Strolling through São Luís do Maranhão is moving between the historical past and the present

Sao Luis do Maranhao
Sao Luis do Maranhao

Saint Louis was the first name of São Luís, a city located in the western part of the homonymous island, which already gives clues to its origin.

In 1612, the year of the French invasion, the nobles Daniel de La Touche, lord of La Ravardière, and François de Rasilly, lord of Rasilly and Aunelles, arrived here and named the place in honor of King Louis XIII.

French rule over São Luís was short-lived: in 1615, it was already in Portuguese hands.

From then onwards, the capital of Maranhão would become more and more Portuguese – an influence visible in several aspects, from the original layout, by the engineer Francisco Frias de Mesquita (1578-1645), to the tiled facades of the buildings in the center historic.

Watch the videos about São Luís do Maranhão

Crossed by rivers and with the sea surrounding it, São Luís underwent a long and successful recovery plan, the government project Reviver.

The inauguration of the José Sarney Bridge, in 1970, contributed to urban revitalization, integrating the new part of the city to the center, where there are modern buildings and luxurious hotels.

Strolling through São Luís is like transiting between these two sides, between the past and the present – ​​the route is hampered, however, by poor signage and by the intense and confusing traffic, but still fascinating.

You reach São Luís, which is 463 kilometers from Teresina, via the DR-135.

map of São Luís do Maranhão
map of São Luís do Maranhão


Extended over the Anil River, the José Sarney bridge marks the beginning of the expansion of “Nova São Luís”.

Without the attractions of the historic center, this part of the city stands out for its high concentration of skyscrapers, luxurious hotels, good restaurants and bustling shopping centers.

Sao Luis do Maranhao
Sao Luis do Maranhao

After José Sarney, three other bridges were built that now connect the oldest part of the capital to the modern neighborhoods – Ponta d'Areia, São Francisco and Renascença, among others – where São Luís' elite live.

Urban beaches do not attract attention: the waters are dark and the tides are high. Even so, Ponta d'Areia, São Marcos, Calhau – with their beautiful sunsets-, Caolho, Olho d'Água, do Meio and Araçaji are charming and have good attractions.

In the kiosks that dot the edge, you can taste delicious fresh fish and crabs.

Try the crab at Base da Lenoca (“base” is the name by which traditional food restaurants are called in Maranhão): eight crustaceans cooked in breath, with special seasoning in a vinaigrette and accompanied by rice with pork rinds, baião -of-two and mush.

downtown São Luís do Maranhão map


Recognized as one of the largest collections of Portuguese urban and architectural tradition in Brazil, the historic center of São

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

Luís is more than an open-air museum: he is a living heritage, where people live, work, circulate.

Most of the museums, restaurants, bars and shops in the historic area of ​​the capital are located near the Praia Grande market and the waterway terminal, between the old streets of Trapiche, Giz, Estrela and Portugal.

To get to know them, the best time is in the afternoon, when the main attractions are open – although only the tiled facades of colonial buildings are worth the trip.


On this tour the architecture is the highlight. In fact, these facades ended up inspiring Lisbon architects in the XNUMXth century.

Contrary to popular belief, first the Portuguese living in Brazil decorated the facades of their houses with tiles and only later the trend expanded throughout Portugal.

The technique of using ceramic on the facades had a function beyond aesthetics, it served to minimize the internal heat by reflecting sunlight. Portuguese tiles alone are 150 different models, mostly blue and white.

Examples of tiles found in São Luís
Examples of tiles found in São Luís

The common features of the big houses are ceramic and iron balcony. Huge windows and doors communicated the economic prosperity of XNUMXth century cotton.

Generally, merchants used the first floor to set up their businesses and lived with their family on the upper floor.

A time later came the decay and deterioration that only saw a prospect of improvement with the restoration process started in the late 70's. However, the path to recover all of them is still undefined.

The walk usually starts at Praça Dom Pedro II, descends the steps of Catarina Mina and ends at Rua Portugal, in Praia Grande.

Staircases of Catarina Mina in São Luís
Staircases of Catarina Mina in São Luís

Further on, stop at Largo do Comércio for the bars and Casa das Tulhas, the place to taste and buy typical products.

If you do, when you reach Rua da Paz, head to Praça João Lisboa and from there to Rua do Sol, where the Arthur de Azevedo Theater is located.

Attraction with guided tour that still shows shows.

Opposite is Rua do Ribeirão, which leads to Fonte do Ribeirão and its legends.

Details of the Ribeirão Fountain in São Luís do Maranhão
Details of the Ribeirão Fountain in São Luís do Maranhão

The Ribeirão Fountain (1796), with Christian and pagan symbols, was used to supply the city and still inspires legends and popular beliefs.

Among them is the legend of the sleeping serpent that does not stop growing in the underground tunnels of São Luís.

One day it will grow so big that its head will find its tail, and when it does, it will wake up in a rage and fire until it sinks the city.

Obviously, stories encouraged by the city's powers to avoid onlookers in the underground where they used it as a secret passage. Underground tunnels are said to connect the main churches in São Luís.


