11 historic heritage towns in Bahia

Of the historic heritage towns in the north-east, 11 are in Bahia and depict the process of occupation of Bahian territory up until the end of the 19th century.

The listed towns of Cachoeira, Itaparica, Porto Seguro and Santa Cruz de Cabrália represent this period, when sugar cane, and later tobacco, were the economic mainstay.

The interiorisation of the territory, which intensified at the end of the 17th century, is represented by Rio de Contas, Mucugê, Igatu (in the municipality of Andaraí), Lençóis and Monte Santo.

These towns preserve the memory of the diamond mining period in Brazil, which was fundamental to the occupation of the hinterland, and reveal the importance of religiosity in structuring this territory.

See also 11 historic cities in northeastern Brazil that you need to visit

11 historic heritage towns in Bahia

  1. Cachoeira
  2. Igatu
  3. Ilha de Itaparica
  4. Lençóis na Chapada Diamantina
  5. Monte Santo
  6. Mucugê
  7. Porto Seguro
  8. Rio de Contas
  9. Salvador da Bahia
  10. Santa Cruz de Cabrália
  11. São Félix

1. Cachoeira

Even though they were overshadowed by oil prospecting and refining activities in the second half of the 20th century, some municipalities still have the splendour of the colonial era.

The greatest expression of the Recôncavo’s baroque style is the city of Cachoeira, with its beautiful mansions and churches.

The city of Cachoeira in Bahia, which is on the left bank of the Paraguaçu river, forms a single urban organisation with the city of São Félix – on the right bank.

Estação Ferroviária de Cachoeira na Bahia
Cachoeira railway station in Bahia

The listed area has 670 buildings and, in addition to the colonial collection, the D. Pedro II Bridge, the market, the railway station and the hydroelectric power station are important cultural landmarks.

Hidrelétrica de Cachoeira na Bahia
Hidrelétrica de Cachoeira na Bahia

In 1756, the wealth produced in Cachoeira by sugar cane and tobacco helped rebuild Lisbon, which had been totally destroyed by an earthquake.  

The city of Cachoeira in Bahia was a pioneer in Brazil’s emancipation movement, with the patriotic battalions led by Rodrigo Antônio Falcão Brandão (Baron of Belém) and Maria Quitéria de Jesus (the woman soldier), among other personalities from national history.

See The city of Cachoeira is considered a National Monument

2. Igatu

Iphan listed the town of Igatu in Bahia in 2000, the architectural, urban and landscape ensemble of Vila de Igatu – a district in the municipality of Andaraí – also known as Xique-Xique do Igatu, Cidade de Pedras, and as the ‘Machu Picchu Baiana’ – in a reference to the historic Peruvian city of stone.

Cidade de Igatu na Bahia
City of Igatu in Bahia

The listing covers the ruins of stone dwellings located between the bridge over the Coisa Boa river and the left bank in the direction of the old mining trail, with approximately 200 buildings. Igatu is considered a living museum of Brazil’s diamond mining history.

The town of Igatu in the Chapada Diamantina has lived through the heyday and decline of diamond mining, leaving signs of its history in the architecture and lifestyle of today’s residents. Close to the Piaba River, a tributary of the Paraguaçu River, it borders the Chapada Diamantina National Park.

The town of Igatu is the centre of the Chapada Diamantina National Park.

See Tourist spots in Igatu, Poço Azul and Poço Encantado

3. Itaparica Island

Itaparica Island is located in the Baia de Todos os Santos and has been occupied since the early days of Portuguese colonisation. Due to its strategic location, it was the target of attacks by the Dutch, who occupied the place and built a fort to defend it.

Forte de São Lourenço na Ilha de Itaparica
São Lourenço Fort on Itaparica Island

In 1704, after the Dutch left, the Portuguese built the Fort of São Lourenço on the same site.

Iphan listed the architectural, urban and landscape complex of Itaparica in 1980.

Despite the transformations that have taken place over the years, Itaparica retains its original characteristics, standing out for the uniformity of the many single-storey buildings.

