Rua Gregório de Matos (and all other major Pelô streets) lead to this impressively sprawling triangular plaza. All the postcard images, guidebook photos, and travel blog shots of the Pelourinho  you’ve ever seen were taken here. When you first set foot in this historic largo, you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the baroque landscape of church spires and faded pastel mansions, as well as the Cubist-like image of houses rising up and down the Pelô’s steep hills.
Although its official name is Praça José de Alencar, it is known locally as Largo do Pelourinho due to its dubious past as the site of the pelourinho (whipping post). It was here that slaves were publicly flogged (a legal activity in Brazil  until 1835) as well as auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Flanked by museums, boutiques, restaurants, and the imposing cerulean blue facade of the famous church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, these days the steep cobblestoned square buzzes with less nefarious activities. By day, vendors try to hawk naïf canvases and coax gringos to put Afro-braids and cornrows in their hair. Meanwhile, nights are often filled with live music and people dancing with enviable poise on the irregular cobblestones.
Housed in an impressive colonial mansion, the Museu da Cidade (Largo do Pelourinho 3, tel. 71/3321-1967, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., closed Tues., R$1) offers an eclectic mix of things Soteropolitano. Depictions of Catholic saints and ex-votos mingle with sculptures of orixás and other objects related to Candomblé. Meanwhile, more secular offerings include works by local artists and artisans and a room devoted to Castro Alves, one of Brazil ’s great romantic poets and famously eloquent abolitionists.
Next door, the Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado (Largo do Pelourinho 49, tel. 71/3321-0122, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat., www.fundacaojorgeamado.com.br ) is a small museum/shrine devoted to the life, times, and writing of Jorge Amado, one of Bahia ’s (and Brazil’s) most cherished and internationally renowned writers and “figuras” (i.e., a truly memorable human being). It also functions as a center for literary events. With photos, book covers, and other media featuring the author of Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands and Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, the museum provides an overview of Amado’s life and career, also touching on that of his lifelong love and companion, Zélia Gattai (a highly renowned writer in her own right). A nice rest stop is the museum’s pleasant café (named after Gattai) with its great view of the largo.
Halfway down the steep Largo do Pelourinho is one of Bahia’s most famous and important churches, the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos (tel. 71/3326-9701, 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat.–Sun.). This strikingly blue-tinged landmark is a symbol of black pride and resistance. After the king of Portugal gave the site to the Irmandade dos Homens Pretos, a brotherhood of local black men, it took slaves most of the 18th century to construct this church. Built in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black People, it’s visually striking with its handsome rococo facade and tiled towers influenced by Indian architecture, a consequence of Portugal’s colony in Goa. Services here, in which Catholics hymns merge with traditional African percussion instruments—particularly during the Tuesday mass held at 6 p.m.—reflect Bahia’s unique religious syncretism.
At the bottom of the Largo do Pelourinho, lively bars with occupants spilling onto the street are neighbors to the Casa de Benin (Rua Baixa dos Sapateiros 7, Pelourinho, tel. 71/3241-5679, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., free). Located in a grand colonial building on the corner, it is worth stopping into for a look at its small collection of traditional artifacts from Benin. This West African country with whom Bahia  has maintained cultural ties was the origin of a great many of the slaves who were brought to work on the colonial sugarcane plantations.