Santo Antônio da Barra

IALA Heritage Lighthouse of the Year 2020

Location: BRAZIL - Bahia. Salvador.

Lighthouse Operator: Brazilian Navy

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Source: (photos as submitted to accompany nomination form by Brazilian Navy - Directorate of Hydrography and Navigation Center of Aids to Navigation “ALMIRANTE MORAES REGO” in 2020)

Lighthouse Description and History

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Brazilian Navy – Directorate of Hydrography and Navigation Center of Aids to Navigation “ALMIRANTE MORAES REGO” in 2020)
The Santo Antônio da Barra Lighthouse is one of the icons of the city of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Salvador was founded in 1549, from the place where the Portuguese Tomé de Souza (1503-1579) landed, less than one kilometer from where today the Santo Antônio da Barra Fortress is located, within which the Lighthouse is situated. Salvador was the first capital of Brazil as a Colony of Portugal, from 1549 to 1763, when the city of Rio de Janeiro became the capital of the Colony. In order to further protect the city, from 1583 to 1587, the first military fortress was erected at Point of Santo Antônio da Barra.

In the 17th century, the port of Salvador was one of the busiest and most important on the continent, frequented by many ships sailing from Africa and Europe. After many accidents in the region, there was the tragic shipwreck of the Galleon Santíssimo Sacramento, which hit the Santo Antônio shallow in 1668, victimizing more than 400 people.

In 1697, the quadrangular tower of the first lighthouse started to be constructed , taking advantage of the rebuilding of the Fortaleza that began a year earlier, 1696.

In March 1699, explorer and privateer Willian Dampier records that he saw the signal lights of the lighthouse of the Santo Antônio da Barra Fortress and drew a sketch of the entrance to “Baía de Todos os Santos” (“All Saints” Bay), within which the city Salvador is located.

A new tower, in a conical shape, was built between 1836 and 1839, painted white. The new Lantern housed a rotating white and red catoptric device with a range of 15 Nautical Miles.

In 1890, a new lenticular device, 1st order dioptric BBT, was installed, which is still in operation today.

In 1936, the lighthouse was electrified.

In 1955, its rotation system was replaced, and the lenticular assembly started to rotate supported on an SKF ball collar with 380 mm outside diameter, 280 mm inside diameter and 80 mm high, which works perfectly even today.

In 1969, its tower, until then white, changed to white and black bands, improving its daytime identification, committed to the vertical growth of the city of Salvador.

Reason For Nomination

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Brazilian Navy – Directorate of Hydrography and Navigation Center of Aids to Navigation “ALMIRANTE MORAES REGO” in 2020)
Intrinsic Heritage Interest of the Lighthouse

Santo Antônio da Barra Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in operation on the coast of Brazil and the Americas, having been proven through historical documents from a primary source that the construction of its first tower began in 1697. That same year, Portugal sent the glasses and the lead to caulk for the assembly of the light source protection pane.

The Santo Antônio da Barra Lighthouse also is, to the best of our knowledge, the oldest lighthouse in the southern hemisphere.

It is located at the entrance of the wide Bay of “Todos os Santos” (All Saints), known by the Indians who inhabited the region, the Tupinanbás, as “Kirimurê”, or “Great Inland Sea”. The name “Baia de Todos os Santos” was attributed to this bay by Gaspar Lemos, who, along with Américo Vespúcio, entered the bay with his ships on November 1st, 1501, “All Saints Day”.

For the protection of foreign invasions, in 1534, the Portuguese began to build the first and rudimentary military fortification for the defense of “Baía de Todos os Santos” then called “Ponta do Padrão” (Landmark point), very close to the place where Gaspar Lemos landed in 1501. Today the name of this geographical point is “Ponta de Santo Antônio”.

The first tower, described as “a quadrangular turret topped by a glazed bronze lantern” had its construction started on 1697, when glass and lead for caulking were also sent from Portugal, intended for the assembly the protection structure of the lighthouse’s light apparatus, consisting of lamps powered by whale oil. On 1698, the lighthouse was ready, on a precise date unknown. There are few historical records about this tower; ironically, on November 1st, 1755, again on All Saints Day, Lisbon was swept away by an earthquake, followed by a tsunami and many fires, when several documents have been lost. Salvador was founded on March 28, 1549, when the construction and development of the city began, behind the already existing Fort and, later, also in the shadow of the Lighthouse built inside the fortress. Currently, Salvador is a city with almost three million inhabitants. Considering the speed of development of the cities of the then colony of Portugal, it can be said that Salvador grew and developed from and under the light of the Santo Antônio da Barra Lighthouse, which can be considered as its main point of reference, symbolically its “Ground Zero”. It is remarkable the identity of the Lighthouse with the City, what makes it present in many activities with different characteristics related to Salvador, or that are carried out in it. The Lighthouse has literally been a postcard of Salvador for a long time.


