Colonial History and Architecture of São Luís do Maranhão

Historic Center of São LuÃs do Maranhão
Historic Center of São LuÃs do Maranhão

The São Luís do Maranhão Historic Center stands out for the uniformity and simple and regular beauty of its properties, forming one of the largest architectural groups of Portuguese essence still preserved in Latin America.

The architecture that we inherited from the Portuguese is the richest part of São Luís in its historical heritage.

A collection of colonial mansions that reflect how well the settlers who arrived in the city lived.

This architectural complex in São LuÃs do Maranhão is so important that it has been declared a World Heritage Site.

Just take a walk through the streets and alleys of Praia Grande to see a piece of the history of maranhão and from Brazil.

One of the most outstanding details of the training architectural of São Luís it is, without a doubt, the tiles.

The capital's tile collection brings together treasures that give a hint of what the capital of Maranhão was a few centuries ago: a place full of luxury.

In fact, there was another very strong reason for the application of tiles on facades, which referred to the fact that they reflect the sun's rays with a lot of intensity, as it reduces the heat inside buildings, since it absorbs less, providing better environmental comfort. . So, the tiles had this dual function of beautifying and maintaining the quality of the mildest environment in an equatorial climate.

Factors that led this set to compose the UNESCO list of cultural heritage of the world, in 1997.

It has a colonial architectural collection estimated at about 4 buildings, spread over more than 220 hectares, most of which are two-storey houses with lookouts, many covered with Portuguese tiles.

Built by the lords who commanded the production of cotton in the region, the manor houses and houses are marks of the city's economic heyday.

Formed by the neighborhoods of Praia Grande and Desterro, the region today concentrates museums, culture centers, theaters, cinema, bars, restaurants, a fair and an infinity of handicraft shops.

There are also squares, charming alleys, stairs, slopes and some of the most beautiful streets in the historic part of the city, such as Rua Portugal and Rua do Giz and Largo do Comércio.

The Historic Center area is closed to vehicle traffic.

Praia Grande is perfect for peaceful walks. In this case, sneakers and flat sandals are ideal, for walking on cobblestone floors, up and down hills and stairs. It is recommended to wear light clothing and sunscreen.

Map of the historic center of São LuÃs do Maranhão
Map of the historic center of São LuÃs do Maranhão

Colonial Buildings and Architectural Ensemble of São Luís

The historian at the Federal University of Maranhão, Antônia Mota, has several studies on the origins of colonial constructions. According to her, most of the historic buildings were built more than a century after the foundation of São Luís.

Colonial Buildings of São LuÃs do Maranhão
Colonial Buildings of São LuÃs do Maranhão

The moment was promising in trade as the Portuguese elite lived in the city. “Through the trade company from Grão-Pará and Maranhão, the Marquês de Pombal brought in resources and it was at this time that the cultivation and export of cotton and rice developed. , which favored the region’s development, the arrival of many Portuguese people attracted by the business, the arrival of African slaves to work in these fields and the large increase in population,†explains Antônia Mota.

The teacher recalls that, at the time, the city was also benefited by the reconstruction of Lisbon, which had been razed by an earthquake. “São Luís was the place of residence for rural landowners and merchants, so, in a way, it was very similar to Lisbon, because construction techniques came a lot during this period when Lisbon was being rebuilt”, she says.

The carved stones, called ashlar stones, which are spread along the sidewalks and streets of the Historic Center, came to São Luís as ballast for Portuguese ships.

Currently, all this architecture still enchants people from all over the world who visit the city. Fábio Colignac is the manager of an inn that has been operating for six years in a large house built in 1835 in the Historic Center.

Tourists are impressed by the time travel in the hotel.

The construction is like almost all of the period: in the central part is the manor, a common area usually with trees and plants. The rooms are all around, the rooms are comfortable and have not lost their main features.

The stairs, the wooden floor, the handrails, and even the scapulae of the hammocks are original. “This is the big challenge, to be able to adapt this big house without giving up the comfort that is usually sought in a hotel, such as air conditioning and a private bathroom with hot water,†says Fábio.

The Greek Nikos Papazarkada came from Athens and fell in love with what he found in the city.

