The name of the state derives from the earlier captaincy of Bahia de Todos os Santos, named for Bay of All Saints (Baía de Todos os Santos in modern Portuguese), a major feature of its coastline. The bay itself was named by the explorer Amerigo Vespucci during his second voyage, when he found it on All Saints' Day (1 November), 1502. He named it after his parish church in Florence, San Salvatore di Ognissanti ("Holy Savior of All the Saints"). Over time, the bay became distinguished as the Bay of All Saints, the state as Bahia ("Bay"), and its capital first as Bahia and then finally as Salvador.
Bahia is bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, with its Bay of All Saints the largest in Brazil. Under the Brazilian Empire, it was bound on the north by the Rio Real and by the Jequitinhonha on the south, but Bahia now comprises an irregular shape bound by other states of Brazil, some of which were formed from it. In the north, it is now bordered (from east to west) by Sergipe, Alagoas, Pernambuco and Piauí. In the northwest, it is bordered by Tocantins. In the southwest, it borders Goiás, and in the south it is bordered (from east to west) by Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais.
The state is crossed from west to east by many rivers, but the most important is the São Francisco, which starts in Minas Gerais and runs through western Bahia before emptying into the Atlantic between Sergipe and Alagoas. Formerly plied by paddlewheel steamers, the river is only navigable to small modern craft but is still vital to the arid west since it continuously supplies water during seasons when many other smaller rivers dry out. The Sobradinho Dam created one of the largest reservoirs in the world; other major hydroelectric projects along its length include the Paulo Afonso Hydroelectric Complex and the Itaparica or Luiz Gonzaga Dam.
Bahia's geographical regions comprise the Atlantic Forest; the maritime region (Recôncavo) radiating from the Bay of All Saints, the site of sugar and tobacco cultivation; and the Planalto, which includes the sertão region of Bahia's far interior. The state is crossed from north to south by the Diamantina Tableland (Chapada Diamantina), which divides it into two distinct geographical zones. To the east, the soil is fertile and the rain falls regularly. The western area is more arid and its predominate vegetation the cerrado. The natural aridity was greatly worsened over the 19th century by the cowboys' habit of starting wildfires each year to improve the quality of the grass. The Chapada Diamantina National Park is home to picturesque chapadões, plateaus with steep edges which are visited for their natural beauty, but for the most part the tough conditions of the interior cause it to be much less developed than the coast.
The Coconut Coast, in the north of Bahia, corresponds to a total of 193 km (120 mi) of coastline, where coconut groves, dunes, rivers, swamps and fresh water lagoons are abundant as well as the presence of the Atlantic Rain Forest. The Green Road, a road that connects Mangue Seco in the far north to Praia do Forte, crosses this beautiful region maintaining a critical distance from the areas of environmental preservation. For this reason, the route is sometimes more than 10 km (6.2 mi) from the beach. At Praia do Forte, the road meets the Coconut Road (Estrada do Côco) leading to Salvador, passing through spots, which are now integrated in the urban development of the state capital. In this region is located Deputado Luís Eduardo Magalhães International Airport.
The largest bay on the Brazilian coast, the Bay of All Saints (Bahia de Todos os Santos) has a large number of islands with tropical beaches and vegetation. In its 1,052 square km, it contains 56 islands, receives fresh water from numerous rivers and creeks (especially the Paraguaçú and Subaé) and bathes the first capital of Brazil and the largest in the Northeast, Salvador, and more than ten municipalities. It is the largest navigable bay in Brazil and one of the most favorite spots for nautical sports, due to its regular breezes, medium annual temperature of 26 °C (79 °F) and sheltered waters. The bay offers various leisure options, with hundreds of vessels of all different types, especially saveiros, schooners, motor boats, jet ski that criss-cross its crystalline waters on maritime excursions to the islands, and boat races. Major popular events and sport activities occur throughout the year, beginning on 1 January, with the Procession of Bom Jesus dos Navegantes greeting the New Year.
All Saints' has also been traditionally the venue for rowing contests at the Enseada dos Tainheiros, in Salvador and now the bay is included in the routes of the great international regattas, such as the Ralley Les Iles du Soleil, regatta Hong Kong Challenge and the Expo 98 Round the World Rally, which consider the bay an important stop along the route. The islands of the bay are a separate attraction. Some are privately owned, others were declared a state heritage and transformed into Environmental Protection Areas or ecological stations. Other islands are the patrimony of 12 municipalities located around the bay. Only a few are uninhabited and many have small communities where the natives live on fishing and tourism. All have common characteristics, such a calm sea, dense vegetation, especially coconuts and bananas, as well as vestiges of the Atlantic Forest. Of the 56 islands, the most important are Itaparica, Madre de Deus, Maré, Frades, Medo, Bom Jesus dos Passos.
