Brazil: Salvador’s Dizzying Bazaar of Senses

     Brazil: Salvador's Dizzying 
Bazaar of Senses

    In spite of its humble
    beginnings, the Saint Joachim Market has
    emerged as the largest open-air marketplace in Salvador, Brazil,
    and one of the largest in all of Latin America. Salvador’s City Council
    is considering honoring the place as a historical landmark due
    to the important role it has played and continues to play.
    by: Guido
    Groeschel and José Martins

    We are in the lower section (Cidade Baixa) of the city of Salvador
    in Bahia. In the distance and rising above us on our right is the imposing
    Elevador Lacerda (Lacerda Elevator), a 279-foot tall funicular that links
    the Upper and Lower Cities, transporting some 50,000 people daily. On our
    left are the blue waters of the Bay of All Saints (Baía de Todos
    os Santos), glittering in the bright morning sun.

    As we continue down the
    street beyond the Ferry Boat Terminal we run into a beehive of activity. There,
    amidst an assortment of snack bars (lanchonetes) the stalls of market
    vendors stretch ahead as far as the eye can see.

    The stalls closest to
    us are filled with the earthy tones of handmade ceramics: a multitude of urns
    basking in the light, bowls stacked precariously, and wind chimes swaying
    in the breezy humidity.

    In front of us flows a
    river of humanity. Buyers and sellers. Porters, their shirtless male torsos
    glistening underneath heavy loads borne on shoulders broad. More tones—the
    faces are a spectrum from ebony to ivory and many of the infinite points in
    between. They come and go, disappearing in the throng ahead. Noise—voices
    merge, reaching a crescendo, then dipping, then rising to crescendo again.

    Beyond—more people,
    more colors, and a mixture of aromas call out to the visitor. We are at the
    threshold of a universe unto itself. Smells and tastes. Colors and shapes.
    Souls and stories. We are at the Saint Joachim Market (Feira de
    São Joaquim). And it beckons us to enter.

    Some History

    According to Catholic
    tradition Saint Joachim (São Joaquim) played several roles in
    the life of Christ: he was the husband of Saint Anne, the father of the Virgin
    Mary, and the grandfather of Jesus. The figure of Saint Joachim gained form
    out of a tenuous historical origin. The Bible does not mention Joachim, and
    the earliest reference to him can be traced to the so-called Infancy Gospel
    of James, dated the 2nd century A.D.

    In spite of his dubious
    bibliography, Joachim has assumed a place in the pantheon of Catholic saints,
    and in secular art he is often depicted leading the Blessed Mary as a child.

    The Saint Joachim Market,
    similar to its namesake, was constructed on a weak foundation. In spite of
    its humble beginnings, the Saint Joachim Market has emerged as the largest
    open-air marketplace in Salvador, Brazil, and one of the largest in all of
    Latin America.

    Also, just as the Catholic
    Church has recognized Saint Joachim with a feast day celebrated every July
    26, the Salvador’s City Council is considering honoring the Saint Joachim
    Market as a historical landmark due to the important role it has played, and
    continues to play, in the lives of so many residents of the city.

    The market has not always
    been known by the name Saint Joachim. In fact, it has changed names and even
    locations more than once during its history which spans the better part of
    a century.

    The market emerged in
    the 1920s. Originally it was dubbed A Feira do Sete, or the Dock Seven
    Market, because of its location next to Warehouse Seven at the docks in Salvador’s
    Cidade Baixa.

    In these early years the
    market was supplied in large part by saveiros, a classic form of Bahian
    sailboat on the edge of extinction. These graceful vessels with their massive
    single sails once proudly transported to the city market merchandise from
    the fertile Recôncavo region of Bahia.

    In 1958, the Dock Seven
    Market overcame political resistance from the city government in Salvador
    and was established as a permanent market. Later the market moved to another
    area close by and acquired a new name, A Feira de Água de Meninos.

    In 1964, a fire devastated
    the marketplace. The city responded by relocating the market to nearby São
    Joaquim, an enclave of the city that runs along the waters of All Saints
    Bay. So in a fitting symbolic twist, the market rose from the ashes and was
    re-born, taking the name Saint Joachim from the church that is close by. And
    rise like the phoenix the Saint Joachim Market did.

    Shopping City

    The numbers speak for
    themselves. Today, the Saint Joachim Market stretches over several city blocks,
    with one of the blocks alone containing 22 streets. In total, the market covers
    nearly 9 acres. Some 7,500 people work in the Saint Joachim Market. Many sell
    their wears from one of the 3,500 vendor stands and storefronts.

    Others transport goods
    accounting for the 640 handcarts that circulate around the market grounds.
    Perhaps most impressive is the estimated 40,000 people who visit the Saint
    Joachim Market daily. The growth of the market has not occurred in isolation
    from the rest of the world. Indeed, the mark of globalization is easy to see
    from Chinese electronics to drums imported from Africa.

    As we pass through the
    threshold of stalls laden with ceramics, we find ourselves in a labyrinth
    of alleys filled with stalls of varying shapes and sizes. Each of the food
    stalls presents its own plentiful offering destined to be transformed into
    one of a myriad of Bahian drinks or dishes.

    Rolling hills of aromatic
    oranges that end up as fresh-squeezed juice sold in street-side stands.

    Open sacks bulging with
    white manioc flower (farinha) traditionally sprinkled over rice and

    Bottles of bright-orange
    palm oil (dendê) used to fry the popular Bahian bean fritters

    Blocks of soft white cheese
    that beach vendors cut into small cubes and grill on spits.

    Cases of sugarcane liquor
    (cachaça) that finds its way into the lemon-flavored caipirinha

    Slabs of dried cod that
    end up rolled into small balls, sautéed, and eaten with a spray of

    Tabletops of fish and
    shrimp to fill moquecas and ensopados, savory Bahian stews.

    Bags brimming with spicy
    ground red pepper that provide the zest to so many Bahian dishes.

    Pink sunsets of large
    mangos to complement pineapple, melon, and papaya in succulent fruit salads.

    Jars of sparkling amber-colored
    molasses (rapadura) for candied sweets like the pé de moleque

    Together the rainbow of
    colors and the complex array of aromas can overwhelm the visitor, not unlike
    the barrage of saints and other symbols in a Catholic Cathedral can perplex
    the uninitiated.

    Even after this sensual
    barrage it is difficult to overlook the drums and interesting figurines that
    occupy other vendor stalls. These are just some of the wares of Candomblé
    and Umbanda, the two major religions of African origin in Brazil. In addition
    to supplying ingredients that end up in the plates and cups of many in the
    city of Salvador, the Saint Joachim Market also is an important outlet for
    the wide range of items used in religious celebration.

    Tomé de Sousa arrived
    in Bahia in 1549 to solidify a colonial foothold in the Americas for the Portuguese
    crown. This helped unleash a chain of events that gave birth to the rich culture
    that took shape around All Saints Bay. The Saint Joachim Market is a rich
    microcosm of that culture.

    Guido Groeschel first visited Brazil in 1990 and has lived in Bahia for
    two years. José Martins is a native of Brazil and longtime resident
    of Salvador. Together they lead guided tours of Bahia with Brazil Beleza——an
    owner-operated tour company specializing in intimate guided tours for discerning
    travelers who want more out of a trip to Brazil. You can reach Guido and
    José at

    © Guido
    Groeschel and Jose Martins 2004

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