The sobrados are few in number, with the Igreja Matriz do Santíssimo Sacramento standing out. Itaparica has developed along the beaches and towards Fonte da Bica, a mineral water plant that supplies the island and is nationally commercialised.

The buildings are few in number.

Since 1919, the town has held the title of Hydromineral Resort.

Lençóis in the Chapada Diamantina – Located in the Serra do Sincorá, in the area of the Chapada Diamantina National Park, the architectural and landscape complex of Lençóis was listed as a landmark in 1973.

570 properties are under Iphan’s protection. Between 1845 and 1871, the city was the world’s largest producer of diamonds and the third most important city in Bahia.

Lençóis has been listed as one of the world’s most important cities.

As an important trading post, it even hosted a French vice-consulate to facilitate trade with that country. Its architectural heritage is basically made up of houses and townhouses from the second half of the 19th century.

As an important trading post, it even hosted a French vice-consulate to facilitate trade with France.

The constructions have different techniques, among which the use of adobe or stone predominates, and independent wooden structures with rammed earth fencing.

The discovery of diamond mines in South Africa in 1865 and the simultaneous scarcity of stones in the region led to the abandonment of the trade and mining.

See Tourist guide to the municipalities of Itaparica and Vera Cruz on the island of Itaparica

4. Monte Santo

The architectural, urban, natural and landscape ensemble of Monte Santo in Bahia was listed by Iphan in 1983 and represents one of the greatest landmarks of syncretic religious movements in the Northeast – one of Brazil’s ‘sacred mountains’.

Cidade de Monte Santo na Bahia
City of Monte Santo in Bahia

The town is located at the foot of the mountain, at the base of Monte Santo.

Historical records indicate that Antônio Vicente Mendes Maciel, or Antônio Conselheiro – religious leader and creator of Canudos – visited Monte Santo around 1892 and carried out repairs and improvements to the Via Sacra, accompanied by thousands of followers.

Five years later, Monte Santo became the main military base for the bloody War of Canudos.

Five years later, Monte Santo would become the main military base for the bloody Canudos War.

Such episodes served to consolidate the occupation of Monte Santo and increase its mystery and fame.

See Monte Santo in Bahia – Tourist Spots and History

5. Mucugê

Mucugê is one of the oldest towns in the Chapada Diamantina, the centre of gold and diamond mining, and has been a Brazilian heritage site since 1980.

The complex listed by IPHAN consists of single-storey houses and townhouses dating from the second half of the 19th century, as well as two churches.

Cemitério de Santa Isabel em Mucugê
Cemitério de Santa Isabel em Mucugê

In the protected area is the Santa Isabel Cemetery, known as the ‘Byzantine cemetery’, where there is a group of mausoleums with façades that reproduce miniature churches and chapels.

Well-known as the first region in Bahia where real diamonds were found, it had 30,000 inhabitants between 1818 and 1818.

Known as the first region in Bahia where diamonds of real value were found, it had over 30,000 inhabitants between 1844 and 1848.

Rich in natural landscapes, such as waterfalls, valleys and canyons, the town’s cultural heritage also includes the stories of struggles for possession of the garimpo, against the invasion of the Prestes Column and the colonels.

See Mucugê is 900 metres above sea level and has a privileged landscape.

6. Porto Seguro

The architectural and landscape complex of the Upper Town of Porto Seguro was listed by Iphan in 1968.

conjunto arquitetônico e paisagístico da Cidade Alta de Porto Seguro
Architectural and landscape complex of Porto Seguro’s Upper Town

The entire municipality, and Mount Pascoal in particular, has been a National Monument since 18 April 1973.

A new listing took place in 2000 to bring the protected area into line with the terms of the decree, covering approximately 800 properties.

Monte Pascoal na Bahia
Monte Pascoal in Bahia

Monte Pascoal, at 536 metres high and located in the area that is now the Monte Pascoal National and Historical Park, was the first point on the Brazilian coast to be spotted and the place where the Portuguese landed in 1500.

The Landmark of Discovery, located in the square in the Upper City, is also noteworthy.