The large corner manor house, with three floors, is considered the largest building covered with colonial tiles in the country. Built in the 1969th century, its interior was completely destroyed by fire in XNUMX.

In 1976, Caixa Econômica Federal restored the building and installed a branch on its premises. R. de Nazaré, corner with Rua do Império.


RUA PORTUGAL in São Luís do Maranhão

The two blocks full of tiled colonial buildings, bars and cafes make up the center of bohemian São Luís.

Rua Portugal, in São Luís, is the urban portrait of the XNUMXth century, with two-story houses with facades adorned with Portuguese tiles.

The movement is even greater on Thursdays, when the street promotes the Festa Dia de Festa (Feast Day), a night full of music, in a variety of styles. When they perform in the city, MPB stars and stars usually stop by.


House of Maranhão
House of Maranhão

Installed in the former headquarters of Alfândega, building from 1873, the Casa do Maranhão exhibits objects related to the various manifestations of bumba-meu-boi.

On the ground floor, a shop sells souvenirs, while a big screen shows records of past parties and TV sets show landscapes of the state.

The upper floor dedicates a room to each rhythm – or accent, as the people from Maranhão say – that bumba-meu-boi takes on: instruments, clothing, etc.

There is also a room where the legend that gave rise to the tradition is explained, one for rehearsals and another where they teach how to make the costumes used in the festivities. The entire visit takes about an hour. R. do Trapiche, s/n, Praia Grande.



In this three-story townhouse, with an eaves covered with French tiles, the visitor can learn about the way of life of both the people of Maranhão who live in the interior and those on the coast.

On the first floor, a room shows objects used in farming, especially cotton – wooden pestles, seed grinders and looms – and products resulting from their handling, such as quilts and rugs; in another, there are pieces related to the coast, such as fishing traps and a canoe dug out of a single log.

The second floor houses the space for the artisan that gives the place its name, Antonio Bruno Pinto Nogueira (1904-74), Nhozinho, born in Curupu, who gained fame making toys.

On the top floor, the indigenous room features material from eight ethnic groups that still live in the interior of Maranhão.

Outside, life-size replicas of common housing in the state, such as carnauba and mud houses, are on display. Monitored visits. R. Portugal, 185, Praia Grande.

Meet History of Casa de Nhozinho in São Luís do Maranhão 


Known as Casa da Festa, the space that honors the folklorist from Maranhão brings together material referring to popular rites and revelries.

On the first floor, where pieces representing the religious practice in the state are displayed, there is a wing that presents the Casa das Minas – a terreiro founded in the XNUMXth century for the practice of the tambourine, a cult of similar African origin to Bahian Candomblé.

On the second floor are the records of the Festa do Divino – with an emphasis on Alcântara – and a space dedicated to another popular Afi-o-Brazilian festival, the tambourine.

On the third floor are the pieces related to Christmas. There are guided tours with bilingual guides. R. do Giz, 205, Praia Grande.



It was Father Antônio Vieira who inaugurated this building, in 1654, to house the order of mercedarians, of Spanish origin.

Today it hosts the Republican Memory Foundation, made up of the José Sarney Memorial – with documents and objects from the former president -, the Model Center for Research on Republican History, the Latin American Friendship Institute and the Portuguese-speaking Peoples Friendship Institute. R. da Palma, 506, Centro.


Cathedral of the Cathedral in São Luis
Cathedral of the Cathedral in São Luis

The church of Nossa Senhora da Vitória was built by Jesuits, probably with indigenous labor, and inaugurated in 1699. A succession of reforms transfigured the original project: the current façade dates from 1922; the chancel ceiling was painted in the 1950s by João de Deus.

The altarpiece in the main altar, however, is a magnificent example of baroque and is worth a visit: the exquisite gilded carving, dating from the end of the 1954th century, is considered by specialists to be the best in the city. Listed by IPHAN in 1990, the altarpiece was restored in the XNUMXs. Av. D. Pedro II, s/n, Historic Center.


Present in Maranhão territory since the foundation of São Luís, Jesuits and religious of other orders built churches of great beauty in the city.

The church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo (pҫa João Lisboa, 350, Centro) began to be built in 1627. It was sacked by the Dutch in 1641 and in 1894 passed into the hands of the Capuchins.

São José do Desterro Church is the oldest in São Luís
São José do Desterro Church is the oldest in São Luís

Its extraordinary facade and main door have been preserved and remain faithful to the original design.

It is believed that the Igreja do Desterro is located exactly where the first church in the city was built, destroyed during the Dutch invasion.

In 1893, residents collected donations and built it. In October 2007 it was closed for renovation (pҫa. Do Desterro, s/n, Praia Grande).

10 and 11. SOURCES

Ribeirão Fountain
Ribeirão Fountain

Built in 1796, the Ribeirão fountain (Fonte do Ribeirão, s/n, Historic Center) has five streams of water, which come out of the mouth of figureheads and sculptures representing fish and gods; ahead, there is a patio covered with ashlar stones.

The waters of the Ribeirão spring come from a spring that supplied many houses in the center and the ships moored in São Luís.

Its underground galleries cut through the historic center of São Luís.

According to legend, under one of them sleeps a gigantic snake that will swallow the city the day it wakes up.

