
The two blue-washed towers of the magnificent rococo church Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos immediately catch the eye. It was built at the beginning of the 17th century by freed slaves and black Africans, as they were not allowed to enter the churches of the whites.
Also on Largo da Pelourinho are the Museu da Cidade, with changing exhibitions of Afro-Brazilian art, and the Museu das Portas do Carmo, where flags and weapons from the era of the Dutch occupation can be seen.
Tip: At Restaurante Escolar on Largo Pelourinho No. 13, right next to the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, you can eat at particularly good prices. Here, gastronomy students are trained to conjure up excellent menus at sensational prices.
If you continue along Largo da Pelourinho in a north-easterly direction, you will reach the quiet district of Carmo via the steep Ladeira do Carmo, where more churches and museums await the interested visitor.
Terreiro de Jesus
At the other end, to the southwest of Pelourinho, is the palm-covered Terreiro de Jesus. Several magnificent buildings are grouped around the fountain in the middle, including the opulently decorated Salvador da Bahia Cathedral and the Museu Afrobrasileiro, which presents art, clothing, jewellery and musical instruments.
Igreja de São Francesco
The monumental baroque church Igreja de São Francesco already impresses with its richly decorated façade. However, it only reveals its full splendour inside, because the entire nave is covered with an almost inconceivable amount of gold leaf - a truly radiant sight.
Largo de Teresa Batista
Right between the Terreiro de Jesus and the Igreja de São Francesco on Rua Barreto is the Largo de Teresa Batista. In addition to pubs and restaurants, the square has a very special treat to offer.
The famous rhythm group Olodum, who have already performed together with renowned artists such as Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock or Jimmy Cliff, rehearse here again and again. In the music video "They don't really care about us" by Michael Jackson, the world-famous drummers can be seen against the backdrop of the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro and the Pelourinho.
Official website of Pelourinho
Official website of the rhythm section Olodum