Sao Felix Baiano - Reconcavo

History

The oldest artifacts of Amerindian (American Indian) culture in the coastal region of Bahia are fragments of ceramics that have been dated to the 9th century BC. Between one to three million Amerindians (estimated), mainly of the predominant Tupinamba group, lived in the coastal region of the province at the time it was discovered by the Portuguese. In April 1500, Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral landed at what is now the seaside resort of Porto Seguro, Bahia. Cabral is considered the official discoverer of the region.

On November 1, (All Saints’ Day) 1501, Amerigo Vespucci discovered the gateway to the Recôncavo region in the Bay of Bahia, where the modern city of Salvador now stands. This is the origin of the name Bahia de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints). Vespucci is also credited for discovery of the Recôncavo hinterland.

Salvador was the first capital of the colony of Brazil as of 1549. The country was divided into 15 capitanias (royal fiefdoms). Salvador grew rapidly, and within half a century became the largest city south of the Equator, with approximately 25,000 inhabitants. The fertile Recôncavo region was the first tract of land to be intensively settled and farmed in Brazil.

Pau Brazil (redwood) and sugarcane products were the first important exports. In 1700 gold and diamonds were discovered in what today is the province of Minas Gerais. This shifted economic and political power from Bahia to the south, and in 1763 Rio de Janeiro became the new colonial capital.

Over the decades, Bahia lost influence, but retained a certain special status as the “real Brazil.” As the most important trading port, Salvador and the Recôncavo were involved in the triangular trade between Europe, West Africa and Brazil.

Besides sugarcane, important agricultural exports included tobacco and cocoa. In what is now Bahia’s nature reserve, the Chapada Diamantina, great quantities of gold and diamonds were discovered in the mid-19th century.

To this day, tobacco and cocoa remain key agricultural products of the province. In the second half of the 20th century, a large petro-chemical industrial zone developed to the north of Salvador. Fruit farming is also important. In recent years, irrigation projects have enabled the creation of extensive agricultural estates, where grapes are also cultivated, to the west of Bahia on the Rio São Francisco.

The tourist industry is a really important economic factor. To the north of Salvador, large hotel complexes have been built on the coast as far as Sergipe. To the south, Porto Seguro has long since been developed for tourism. Brazil's current government highly promotes the Recôncavo region around the Bay of Bahia as a tourist attraction.

In Bahia, particularly in Salvador and the Recôncavo, almost 80 percent of the inhabitants are dark-skinned. Bahia has a distinct cultural heritage, and the area has provided and continues to provide important stimuli for social and cultural developments. Salvador is considered Brazil’s “cultural capital.”