He claims to have never seen anything like it in the world and that he found it all beautiful and charming. For many, the scenery of the capital of Maranhão is really irresistible and has been like this for 400 years.

Architectural and urban complex from the XNUMXth, XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries

São Luís brings together in its old center, an architectural and urban complex from the 5600th, XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, with about XNUMX properties listed (classified) by the state and federal government, distributed in the extensive area that makes up the historic center. They are buildings from different periods and styles (Portuguese traditional, neoclassical, eclectic, neocolonial, art deco and modern), with the majority of civil architecture.

The predominant architectural typology in the urban landscape is composed of two-story houses (buildings with more than one floor), manor houses, whole-houses, half-and-half houses, ¾ of houses, half-houses and doors-and-windows.

The houses have a considerable number of buildings with clad façades, in the XNUMXth century, with tiles coming mainly from Portugal.

The oldest architectural examples are remnants of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, as in the early years of Portuguese colonization, and until the mid-XNUMXth century, Maranhão's economy was reduced to subsistence production.

The historian from Maranhão, Mário Meireles, reports that the situation of misery in São Luís in 1683 was that of a “shy city, with tortuous, hilly and unpaved streets, in which almost all the houses were made of mud, covered with straw, with rupemas on the windows”.

The State's economy developed from 1755 onwards with the creation of the General Company of Grão-Pará and Maranhão, “an enterprise structured by the Marquês de Pombal, minister of D. José I (1750-1777), which he encouraged through financing, the acquisition of tools and slave labor, placing Maranhão in the production and export circuit of agricultural products, mainly cotton”.

Marques (1970) comments that the creation of the Company “profoundly altered the life of the State, opening up its farming and its trade to a period of frank progress that resulted in the material enrichment and intellectual improvement of the Company.

The promising economy of Maranhão, based essentially on slave labor for the production of crops, began to decline at the end of the 1888th century, right after the abolition of slavery in XNUMX, also worsening with the consequences of the fall of price of
cotton on the international market.

Attempts, not always successful, to replace agricultural activity with the implantation of textile industries, culminated in the stagnation of Maranhão at the end of the XNUMXth century and, inevitably, with strong effects on the urban development of São Luís.

Facade Tiles of São Luís do Maranhão

The first information about São Luís tiles, according to professor Dora Alcântara, appears in the “news about an importation in the XNUMXth century, which provides us with the recently published work by Domingos Vieira Filho, Azulejaria no Maranhão”.

Tiles and Facades of São Luís do Maranhão
Tiles and Facades of São Luís do Maranhão

In this work, historian Domingos Vieira Filho comments that in 1778 107.402 tiles arrived in São Luís.

Referrals tiling they must have probably been used as ashlars inside churches or residences, as the taste for tiling the facades of ground-floor dwellings and townhouses in Maranhão only began in the 1840s.

In the middle of the XNUMXth century, a “new way of using the tile that made it appear in Brazil, as Dora Alcântara reports in her work Portuguese Azulejos in São LuÃs do Maranhão leaving the interior of churches, convents, palatial residences or buildings for official use, to the outside†of the facades.

The external coating with tiles is widespread in coastal cities from north to south, especially Belém, São Luís, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre, among other cities with less frequent use of tiling facades.

History of São Luís tiles

In the XNUMXth century, the heyday of the Maranhão economy, tile was widely accepted as a material for covering facades, especially in properties that belonged to Portuguese mill owners and merchants, enriched by the production and export of cotton and rice.

This acceptance is attributed to the aesthetic improvement that the tile incorporates into the façades, while protecting them from the winter rains that occur for six months in the region.

In the XNUMXth century, an expressive number of carpet tiles with different patterns, manufactured using stamp technique, were imported from Portugal for use in the covering of the facades of the houses in São Luis.

In the interval between 1843 and 1879, several ships arrived at the port of São Luís with a load of tiles, 90% from Lisbon, and the rest from the city of Porto.

São LuÃs also received, but in a much smaller quantity, tiles from France, Belgium and Germany.

The application of the tile covering on the façades is made totally, partially or in isolated ornaments.

