Across the street from Elevador Lacerda, on the far side of Praça Visconde de Cairu, you can’t miss this canary yellow 19th-century building that used to be the customs house. In former times, newly arrived slaves were chained in its dank basement until they were auctioned off.
After being partially destroyed by arson in 1986, the building was transformed into the Mercado Modelo (Praça Visconde de Cairu 250, tel. 71/3241-2849, 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun.). This two-story bazaar sells every kind of Bahian handicraft and cliché under the sun.
Offerings range from twanging berimbaus (a one-string instrument attached to a gourd) and figas (good luck charms in the shape of a forearm and fist) to orixá refrigerator magnets. If you’re in the market for touristy trinkets and are willing to haggle for them, you’ve come to the right place.
Live music and capoeira demonstrations are held out back for the benefit of tourists. Although the performances are free, if you decide to take a few snapshots you’ll be hit up for a contribution.
Upstairs, the traditional restaurants serving typical Bahian food offer magnificent sea views but, like the market itself, have lost their original cachet.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition