When contemplating the city from the top of the Serra do Sincorá, it is difficult to imagine the strange temporary scenario that gave rise to its name.
In those early days, Lençóis was little more than a chaotic garimpeiro stronghold. It made millionaires the powerful and crushed the weak. Today, it only takes a few days to see that, from its past, almost only the positive aspects remain.
It was something that the Brazilian government, under pressure from the MCC – the Community Creativity Movement created by defenders in the region – ended up favoring. Industrial prospecting was prohibited.
In 1973, Lençóis da Bahia was promoted to National Heritage, a title only given to true Brazilian historical and natural treasures.
It's more than just what makes Lençóis so special. There are numerous beautiful cities around this outside world that do not exert their magnetism. There is something else. Anything that goes beyond the senses.
After some time, it becomes obvious that Lençóis and its 6400 inhabitants live a relationship of unconditional love and that, in turn, generate passion in Brazilian and foreign visitors.
These, linked to other cities and other people, when they are forced to leave, end up doing so in annoyance. Not all outsiders are satisfied with the farewell. From time to time, there appears another one who does not resist the promised happiness and ends up staying.
Dona Eulina, the owner of the inn where we stayed, was one of the winners. Born in Bahia, she moved to São Paulo as a child. There he spent most of his nearly 60 years.
For the last fifteen years, he found himself dreaming of a different place, surrounded by a unique atmosphere of affection and well-being, a phenomenon that describes us with renewed emotion: “On a short vacation, I decided to return to Bahia with my daughter.
By chance, we passed through Lençóis. Strolling along the sidewalks, I recognized the refuge of my dreams. After overcoming my own fears of moving, I rushed through the renovation, bought a house and opened the business I run now, with my husband Roberto. We never wanted to leave here again.”
From the Original Sheets to the Domain of Colonels
Despite the precarious conditions, life went smoothly for many of the village's founders.
The first diamond deposits, geological extension of the Namib desert deposits separated by the Atlantic with the drift of the continents, they were discovered in Chapada Velha, in 1822, by scouts looking for gold and slaves but did not disdain alternative ways of getting rich.
Twenty-two years later, someone called “Sinhô” Casusa do Prado found some precious stones with greater value. The region attracted thousands of fortune hunters, some already wealthy and opulent to whom wealth did not reach, others who only owned the clothes they wore.
Faced with a lack of housing and other infrastructure, the newcomers settled in makeshift tents. Seen from the surrounding hills, these tents looked like sheets spread in the wind. It was this outlandish vision that dictated the name of the future village.
At a glance, legends of incalculable treasures from the beds of rivers and streams in the region circulated throughout Brazil. Migration intensified. Years later, the miners' camps had already given way to several villages: Vila Velha de Palmeiras, Andaraí, Piatã, Igatu.
And the most desirable of all, Lençóis da Bahia.
The End of Fine Diamonds, and the Export of Raw Gemstones
At the height of the diamond cycle, Lençóis became the world's largest supplier of all types of diamonds. Little by little, rough yolks began to predominate. They were only useful for industrial purposes.
Thanks to their drilling power, they proved to be perfect for mega-construction projects carried out by the French at the time.
It was the cases of Panama Canal, Saint Gothard Tunnel and London Underground.
The systematic purchase of these less precious stones in large quantities proved sufficient reason for the Paris government to install a vice-consulate in Lençóis. As expected, from architecture to etiquette, Lençóis and its merchants became French.
At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, Lençóis and the surrounding cities had seen much of their economic potential fade away. The French left.
The main testimony of its presence is, even today, the exquisite cream building of the vice-consulate, where diamonds were traded with European representatives.
After the French era, with the ever more real freedom of slaves and the loss of the enormous sums obtained from the sale of diamonds, Lençóis adapted to a new way of life.
The War Era of Horácio de Mattos and Coronéis Rivals
Starting in 1920, the city had regressed in such a way that it became a decadent domain, disputed by colonels and their jagunços. The most famous of all, the fearless Horácio de Mattos stood out from the rest by resorting to force and irreverence.
He even led the Brazilian government of Epitácio Pessoa to sign a pacification agreement with him. As we will see later, in the region, as well as throughout the Sertão, a colonel who was the leader of a jagunceiro army, as long as he was victorious, could be a hero. This, even the main square of the city is named after him.
Despite the economic decline brought about by the XNUMXth century and the social upheaval, in its decay phase, Lençóis had already consolidated itself as an impressive architectural unit.
The town's houses developed largely due to the need to show off its new millionaire aristocracy. It is clear that, as much as they could, the poorest population insisted on following suit.