Normally, tiling appears on the main façade (including the front of the belvederes), but some corner buildings also have the side façade with total or partial tiling.

The tiles covering the facades are carpet or smooth, made using stamping, decal, relief and marbled techniques.

Most patterns define the composition by repeating (rotating) four pieces, but there are patterns where the composition is defined in a single piece.

Most of the tiles that arrived in Maranhão have a format of 13,5 cm x 13,5 cm. The trims have dimensions around 6,75 cm x 13,5 cm (friezes), with a corner piece in the dimension 6,75 cm x 6,75 cm and borders measuring 13,5 cm x 13,5 cm.

When there was no specific corner piece for a particular trim, it was common to make a miter cut (45º) to adapt the orthogonal combination of the frieze.

Some tiling due to their geometric design structure, they allow variations in the composition of the rug.

In São Luís, the configuration or positioning of the pieces “of tiles on the facades acquired peculiar characteristics due to the different forms of application of a
standard unit, thus appearing different compositions of carpets of the same tile†.

See the work – Facade Tiles of São Luís do Maranhão

Sights of the Historic Center of São Luís do Maranhão

Cathedral Church and Episcopal Palace

SeÌ Church and Episcopal Palace of São LuÃs - MA
Church of the Se and Episcopal Palace of São Luís – MA

It is said that at the beginning of colonization, when the Portuguese and French were fighting for control of the land, the Battle of Guaxenduba (1614) took place.

In a smaller number compared to La RavardieÌäre, the forces of JeroÌ‚nimo de Albuquerque were reinforced by a female figure who gave strength to the combatants, serving them powder that she herself manufactured with the dust of the earth.

Address: Av. Pedro II, S/N – Centro

Visitation: Tuesday to Saturday, from 8:12 am to 14:30 pm and from 17:30 pm to XNUMX:XNUMX pm

Palace of La RavardieÌäre

Palace of La RavardieÌäre in São Luís
Palace of La RavardieÌäre in São Luís

An example of administrative buildings from the colonial period, the La Ravardière Palace was named in 1962, on the occasion of the city's 350th anniversary.

It was built around 1689 and is one of the oldest buildings in the region. Today it houses the seat of the Municipal Government and bears in front of it the bronze bust of Daniel de La Touche, Lord of La RavardieÌäre, French commander and founder of Saint LuiÌs.

Address: Avenida D. Pedro II, next to the Palácio dos Leões.

Visitation: external visitation only.

Christ the King Palace

PalaÌcio Cristo Rei in São Luís - MA
Cristo Rei Palace in São Luís – MA

Built in 1838 to serve as a residence for Commander JoseÌ Joaquim Teixeira Vieira, the property represents the luxury of wealthy families from the colonial period.

It was sold in 1900 to the then vice-consul of the US who owned a bank house in São LuiÌ s. According to what they say, the consul used to serve the most sophisticated delicacies to beggars and the needy and, therefore, he came to be called “godfather†.

In 1908, due to the bankruptcy of his bank and the numerous debts he had, he committed suicide and had the property auctioned off. Since then, the palace has gone through countless owners, until, in 1953, it served as the seat of the Archbishopric and received the name “Palácio Cristo Rei”. Currently, it houses the rectory of the Federal University of Maranhão.

Address: Praça Gonçalves, 351 – Largo dos Amores Dias – Center

Visitation: Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 11 am and from 14 pm to 17 pm

Palace of Lions

Palace of Lions in São Luís - MA
Palace of the Lions in São LuÃs - MA

With three thousand square meters of built area, carved with the perfection of neoclassical architecture and located in front of the BaiÌa de São Marcos, the PalaÌcio dos Leões serves as the official residence and seat of the Government of Maranhão .

It became known as the Palace of the Lions (Forte de São Felipe) due to the bronze lions that guard its entrances. Built on what was once the Fort of São LuiÌ s, it took on the form of a palace in 1776, when Governor Joaquim de Mello e Povoas remodeled the construction with materials taken from the extinct Jesuit house in Alcantara. Completely restored, it deserves to be seen not only for its architecture and sumptuousness, but also for the artistic treasures and relics kept inside.