The first tower of the Santo Antônio da Barra Lighthouse, from 1698, a square-shaped tower, was kept in operation for about 141 years, until 1839, when it was replaced by a new, conical- shaped tower. This new tower of Santo Antônio da Barra Lighthouse, conical shape, was built of masonry, 22 meters high. It was first lighted on December 2, 1839, and lasts until today. Its state of conservation is excellent, both outside and inside, as well as its main accessories, such as the original hardwood access door, cast iron spiral staircase, tower windows and glazing, the channel used by the weight of the emergency rotation system, the iron plates of the lantern floor, glass panes of the lantern, lantern base balcony (floor and balustrade), and the metal dome. It is worth mentioning that, due to the fact that the Lighthouse was open to public visitation, there was a need to add elements to the structure, aimed personnel safety, such as safety nets, a gate to prevent access to the Optical Equipment, and shutters to close the channel used by the weight of the emergency rotation system. Originally, the tower was painted white, a painting that was changed to white and black bands in 1969, with the purpose of improving its daytime visibility, hampered by the vertical growth of the city.

Optical Equipment
The original Optical Equipment, installed in 1839, was catoptric, considered quite modern for the time, providing a range of 18 Nautical Miles with a clean atmosphere. After 51 years of use, and already showing excessive wear and malfunction, the Optical Equipment was replaced by one from the French factory Barbier, Bernard & Turene, dioptric, 1st Order, capable of reaching 18 Nautical Miles, maintaining the characteristic of two flashes white and one red as in the previous Optical Equipment, and having two kerosene lamps as the light source. This new Lenticular Apparatus started to operate on August 20, 1890, and is the same that is still in operation today.

Light Source
It stopped being kerosene, becoming electric on May 3, 1936, which is maintained until today, with the updates that technological development imposes in order to always seek the maximum efficiency of the installed Optical Equipment.

Rotation System
The BBT Rotation System, installed in 1890, is still the same, and the weight system works perfectly in an emergency. After the electrification of the Lighthouse, an electric motor was also installed that dispense with the clockwork mechanism, which is only used in emergencies as mentioned above. Although the Lighthouse has a 1st Order Optical Equipment, whose friction due to the weight reduces its rotation speed, which is why it is composed of 16 Fresnel lens panels type “Bull’s Eye”, originally this Device was supported on 12 wheels bronze, which was constant damage, interfering with the period of the lighthouse’s luminous characteristic. In 1955, this system was changed, using a SKF ball collar, which works perfectly and requires little maintenance.

Visibility Sector
A curious fact regarding this matter was the establishment of an Invisibility Sector in the light of the Lighthouse that previously had an unrestricted 360 degree Visibility Sector. However, in 1943, a tall building was built behind the lighthouse, about 500 meters away. Some time later there was a need to create an Invisibility Sector exactly in the arch that comprises the building. The reason for this change was not, as many assumed, to prevent the light beam from disturbing the residents of that building, but because the reflection of light, in the windows of the apartments, started to confuse navigators.

Public Access and Education

Public Access
On 1974, a Museum of Hydrography and Navigation was opened at Santo Antônio da Barra Fort, which has since been open to the public.
On 1976, Brazilian Navy, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the petroleum company PETROBRAS, undertook an archaeological survey at the site where, in 1668, the Galleon Santíssimo Sacramento, flagship of the fleet of the General Company of Commerce of Brazil coming from Portugal shipwrecked with valuable cargo to the then Colony. This shipwreck evidenced the need for a lighthouse in the region, giving rise, years later, to the construction of the Santo Antônio da Barra Lighthouse in 1697/1698. This archaeological research resulted in the rescue of precious pieces, such as cannonballs, muskets and arcabuzes; fragments of cannon carts, wedding rings, thimbles, buttons, earthenware, plates, jars and sacred images, part of which were transferred to the Museum at Forte de Santo Antônio.
On 1998, the Museum underwent a restoration, receiving several other collections related to navigation, Aids to Navigation, ship models, miniatures of vessels of varied origin, also maintaining a permanent exhibition related to the geography, history, anthropology and culture of the Baia de Todos os Santos (All Saints Bay), as well as on maritime, military and administrative life in the city of Salvador. When reopened it was designated as the Museu Náutico da Bahia (Nautical Museum of Bahia). The Public Visitation to the Lighthouse was initiated in 2011, after the necessary adaptations to the safety of the visitors.

Educational and Cultural Projects
In addition to the daily Public Visitation, the Nautical Museum of Bahia promotes several educational and cultural events at different levels, targeted to specific audiences, among which the following stand out: Museum-School Program, which consists of a guided visit by schoolchildren conducted by their respective educational institutions, by prior appointment of the visit, with emphasis on the themes and areas of interest indicated by the institution itself, appropriate to the level of the visitors;

  • Encouraging research, making its Technical Library available for consultations, scheduled in advance;
  • Within the annual program of the city , “Museum Week” in May, and “Museum Spring” in September, seamanship lectures and workshops are offered;
  • “Vozes do Farol” (“Lighthouse Voices”) Project – theatrical presentation, with professional actors, of the history of the Fort, of the Lighthouse, facts from the beginning of the occupation of the Bay of Todos os Santos and the foundation of the city of Salvador. This presentation, with the backdrop of the great navigations from the 15th to the 18th centuries, and its importance for the consolidation of Brazil as a State, highlights the Sea as a link between cultures and a driver of development, and emphasises the importance of its preservation. It is an incentive project, which depends on external resources;
  • Development of courses and lectures in areas related to maritime activity in general, such as Oceanography, Astronomy, Archaeoastronomy and Seamanship, among others.