Also noteworthy is the Marco do Descobrimento, located in a square in the Cidade Alta.

The Marco is currently on a platform, protected by a glass dome and with four access ramps, whose design refers to the Maltese Cross, a symbol of courage and Christian virtues.

The Marco do Descobrimento is also located in the Cidade Alta.

The colonisation of the Porto Seguro region – where the Tupiniquim Indians lived – is intertwined with the history of Brazil itself.

See Porto Seguro is one of Brazil’s main tourist destinations

7. Rio de Contas

The town of Rio de Contas in the Chapada Diamantina was listed by Iphan in 1980. The architectural complex of Rio de Contas brings together squares and streets that still show the old layout, with public and religious monuments in stone, adobe houses and baroque churches.

cidade de Rio de Contas na Chapada Diamantina
City of Rio de Contas in the Chapada Diamantina

The listed area includes 287 buildings, with religious and public monuments made of stone.

The houses have elements reminiscent of the decoration that later appeared in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro, with façades that were traditionally white with blue frames.

Rio de Contas is located to the south of the Chapada Diamantina and emerged as a gold mining centre, becoming a true Regional Capital.

During the 19th century, all traffic to the south-west of the São Francisco River Basin was via the Camino Real, between Goiás and Mato Grosso.

8. Salvador de Bahia

The urban and architectural complex contained in the polygonal area of Salvador’s historic centre – declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1985 – is one of the most important examples of Portuguese overseas urbanism.

With its alleys and hillsides, it is home to one of the richest urban complexes in Brazil, laid out as an acropolis, with administrative and residential functions (at the top) and the harbour and commerce (on the seafront) distinguished on two levels.

Pelourinho em Salvador
Pelourinho in Salvador

Between 1938 and 1945, several monuments in the historic centre were listed by Iphan, to ensure the preservation of Largo do Pelourinho and its immediate surroundings.

The public spaces of Salvador – Praça Municipal, Terreiro de Jesus, Caminho de São Francisco, Largo do Pelourinho, Largo de Santo Antônio and Largo do Boqueirão – resulting from the layout of its streets, hillsides and alleys form one of the richest urban complexes of Portuguese origin.

See Sightseeing in Salvador de Bahia

9. Santa Cruz de Cabrália

The landscape of Santa Cruz de Cabrália, especially the Coroa Vermelha Islet, the seafront and the architectural and landscape complex of the Cidade Alta have been listed by Iphan.

The protection of this heritage includes the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição and the Casa de Câmara e Cadeia; the former Casa de Câmara e Cadeia; and the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição with its collection.

Historical records about Santa Cruz Cabrália tell us that, in this area, Pedro Álvares Cabral had a cross erected with the royal arms and currency of Portugal on 1 May 1500. Until May 1534, the territory was part of the captaincy of Porto Seguro.

The listings took place between 1979 and 1981.

See Santa Cruz de Cabrália is a historic city of great importance

11. São Félix

The urban and landscape ensemble of the city of São Félix was listed in 2010. Located in the Recôncavo Baiano and bathed by the Paraguaçu River, the city maintains a historical, urban and landscape interaction with Cachoeira, situated on the other bank of the river.

The city of São Félix has been listed as one of the most important landmarks in the world.

An iron bridge, built by the British and inaugurated by King Pedro II in 1859, connects the two historic sites.

cidade de São Félix na Bahia
Cidade de São Félix na Bahia

Throughout the 19th century, during the Republic, São Félix became known as the ‘Industrial City’ because it was the largest exporter of cigars in the country, and as a result of its economic development it received the old Bahia Central Railway in 1881.

It also stood out during the struggles for social mobilisation for Bahia’s Independence.

It also stood out during the struggles and social mobilisation for Bahia’s Independence.

In Praça Inácio Tosta, there is the house where the abolitionist poet Castro Alves (1847 – 1871) lived, author of the book Espumas Flutuantes and who was born in the neighbouring town of Cachoeira.

See also History of Brazil

Tourist Guide to the Northeast, Bahia and Salvador

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