The Pelourinho district is now an attractive and much visited area, but it wasn’t always this way. In the early 1990s the area was virtually derelict, with many of the colonial buildings falling to pieces and tourism in decline. The neighborhood’s makeover is thanks to Bahia’s most famous – and controversial – politician, Antônio Carlos Magalhães. Widely disliked elsewhere in Brazil as an unreconstructed representative of the country’s landed elite, the silver-haired ACM (as he’s known) is popular in Bahia because of his tireless campaigns on behalf of his home state; you’ll see his picture hanging up in many of the city’s bars. Pelourinho’s revival, which he undertook as state governor, was certainly impressive. Some of the most important colonial architecture has been restored to its original glory, the pastel pinks and blues creating a wonderfully gaudy effect. Critics point out many local residents had to be moved out and complain the area has become dominated by tourism. There is some truth to this, but you’ll still see plenty of locals enjoying themselves alongside the tourists, and the economy is clearly thriving; on the whole, it’s hard to argue that Pelourinho was better off as a decaying shadow of its former self. Furthermore, you only have to wander fifty metres off the beaten Pelhourinho path to find yourself in dark and sometimes dodgy backstreets.

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