Salvador da Baía de Todos os Santos (Salvador at the Bay of All the Saints), known as Salvador, is the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. With a population of about 2.5 million, it is Brazil's third largest city.
The Europeans first encountered the Bay of All Saints in 1502, but the city of Salvador was not founded until 1549. It soon became the first capital of colonial Brazil and a major seaport. Initially, the economy was dominated by escambo (exchange of goods); the most valuable good was Brazil wood, from which red dye was extracted. In the 1530s, however, sugarcane was introduced into Brazil, and the Portuguese eventually introduced African slaves into the colony to labor on the sugar plantations. Salvador remained the capital of Brazil until 1763. Although its power as an economic center gradually declined, it remained an important regional cultural center.
About 80 percent of the population of Salvador is of African ancestry. This population has made significant contributions to the city's rich culture. Nevertheless, as Marle de Oliveira Macedo has written, "they have no political power and make up the bulk of the illiterate, unemployed, and underemployed, earning the lowest wages. Just 4 percent go to college. They are the masses huddled in shantytowns and jails, engaging in invisible (yet socially essential) jobs—seasonal, occasional, and part-time employment, and particularly occupations associated with the season of festivals and celebrations in the city. They also constitute the great majority of children who live in the streets. This sheds light on the enormity of the process of social exclusion experienced by the poor and black-mulatto population of Salvador. On the other hand, this population is a paradigmatic factor in Brazilian and Bahian identity. It permeates society with its culture, becoming an indispensable part of what it is to be Brazilian. The recognition of this social, political, and cultural context is vital to gaining an in-depth understanding of Brazil and, within it, of Bahia and Salvador" (Marle de Oliveira Macedo, "The Quiet in the Land and Projeto Axé: Art as Multiplicity and Tolerance, in France Morin and John Alan Farmer, eds., The Quiet in the Land: Everyday Life, Contemporary Art, and Projeto Axé/A quietude da terra: Vida cotidiana, arte contemporânea e Projeto Axé (Salvador: Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia, 2000), p. 49.