Address: Av. Pedro II, S/N – Centro

Visitation: Wednesday to Friday, from 14 pm to 17 pm, Saturdays and Sundays, from 15 pm to 17 pm

Benedito Leite Square

Benedito Leite Square in São Luís do Maranhão
Benedito Leite Square in São Luís do Maranhão

Another opportunity for a break is to sit on one of the benches in the square and watch people move around.

Originally known as Largo Velho do Val, this place was frequented by prostitutes.

From the XNUMXth century onwards, it was urbanized and turned into a botanical garden, which was later dismantled and the fences that surrounded the place torn down. It received the name of Praça Benedito Pereira Leite in honor of the statesman, who appears in a statue of the central bed.

Rua Portugal and Rua do Trapiche

Rua Portugal in São Luís - MA
Rua Portugal in São Luís - MA

Rua Portugal is one of the main streets in the Historic Center of São LuiÌ s, where the most important commercial establishments at the time of its construction were concentrated.

It still maintains its roots today, as it has several stores and active commerce, in addition to public offices. It is a hub where the Museum of Visual Arts and the Casa de Nhozinho can be found (a museum that honors the artisan from Maranhão, Antônio Bruno Pinto Nogueira who, throughout his life, made toys and folklore figures in Buriti).

On the corner of Rua Portugal is Rua do Trapiche, where you will certainly be enchanted by the Morada das Artes, home to several artists who open the doors to the visitation of their works.

Convent of Merces

Convent of Merces
Convent of Merces

Going down Rua da Palma, we walked to the Convento das Mercês. Built in the XNUMXth century, the extensive building is considered one of the Seven Treasures of the Material Cultural Heritage of São Luís.

In addition to the colonial architecture, it is possible to visit there a significant exhibition on the history of the republic, whose items were donated by former president José Sarney.

Arthur Azevedo Theater

Arthur Azevedo Theater in São Luís - MA
Arthur Azevedo Theater in São Luís – MA

The most famous theater in São Luís is also one of the oldest in the country. It preserves the original neoclassical features that keep more than 200 years of history and a beauty comparable to few.

Inaugurated in 1817 as Teatro União, it was only in the following century that it finally gained the name of the great master of Brazilian dramaturgy.

In the beginning of the 90s, its installations and equipment were renovated, transforming the theater into one of the most modern environments for the dramatic art of the country.

Address: Rua do Sol, 180 – Center

Visitation: Tuesday to Friday, from 15 pm to 17 pm

Check out History of the Arthur Azevedo Theater in São Luís do Maranhão

Mercês Cafua

Cafua das Mercês in São Luís - MA
Cafua das MerceÌ‚s in São Luís – MA

It is said that Cafua das MerceÌ‚s would have been a trading post for blacks in São LuiÌ s, where they were exhibited and sold after disembarking.

Today, the small building houses the Museu do Negro, whose collection is made up of typical pieces from a slave quarter, a replica of a pillory that used to be located in Largo do Carmo, in the city center, and a curious collection of African handicrafts made in wood and ivory.

Address: Rua Jacinto Maia, Desterro, next to Convento das Mercês.

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 17 pm.

 House of Maranhão

House of Maranhão
House of Maranhão

Of the museums that deal with folklore from Maranhão, this was the one that pleased me the most. The exhibition is well organized in the extensive shed on the second floor of this historic mansion opposite the wharf.

There, prejudice is also shown, this time mainly the racial issue that separated blacks from Europeans.

Most of the exhibition makes reference to the ox festivals, which began as a slave game and came to be radically persecuted by politicians and the police, but is now established as a democratic popular manifestation of the state.

Largo do Comércio

Typical off a colonial city. Much of the Ludovician history took place here. During the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, this street in Praia Grande was used for the city's commerce and today houses establishments such as bars, restaurants, shops and tourist kiosks.

Even with the economic decadence in the 30s, we still find the mansions intact and with all their architectural beauty in Portuguese colonial style, facades covered with tiles and ashlar stone.

Fountain of Pedras

Fonte das Pedras in São Luís do Maranhão
Fonte das Pedras in São Luís do Maranhão

This location is a landmark. It was there, beside what was still a spring, that, in October 1615, JeroÌ‚nimo de Albuquerque encamped his troops while expelling the French from San LuiÌ s.

