Ilheus, Brazil (2019)
We spent February 27 in Ilheus, a city of about 225,000 with many beaches lining beautiful blue waters. The city was founded in 1534. In the early 20th century this area was known as the Cocoa Coast & Ilheus was one of the wealthiest cities in Brazil. But the area’s cocoa plantations were devastated by a parasite in 1989 and today tourism is their economic mainstay. Many Brazilians in the area come here for the beaches. But cocoa is still grown here in less abundance than before and a lot of chocolate is sold by tourism vendors in town.
No one who has read this blog will be surprised that we did not go to the beach for the day. Instead, never having been here before, we boarded the HAL shuttle that took us into the city and dropped us off in front of the Catedral Sao Sebastiao (Cathedral of St Sebastian), seat of the Roman Catholic diocese that was begun in 1931 and dedicated in 1967. An imposing edifice with four pointed towers and two domes, it could be seen from the ship as well as around the downtown area.
In front of the cathedral was a guy wearing an outsize straw sombrero; we aren’t sure what he was selling, if anything, but it was pretty amusing. We walked up the street to the house of Jorge Amado, built in 1926, now a museum. Amado was Brazil’s top novelist, publishing 21 of them that were translated into 49 languages. Several became popular films, notably Dona FLor and her Two Husbands and Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. The latter is set in Ilheus, where one of the principal characters owns the Bar Vesuvio (Vesuvius Bar), built in the 1920’s, which we passed on the way to Amado’s house. Amado died in 2001.
The Ilheus Municipal Theater was built in 1932 and was a venue for a variety of performances, musical as well as theatrical. It was once called the “Cine Teatro Ilheus,” which suggests that movies were also shown here. Inside the entrance is an interesting mural and we were able to go up the stairs to see the performance space.
The Palacio Paranagua was opened in 1907 to serve as the city hall, which it still does. It is the leading example of the opulent architecture of the days of the Cocoa barons. The building was built on the site of the ruins of a Jesuit school, but when the town was originally founded this hill was used by the indigenous people as a cemetery. We were able to go inside but there wasn’t much to see. The windows on the upper floor, however, gave a nice view of the city looking back along the way we had come, all the way to the cathedral.
We walked on, passing among other things a long stone wall covered in wall art & a telephone pole with a bewildering tangle of wire. It took a while to find it, but we were finally able to visit the Igreja Matriz de Sao Jorge dos Ilheus. This small church is one of the oldest buildings in the city, built either in the 16th or 17th century, depending on your source. When we visited there was no going inside as it appeared that the entire interior of the church was being completely renovated. Piles of sand and rock were outside and the inside was filled with construction wood.
Our next objective was, as usual, the public library. The building was completed in 1915 and originally served as a school. The school’s log is built into the top of the building over the main entrance. In 2002 it was converted into a library and archive. We have read that it also briefly housed the municipal government while the Palacio Paranagua was being renovated. It is a nice building and we went inside where there was a two story courtyard, but we didn’t get to see where they keep the books.
After this we walked back into town toward the shuttle bus stop by the cathedral. On the way we stopped at the Mercado de Artesanato (Artisan Market), but we were disappointed at the high prices and lack of anything we really wanted. At an intersection on the way we saw a neighborhood of colorful houses on the side of a hill and there were several mosaic sidewalks. We also repassed several things we had seen earlier. As we waited for the shuttle we saw the wide and inviting beach nearby and some flowers and a colorful bird. Finally, as we walked to the ship we passed some bushes with striking pink flowers. That was the end for this small city, pleasant enough to stroll around but nothing really show stopping to see.