The twin towns of CACHOEIRA and São Félix, two hours by bus from Salvador, are only a few kilometres apart across the Rio Paraguaçu, which an iron box-girder bridge (built by British engineers in 1885 and opened by Emperor Dom Pedro himself) spans. Cachoeira, one of the most beautiful colonial towns of Bahia, is easily the more impressive, its profusion of splendidly preserved buildings evidence of its importance in the eighteenth century. The rich sugar plantations of the Paraguaçu Valley supported a trading centre that rivalled Salvador in size and wealth until the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Cachoeira is known for its candomblé, with some terreiros still conducting rituals in African dialects nobody now speaks, recognizable as variants of West African and Angolan languages. One of the best-known candomblé events is Cachoeira’s fiesta of Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte, which always begins on the first Friday before August 15. It’s staged by a sisterhood, the Irmandade da Boa Morte, founded by freed women slaves in the mid-nineteenth century, partly as a religious group and partly to work for the emancipation of slaves by acting as an early cooperative bank to buy people their liberty. All the local candomblé groups turn out with drummers and singers, and although the name of the fiesta is Catholic it’s a celebration of candomblé, with centre stage held by the dignified matriarchs of the sisterhood. The other great day in the candomblé year is the Festa de Santa Barbara, on December 4 in São Félix, dedicated to the goddess Iansã. There are several other fiestas worth catching, like the São João celebrations, from June 22 to 24, while five saints’ days are crammed into the last three months of the year; check with Bahiatursa for exact dates.