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São Luís, Maranhão

São Luís (Portuguese pronunciation: [sɐ̃w luˈis], Saint Louis) is the capital of the Brazilian state of Maranhão. The city is located on São Luís island in the Baía de São Marcos (St Marcus Bay), an extension of the Atlantic Ocean which forms the estuary of Pindaré, Mearim, Itapecuru and other rivers. Its coordinates are 2.53° south, 44.30° west. The city proper has a population of some 986,826 people (2008 IBGE estimate). The metropolitan area totals 1,227,659 (ranked as the 16th largest in Brazil).

São Luís is the only Brazilian state capital founded by France (see France Équinoxiale) and it is one of the three Brazilian state capitals located on islands (the others are Vitória and Florianópolis).

The city has two major sea ports: Ponta da Madeira and Porto do Itaqui, through which a substantial part of Brazil's iron ore, originating from the (pre)-Amazon region, is exported. The city's main industries are metallurgical with Alumar, and Vale do Rio Doce. São Luís is home of the Federal University of Maranhão.

São Luís was the home town of famous Brazilian samba singer Alcione, Brazilian writers Aluísio Azevedo, Ferreira Gullar and Josué Montello, Belgian-naturalised soccer player Luís Oliveira, the musician João do Vale and Zeca Baleiro, a Música Popular Brasileira (MPB) singer.


Originally the town was a large village of the Tupinambá tribe. The first Europeans to see it were the French, in 1612, who intended to make it the centre of a French colony named Equinoctial France. They built a fort named Saint Louis after St Louis, King of France, as a compliment to his successor King Louis XIII. The settlement was conquered for Portugal by Jerônimo de Albuquerque in 1615, when it was renamed São Luís. There had been little time for the French to build a city. This has led to some controversy as to the actual date of the founding of the city, whether by the French or the Portuguese. In 1641, the city was invaded by the Dutch. They stayed until 1645 and did not manage to influence the city's architecture or to leave any sign of their invasion, mainly because they were kept too busy with the challenges to their occupation. In 1677, the city was made the seat of the new Roman Catholic Diocese of São Luís do Maranhão.

Only when those invasions ceased permanently did the colonial government decide to create the state of Grão-Pará e Maranhão, independent from the rest of the country. By that time, the economy was based on agriculture, particularly the exportation of sugar cane, cacao and tobacco. Conflicts amongst the local elites would lead to the Beckman's Revolt.

Soon after the outbreak of the American Civil War, the region started to provide cotton to Great Britain. The wealth generated by this activity was used to modernize the city; to bring religious men to come and teach in its schools; and supplement the water supply. The city came to be the third most populous city in the country. By the end of the 19th century, agriculture was in decay and since then the city's population has been searching for other ways to make a living.

Nowadays, São Luís has the largest and best preserved heritage of colonial Portuguese architecture of all Latin America. The island is known as the "Island of Love" and as "the Brazilian Athens", due to its many poets and writers, such as Sotero dos Reis, Aluísio Azevedo, Graça Aranha, Gonçalves Dias (the most famous), Josué Montello, Ferreira Gullar, among others.

The ancestral composition of São Luís, according to an autosomal DNA study, is 42% European, 39% Native American and 19% African.


Maranhão's economy was one of the most prosperous country until the mid-nineteenth century. However, after the Civil War the United States of America, when he lost space in the export of cotton, the state has collapsed, only after the end of the 1960s in the twentieth century the state began to receive incentives and emerged from seclusion, with road and rail connections with other regions.

In the late eighteenth century, increased international demand for cotton to meet the English textile industry coupled with reduced production because of the North American War of Independence in the United States provided the perfect setting to stimulate cotton production in Maranhão. Shipping companies and Southampton & Company Maranha Maranha Shipping Company, shipping steam, which performed the transportation of cotton from the states of Georgia and Alabama, began operating in St. Louis shaft - London, leading to production of Caxias and Baixada Maranhão. By the early twentieth century, St. Louis still exporting cotton to England by sea, through the lines and Booth Red Cross Line Line (the extended route to Iquitos) and company-Maranha Liverpool Shipping Company.

During this period, the golden phase of the economy of Maranhão, São Luís has a living cultural effervescence. The city, which related more to the European capitals that the other Brazilian cities, was the first company to receive an Italian opera. Had as few sidewalks and lighting in the country. Received weekly the latest news from French literature. The great fortunes cotton and local business sent their children to study in Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and, especially, Europe.

The opening of the Port of Itaqui in St. Louis, currently second in depth in the world, second only to the Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and one of the busiest in the country, served to drain the industrial production and iron ore coming from Train Serra dos Carajás, activity operated by Companhia Vale do Rio Doce. The proximity to strategic markets in Europe and North America has led the Port an attractive option to export, but suffers from increased coastal shipping. Ludovicense economy is based on the aluminum processing industry, food, tourism and services. St. Louis has the largest GDP in the state, hosting two public universities (and UFMA UEMA) and various educational institutions and private colleges. According to the latest data from the IBGE survey of the city of St. Louis has a GDP of R $ 9,340,944,000.00 to 29 and thus the national economy from over 5,560 Brazilian municipalities, and occupying the 14th position among the capitals.


Portuguese is the official national language, and thus the primary language taught in schools. But English and Spanish are part of the official high school curriculum.

Educational institutions
  • Universidade Federal do Maranhão (UFMA);
  • Universidade Estadual do Maranhão (UEMA);
  • Centro de Ensino Universitário do Maranhão (UNICEUMA);
  • Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia do Maranhão (IFMA);
  • Faculdade São Luís;
  • Unidade de Ensino Superior Dom Bosco (UNDB);
  • Faculdade Atenas Maranhense (FAMA);
  • and many others.

São Luís is known for its tiles which most buildings in the historical centre are covered in. Because of it the city is also known as "The Tiles City".

It also has some cultural peculiarities namely:

Tambor de Crioula

Afro-Brazilian dance in which gaily clad women court a bateria of tambors (a row of drums). Whirling and gyrating in time to the music they negotiate for prime position in the centre of the bateria.

Tambor de Mina

Not to be confused with the above, this is the local variant of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble.

Bumba Meu Boi

The Bumba Meu Boi is a popular farce which takes its form as a grand musical pantomime. Practice is a public affair and begins directly after Easter reaching its climax in June when literally hundreds of groups perform on a nightly basis for popular acclaim. Set personalities and characters play out a comedic tragedy with a metaphor for social harmony at its heart. Settlers, the infamous "Coroneis", Indians, spirit workers, African slaves and forest spirits are enacted though costumes, choreography and music - all performed amongst the all-night revelry. The crowd joins in with singing, dancing and dependent on the groups sotaque (or style) the playing of matracas (two wooden blocks, held in each hand and struck together repeatedly). Like the festival of Sao João and its requisite Forró dance in the North-Eastern states further south Bumba Meu Boi is a harvest festival but with the bull as its centre-piece.


The São Luís form of capoeira is said to be akin to the kind of capoeira now recognized as 'traditional bahian capoeira' that predated the Bahian Angola/regional polemic which split the capoeira world in the 1950s.

Historical Center

In 1997 the city's historical center was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Starting in 1989 there has been an extensive program to restore and renovate the colonial era buildings of the city's historical center.

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