In the best Portuguese colonial style, Fonte das Pedras, installed in a walled quadrangle, has a pediment in masonry and figureheads through which water gushes profusely.

Address: Rua de Antonio Rayol, next to Mercado Central.

Ribeirão Fountain

Ribeirão Fountain in São Luís - MA
Ribeirão Fountain in São Luís – MA

Several mysteries surround the monument and make this fountain built in 1796 to supply water to the population even more curious. Its floor is covered with ashlar stones and the water, always plentiful, gushes out with frowns, in a paved tank.

The figureheads are misshapen-looking figures commonly used in fountains, fountains and boat bows to ward off evil spirits.

The one from the fountain represents Neptune, mythological God, lord of the seas and waters, who supplied the local population with clean water that flowed from his mouth.

Fantastic legends have also been created about its underground galleries. They say that it served as a communication between brothers from one church to another. Also for transporting or fleeing slaves and illegally trading in gold and precious stones. Another legend is about the enchanted serpent, which resides in the gallery tunnels and grows nonstop, and will one day destroy the island of São Luís, when its tail meets its head.


Address: between Rua do Ribeirão and Rua dos Afogados.

Check out History of the Ribeirão Fountain in São Luís do Maranhão

Tulhas Market

Tulhas Market in São LuÃs do Maranhão
Tulhas Market in São LuÃs do Maranhão

Also known as Feira da Praia Grande, this market works in a XNUMXth-century building that was divided into several kiosks for the sale of regional products such as cachaça (including tiquira, made by from cassava), sweets, liqueurs, various foods, spices, clothes and accessories, pans, spices and everything else you can imagine.

Nhozinho House Museum

Casa de Nhozinho Museum in São Luís - MA
Casa de Nhozinho Museum in São Luís - MA

The Casa de Nhozinho Museum is housed in a three-story townhouse with a colonial tile façade.

The name Casa de Nhozinho is a tribute to the great artisan from Maranhão, Antônio Bruno Nogueira, known as Nhozinho, who stood out for making ox wheels made of buriti, despite having a disability.

There, visitors have a sample of the techniques of production of material culture: indigenous handicraft pieces, toys from the 18th and 19th centuries and replicas or original pieces of typical boats from the Maranhao.

The name of this museum is a tribute to Antônio Bruno Pinto Nogueira, known as Nhozinho, born in the beginning of the XNUMXth century in a coastal city in the north of Maranhão.

Nhozinho's House
Nhozinho's House

After a normal childhood, he developed a disease from the age of 12 that compromised his motor functions.

Stuck in bed, he developed his manual skills by making toys and other objects such as nativity scenes, boats, parrots, ox carts, safes, miniature animals and wooden dolls.

Subsequently, the raw material was replaced by buriti, a porous stem of a palm native to Maranhão, softer and more malleable for cutting. In addition to the craftsman's works, pieces from various techniques are on display in this townhouse, as well as objects and artifacts from the daily life of the region, such as pestles, ox carts, fishing tools, miniature boats, costumes for popular festivals and indigenous handicrafts.

Address: Rua Portugal, 185

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 18pm.

Vasconcelos Solar Museum – Historic Center Memorial

Solar dos Vasconcelos Museum in São Luís - MA
Solar dos Vasconcelos Museum in São LuÃs - MA

Solar dos Vasconcelos was built in the XNUMXth century and is one of the most significant examples of São Luís architecture. It has a beautiful façade with two symmetrical floors and two doors framed in carved stonework.

Renovated and adapted, it received the collection of the Historic Center Memorial, displaying models and photographic panels that record the entire history of preservation and revitalization of the Historic Center of São Luís.

It also houses an important collection of models of typical Maranhão boats.

Address: Rua da Estrela

Opening hours: Monday to Friday, from 9 am and, on Saturdays, from 13 pm.

Maranhao Historical and Artistic Museum

Maranhao Historical and Artistic Museum
Maranhao Historical and Artistic Museum

The preserved Solar Gomes de Souza, built in 1836 in downtown São LuiÌs, belonged to the family of mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, philosopher and parliamentarian Joaquim Gomes de Souza, known as Souzinha.

