Perched strategically on a verdant bluff overlooking the ocean, the handful of colonial buildings that compose Porto Seguro ’s Centro Histórico mark the beginning of Brazil ’s official history. A five-minute walk from the rodoviária or a fast but steep climb up a staircase from the main traffic circle at the end of Avenida 22 de Abril is all it takes to rewind time a few centuries. A couple of hours can be easily spent—with or without the guidance of the eager (and expensive) local guides—wandering among the pastel-painted houses and gleaming churches.
Arrive early in the morning when the light is golden (and before the tourist groups come) and you’ll be thankful to have this remarkable ensemble all to yourself. Begin at the foot of Brazil’s oldest monument, the Marco da Posse. Brought over from Portugal in 1503, this marble column, worshipfully encased in glass, is tattooed with the insignia of the Portuguese crown and the cross of the Order of Christ.
In the lovely Praça Pero de Campos Tourinho is the simple Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Penha (tel. 73/3288-6363, 9 a.m.–noon and 2–5 p.m. daily). Dating back to 1535, it boasts an impressive icon of São Francisco de Assis. In the same green square is the Casa de Câmara e Cadeia, the former town hall and Brazil’s first public jail. Today, its polished interior houses the small Museu de Porto Seguro (tel. 73/3288-5182, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, R$3), with a collection of maps and indigenous artifacts.
Nearby, in the Praça da Misericórdia, stands the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Misericórdia. Built in 1526, it is the oldest church in Brazil , Among the treasures inside its modest Museu de Arte Sacra (tel. 73/3288-0828, 9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 2:30–5 p.m. Sat.–Thurs.) are a ruby-encrusted statue of Senhor dos Passos and a life-sized Christ on the crucifix, both dating from the late 16th century. More understated is the tiny whitewashed Igreja São Benedito (1549), which now lies in atmospheric ruins.