The Dendê Coast, south of Salvador, is surrounded by verdant vegetation, clear waters, islands, bays, coral reefs and a very diversified fauna. It is connected to Salvador and the southern part of the state by ferryboats and the BA-001 highway, the second ecological highway along the Bahian coast, which connects the southern coastline and the extreme southern part of the state. It includes the municipalities of Valença, Cairu and the International attractions of Morro de São Paulo, Camamu, Taperoá, Igrapiúna, Ituberá and Maraú. The mouth of the Rio Una, in the form of a delta, contains 26 islands, the largest of which is Ilha de Tinharé, where the Morro de São Paulo is located. At Boipeba and Cairú, which are part of the archipelago of Tinharé, the diversity of the ecosystems enables visitors to practice water sports, walk along the beach, follow trails in the rainforest and bathe on completely deserted beaches such as Garapuá.
Along the southern coast of Bahia, the Cacao Coast preserves ecological sanctuaries with dozens of kilometers of beaches shaded by dense coconut groves, the Atlantic Forest, large areas of wetland vegetation and cacao plantations, the great allies in the struggle to defend the preservation of the Atlantic Forest. Walking along paths in the forest or along the beaches, horseback riding along the coast, boat trips up the vast number of rivers are some of the options that the region offers. Here one can find Environmental Protection Areas at Itacaré/Serra Grande and the Lagoa Encantada in Ilhéus, the Biological Reserve of Una and the Ecological Reserve of Prainha at Itacaré. From the Morro de Pernambuco to Canavieiras, there are 110 km (68 mi) of beaches, some of them highly popular, and other deserted, with clear water, reefs, inlets, coconut grove and an infinite number of estuaries of rivers which extend throughout the Cacao Coast. Highway BA-001 links the municipalities, nearly always bordering the coastline. The most important locations at Cacao Coast are: Itacaré, Ilhéus, and Olivença.
The Discovery Coast preserves, virtually intact, the landscape seen by the Portuguese fleet described in the first pages of the history of Brazil. There are approximately 150 km (93 mi) of beaches, inlets, bays, cliffs, numerous rivers and streams surrounded by the verdant coconut groves, wetlands and the Atlantic Forest. Over land and sea the excursions are always associated with nature, and there are various types of water sports, walks, trips on horseback, surfing and deep sea diving. Recife de Fora, Coroa Alta and Trancoso for one day schooner excursions. BA-001 and two ferryboat systems over the Rio João de Tiba and Rio Buranhém connect the municipalities with the coast. Trips from Barra do Cai, passing through the Parque Nacional do Monte Pascoal, Caraíva, Trancoso, Arraial d'Ajuda, the environmental protection areas of Santo Antônio and Coroa Vermelha, to the mouth of the Rio João de Tiba as far as the Rio Jequitinhonha are among the various ecological trips for visitors.
The Abrolhos archipelago in the extreme southern part of Bahia is an ecotourism attraction for diving and whale watching. Whales are frequent between July and November. This region contains one of the largest concentrations of fish, in terms of volume and variety, per square meter on the planet. There are 17 species of corals. The Whale Coast includes the municipalities of Alcobaça, Caravelas, Nova Viçosa and Mucuri and its main attraction is the Abrolhos Marine National Park.
The geographical center of Bahia is the Diamantina Tableland (Chapada Diamantina) region. In this mountainous region with a diversified topography, 90% of the rivers of the Paraguaçu, Jacuípe, and Rio das Contas basins have their source here. There are thousands of kilometers of clear waters that spring from these mountains and descend in cascades and waterfalls to plateaus and plains, forming beautiful natural pools. The vegetation mixes cactus species of the caatinga dry lands with rare examples of the mountain flora, especially bromeliads, orchids and "sempre vivas" (member of the strawflower family). On the area one can find the three highest mountains in the state: Pico do Barbado, 2,080 m (6,820 ft) high, Pico Itobira, 1,970 m (6,460 ft), and Pico das Almas, 1,958 m (6,424 ft).