Transformed into a museum in 1973, the objects on display – furniture, English and French porcelain, glass, crystals, and an emphasis on the work Tauromaquia, oil on canvas, from 1950, a legitimate work by the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso – reconstitute the environments of the rich residences of Maranhão. from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries.

Before going on a guided tour, enjoy the façade, a beautiful example of Portuguese colonial architecture.

Address: Rua do Sol, 302 – Center

Opening hours: from 9 am to 17:30 pm and on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 am to 17 pm

Check out Historical and Artistic Museum of Maranhão

Museum of Sacred Art

Museum of Sacred Art of São Luís do Maranhão
Museum of Sacred Art of São Luís do Maranhão

In this building attached to the cathedral, there is the Museum of Sacred Art. A visit to the exhibition presented there is a good opportunity to learn a little about the history of the city, whose foundation had a Jesuit mass celebration.

The hundreds of pieces in the exhibition include sculptures, chalices, crucifixes and other objects used in masses.

The Museum of Sacred Art is next to the Historical and Artistic Museum. Located in a manor house with a tiled façade, where the Baron de GrajauÌ, Carlos Fernandes Ribeiro and his wife, Baroness Anna Rosa Vianna Ribeiro, lived.

Today it is a unique space to contemplate and display the valuable pieces of jewelery that tell the history of the Church in Maranhão. Its collection, which belongs in part to the Archdiocese of São Luís, comprises pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries in rococo and neoclassical styles.

Address: Rua 13 de Maio, 500 – Downtown

Opening hours: from 9 am to 17:30 pm and on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 am to 17 pm.

Catarina Mina alley

Catarina Mina alley in São Luís - MA
Catarina Mina alley in São Luís – MA

Beco Catarina Mina has a staircase of 35 wide steps in lioz stones, dating from the XNUMXth century. It was named in honor of Mina Catarina Rosa Pereira de Jesus, a slave who kept a shop on the site.

The famous captive hare, whose story recalls that of another equally famous slave, Xica da Silva, made a fortune thanks to her work and her connections with wealthy merchants in the region, who literally left her jaw dropping. with its beauty.

Catarina gathered a fortune, bought her freedom and became a slave master, starting to be seen by the city followed by a procession of women who were neatly dressed.


Located in Praia Grande, in the Historic Center of São Luís.

João do Vale Theater

João do Vale Theater in São Luís - MA
João do Vale Theater in São Luís – MA

The João do Vale Theater is located in the heart of the historic center, in Largo do Comércio, Praia Grande, and is one of the most important cultural centers in São Luís.

It is a tribute to João Batista do Vale, one of the most important Artists in Maranhão, elected an illustrious character of the XNUMXth century and who has already had works recorded by Nara Leão, Dolores Duran, Zé Kéti, Chico Buarque and, of course, Maria Bethânia , who performed his biggest hit: “Carcará”.

Teatro João do Vale is the stage for regional and national shows, always bringing the best of music and dramaturgy to São Luís.

Odylo Costa Filho Creativity Center

Odylo Costa Filho Creativity Center in São Luís - MA
Odylo Costa Filho Creativity Center in São Luís - MA

Cultural Complex in the Praia Grande neighborhood, the Ferreira Gullar Library, with a collection made up of works by authors from Maranhão and Maranhão.

There is also the Cine Praia Grande, a room that shows art films, a gallery of temporary exhibitions and the Teatro Alcione NazareÌ, inaugurated in 1988 and with 215 seats.

The Center also offers art courses such as photography, drawing, sculpture and dance.

Address: Rampa do Comércio, 200, Praia Grande

Visitation: every day, from 8 am to 20 pm

Theater Alcione NazareÌ

Also known as Teatro Praia Grande, it was created in 1988 initially to receive amateur groups and rehearsals. It was named in honor of singer Alcione, Marrom, from Maranhão body and soul.

Address: Rua Rampa do Comércio – 200 – Visiting Center: daily, from 8 am to 20 pm.

São Luís do Maranhão and Northeast Tourism and Travel Guide


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