Horácio de Mattos square is the ex-libris of the inherited colonial houses. All around its almost rectangle, the two-story buildings are elegant and colorful. Many of them boast ornate facades and pointed windows and doors. Distributed throughout the buildings, there are Parisian lamps in gray tones that add even more refinement to the set.
At night, they ensure soft but warm lighting.
After the Heat, the Lençóis Party
In the afternoon, the squares and streets of Lençóis, buffeted by the tropical sun, remain almost deserted. At the end of the day, tourists and the entourage that guide and accompany them return from activities in the Chapada Diamantina.
At that time, the Lençoienses also left their homes. The city comes alive. Two of the favorite places for dinner and socializing are the square that appears in the middle of Rua das Pedras and Avenida Senhor dos Passos.
There, the small restaurants and improvised stands serve Bahian specialties such as “acarajé” pastry accompanied by cold “chopes”, caipirinhas or natural juices.
The local band often gathers to rehearse and flood the city with the bass and treble tones of the most genuine Brazilian compositions.
Nightlife and the Nightlife
For a long time the famous Rua das Pedras housed “brega”, the prostitution that always accompanied the new prospectors. It is now, alongside the esplanades of Horácio de Mattos square, responsible for a less controversial nightlife.
It houses the famous Club 7, better known as Inferninho, a “disco-bar” in the local fashion, which shows “techno” versions of country themes and serves numerous types of cachaça. This combination, together with the unquestionable good mood of the regular customers, transformed the “disco” into a place of worship for the city's younger visitors.
From two or three in the morning, believe it or not, the only dancing alternative to Inferninho is called Veneno Café bar. Not everything is so profane or sounds toxic around here.
Religion continues to have enormous importance in Lençóis. As we could see, despite the influence of African rites and rituals (as in Jarê, the regional variation of Candomblé), holy days are still celebrated in the old Portuguese way.
We wander through the city when we are surprised by the sound of distant chants accompanied by the explosion of rockets. Looking back, we see that a huge procession leaves Horácio de Mattos square and enters Avenida 7 de Setembro, towards the bandstand.
With the diffuse silhouette of the houses as a background and the light of hundreds of torches tearing through the twilight, the scene proves to be worthy of a film set in the Middle Ages and with excellent photography.
After going around the bandstand, the procession heads to its last stop, Igreja do Rosário. There, he is joined by another crowd of believers who sing liturgical themes.
We are allowed to go up to the choir balcony. From the top, we watch the ceremony in panoramic format. Its show of devotion reinforces the impression that, after the diamond fever, Lençóis is now, above all, a welcoming, believing and spiritual retreat.
Ribeirão do Meio and the Last Rape of Garimpo
Among the various water courses that the Sincorá mountain range refreshes Lençóis, the three main ones, the Ribeirões do Meio, de Cima and de Baixo delight the people and amaze outsiders.
Mainly on weekends, in the early morning, excursion groups loaded with lunches arrive at Ribeirão do Meio. From the city exit to the river, it is about 45 minutes of relaxed walking.
The winding path, almost always shady, furrows the slope of the mountain range. Towards the end, it reveals a wide valley that juts out from the craggy top of the mountain.
It is at the apex of this valley, several rocky platforms below, that the stream spreads out. One of these platforms gives way to a ramp that the water filled with iron oxide (but clean) and therefore reddish – continues to polish.
It was in Ribeirão do Meio that the most unusual extreme sport in the region was developed, the artistic “slide”.
As soon as they reach the small river dam, its practitioners climb the rocky slope of the river. Once at the top, they combine the following choreography. Therefore, they let themselves slide at great speed until they enter the water.
And if first-time tourists are content to walk away unscathed from a tail descent, the natives have achieved surprising levels of performance. Your limit is now your imagination.
Sitting or standing, upside down or up, alone or in a group, everything goes to stand out and impress the girls from Ribeirão.
Meanwhile, in the valley above, the ultimate diamond fever resisters continue to try their luck. Some time ago, they still used destructive water pumps that, among other harms, accelerated the erosion of river beds.
Decades ago, experts came to the conclusion that extracting the remaining diamonds in Chapada was too expensive. This contributed to the fact that, in 1995, the federal government prohibited industrial prospecting, and authorized only the use of traditional means.
Behind the decision was also the fact that Lençóis, much more than its neighbors Andaraí, Palmeiras and Igatu, is the base for the tourist exploration of the Chapada Diamantina.
After a transitional phase in which the economy of Lençóis was based on the production of coffee and cassava, the welcoming of visitors now guarantees the livelihood of a large part of the population.