Another scenic attraction is the Cachoeira da Fumaça ("Waterfall"), which falls 420 m (1,380 ft); the Gruta dos Brejões, the largest cavern opening of Bahia; and the Poço Encantado. There are so many natural attractions that it is possible to choose between subterranean routes in caves or trip to waterfalls, trek along old gold mining trails or follow the steps of the Prestes Column, rappel, climb mountains, or go horseback riding in the Vale do Capão or Vale do Paty in the midst of small local communities. Many of the sites are protected by the National Park of the Diamantina Tableland and the Environmental Preservation Area Serra do Barbado and Marimbus, Iraquara. There are opportunities to take long bikes and to travel on horseback, mountain bike, or off-road vehicles.
Tropical. In addition to its considerable size, it has the longest coastline of the country: 1,103 km long (685 miles; north coast: 143; Bay of All Saints: 124; and southern: 418). With 68% of its territory located in the semi-arid zone, the State presents diversified climates and an average rainfall that varies from 363 to 2,000 mm (14.3 to 78.7 in) per year, depending on the region.
The Portuguese Pedro Álvares Cabral sighted Monte Pascoal ("Easter Mountain") near Itamaraju and landed at what is now Porto Seguro on the southern coast of Bahia in 1500, claiming the territory for Portugal. In 1549, Portugal established the city of Salvador on a hill facing the Bay of All Saints. The city and surrounding captaincy served as the administrative capital of Portugal's colonies in the Americas until 1763. It remains the religious capital of Brazil's Roman Catholic hierarchy, with its archbishop serving as the national primate. Salvador holds the country's oldest cathedral and first medical college, as well as the highest number of churches per capita of any Brazilian state capital.
Bahia's captaincy was the first to fail, with its lands reverting to the Portuguese crown in 1549. While Portugal was united with Spain, the Dutch East and West India companies tried to conquer Bahia but were largely defeated in the area, with Dutch Brazil restricted to Pernambuco.
Bahia was a center of sugarcane cultivation from the 16th to the 18th centuries and contains a number of historic towns, such as Cachoeira, dating from this era. Integral to the sugar economy was the importation of a vast number of African slaves: more than a third of all slaves taken from Africa were sent to Brazil, mostly to be processed in Bahia before being sent to work in plantations elsewhere in the country.
The state was the last area of the country to join the Empire of Brazil, as members in the local elite remained loyal to the Portuguese crown after the rest of the country proclaimed independence under Pedro I on 7 September 1822. Control of the province was disputed in several battles, mostly in Pirajá, before the Portuguese were fully expelled on 2 July 1823. Under the name Bahia Independence Day, this date vies in local importance with Brazilian Independence Day, which commemorates Pedro's 7 September proclamation. It became a Brazilian state in 1889.
Charles Darwin visited Bahia in 1832 on his famous voyage on the Beagle. In 1835, Bahia was the site of an urban slave revolt, particularly notable as the only predominately-Muslim slave rebellion in the history of the Americas. Under the Empire, Bahia returned 14 deputies to the general assembly and 7 senators; its own provincial assembly consisted of 36 members. In the 19th century, cotton, coffee, and tobacco plantations joined those for sugarcane and the discovery of diamonds in 1844 led to large influx of "washers" (garimpeiros) until the still-larger deposits in South Africa came to light. A smaller boom hit Caetité in 1872 upon the discovery of amethysts there. The cattle industry of the interior led to the development of Feira de Santana before collapsing in a series of droughts.
After the end of military governments in Brazil in 1985, the state of Bahia was usually governed by PFL or PMDB. The Workers' Party achieved the governorship in 2007 and has held it ever since, in three successive elections (2006, 2010, and 2014).
According to IBGE data of 2008, there were 14,561,000 people residing in the state. The population density was 24.93 inhabitants per square kilometre (64.6/sq mi). Urban population: 67.4% (2006); Population growth: 1.1% (1991–2000); Houses: 3,826,000 (2006). The last PNAD (National Census of a Sample of Households) showed the following numbers: 9,149,000 Brown (Multiracial) people (62.83%), 3,000,000 White people (20.60%), 2,328,000 Black people (15.99%), 42,000 Amerindian people (0.29%), 37,000 Asian people (0.26%).
Historically, the population was estimated at 1.45 million in the 1870s and was 1.92 million at the time of the 1890 Brazilian census.
The crime rate in Bahia is statistically higher than in another Brazilian states in the region and far more than the south region of the country that is considered the safest region in the nation. The state of Bahia has four of the ten most violent cities in Brazil. Gun violence in the state more than doubled in the period from 2004 to 2014, ranking 1st of the 26 states of Brazil murders. In 2014 the state of Bahia had the largest number of murderers in the country.