You Can Do This: Salvador’s Mercado Modelo

Every year at this time, savvy stateside sun lovers pack up and head for Salvador, Bahia.

Salvador, Bahia is renowned as the nexus of Brazilian culture and for its close connections to Mother Africa. Truth is, there is nowhere else in the Americas where the purest traditions of Africa are woven into the fabric of daily life.

April is ‘Discovery Month’ here at Connectbrazil.com, in honor of the date April 22, 1500 when Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvarez Cabral landed at Porto Seguro, 250 miles south of Salvador.  We’ll put this month to good use with plenty of tips, facts and fun as we get to know a little more about Brazil.

Let’s begin with one of Salvador’s favorite spots.

The Mercado Modelo is a not-to-be-missed market for Brazilian art, crafts and handmade goods and one of Salvador’s Bahia’s best-known landmarks. You’ll find the market building set on its own by the old harbor, across the road from the foot of Elevador Lacerda, which connects the old and new parts of the city of Salvador.

Built in 1861, the building was originally used as the customs house for shipments coming into port. In 1971 the building was converted into the present-day Mercado and in 1984 quickly rebuilt after the fire. The Mercado Modelo functions again as a center of Bahian craftwork with more than 250 stalls and vendors. Here you’ll find capoeira trousers, Bahian traditional clothing, lacework, jewelry, wood carving, trinkets, musical instruments and CDs, souvenirs and much more.

Prices here are about the same as in the Pelourinho district but be prepared to bargain for the best possible price – if you don’t, you’ll overpay dearly for those must-have souvenirs.

This is true especially for jewelry and handicrafts. Some of the nicest souvenirs are the painted statues of candomblé deities – look for the sign “antigos religiosos” – but be careful here: they may seem like souvenirs to you but many believe in the mystical powers of the gods they represent. We recommend Iemanja, the goddess of the sea as a safe place to start. And by all means stay away for Exú, the trickster. In the square in front of the market you’ll find more arts and crafts stalls with a host of hippie-style items and occasional capoeira demonstrations and live music.

Even if you don’t buy anything, Mercado is a very enjoyable place to visit. There is always something going on in and around the market and it’s always crowded with Bahians and tourists. That said, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what’s going on around you: the Mercado is favorite of pick-pockets, too.

In the back is the covered patio area, where you can relax and have lunch or a cold drink. You find ATM machines and an information office to the left of the front entrance, and upstairs there are a couple of good restaurants. Salvador’s Mercado Model is open Mon-Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 9am-2pm.