Even older - it was inaugurated in 1640, taking advantage of the springs that had supplied the Portuguese troops during the fight against the French -, the poorly preserved fountain of Pedras (street São João, no, Historic Center), surrounded by a square walled, it has imposing stone figureheads from which water gushes.


Arthur Azevedo Theater
Arthur Azevedo Theater

The idea of ​​creating the Arthur de Azevedo Theater emerged in 1815 on the initiative of two Portuguese merchants, Eleutério Lopes da Silva Varela and Estevão Gonçalves Braga.

This was the full golden age of the cotton cycle, when Maranhão was getting richer with the export of this product and the city needed more cultural life.

Construction began in 1816 and on July 1, 1817, after a year of work, it was inaugurated.

It was initially called Teatro União, in honor of the creation of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves (1815), the result of the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in Brazil.

This was the fourth theater in the history of São Luís, but it stood out for its comfort and size, with a capacity for 800 spectators. Its neoclassical style was also a novelty for the time.

Arthur Azevedo Theater São Luís do Maranhão
Arthur Azevedo Theater São Luís do Maranhão

In 1852 it was renamed Teatro São Luiz and, in the 1920s, it gained its current name in honor of the great Maranhão playwright Artur de Azevedo (1855-1908).

In the XNUMXth century, the theater was deprived of its character and became a cinema, but it is currently restored and in full operation.



The Palácio dos Leões marks the rise of the Portuguese colony in Maranhão.

The Palácio dos Leões, seat of the government of Maranhão, is one of the most imposing monuments in the country. Symbol of the living history of the people of Maranhão, the Palace attracts tourists from all over the world and makes the eyes of visitors shine, given the grandeur of the work located in the Historic Center of the capital, São Luís.

The Palácio dos Leões has three thousand square meters of built area, divided into three wings: residential, administrative and visitation.

With neoclassical architecture, the monument has a collection of 1.300 objects, which are accessible to the public, in five noble halls with permanent exhibitions.

In them, there are works from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth centuries, furniture, canvases, porcelain and sculptures, which express well the power and richness of the XNUMXth century, when it was built.

The Palácio dos Leões dates back to 1612 and was built by the French who occupied the town and built the São Luís fort, right at the confluence of the Bacanga and Anil rivers.

Palácio dos Leões, one of the greatest symbols of Maranhão's culture

The name was a tribute to the King of France, Louis IX. A few years later, the French were expelled and the Portuguese assumed local power, starting to influence the habits and culture of the people of Maranhão.

The heritage of Portuguese settlers is throughout the Historic Center of São Luís.

The city's expansion did not compromise the 1974th century urban fabric and its original architectural ensemble. In 1997, the capital was listed by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (Iphan) and inscribed as a World Heritage Site, in XNUMX, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The monument is one of the largest public buildings in the country and has already undergone dozens of renovations and major restoration. Today, it is an example of maintenance and preservation. Av. D. Pedro II, s/n, Historic Center.

Palace of Lions in São Luis
Palace of Lions in São Luis

14. Palace of La Ravardiere

The Palace of La Ravardière is the seat of the city hall of São Luís do Maranhão, in Brazil. With origins in the XNUMXth century, it is an important landmark in the historic center of the city, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Palace of La Ravardière in São Luís do Maranhão
Palace of La Ravardière in São Luís do Maranhão

Around 1689, the Casa da Câmara and Cadeia de São Luís were built on the site, but the current palace is the result of several later renovations. The building has a symmetrical façade, decorated in the central part by a small stucco pediment.

The windows on the first floor have curved lintels, while those on the second floor are straight lintel, with stucco decoration and balconies. Inside there is an elegant staircase leading to the second floor.

The Palace's name is a tribute to Daniel de la Touche, lord of La Ravardière, considered the city's founder in 1612. In front of the building there is a bronze bust of the French captain, sculpted by Antao Bibiano Silva.

It is located on Avenida D. Pedro II, next to the Palácio dos Leões, seat of the state government.


European films, drama classes, art workshops. These are some of the attractions of the Odylo Costa Filho Creativity Center, a cultural space frequented by the residents of São Luís.

There is also the Ferreira Gullar Reading Room (College ramp, 200, Praia Grande).

The Casa de Cultura Josué Montello is intended to serve the general public and researchers in particular, in the fields of Literature, History and Performing Arts (r. das Hortas, 327, Centro).


Dating back to 1836, the Gomes de Sousa manor house was transformed into the Historic and Artistic Museum of Maranhão in 1973.

Furniture, porcelain and crystals reconstitute the residential environments characteristic of the state in the 302th century. R. do Sol, XNUMX, Centro.




The Museum of Sacred Art, installed in a colonial manor house on Rua de São João, has a valuable collection of pieces from the imagination and goldsmithery, which tell the history of the Church in Maranhão.

The collection, which belongs, in part, to the Archdiocese of São Luís, is composed of pieces from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries in Mannerist, Rococo and Neoclassical styles. It includes from sculptures to objects used in religious celebrations, with chalices and crucifixes.


Solar dos Vasconcelos in São Luís
Solar dos Vasconcelos in São Luís

The manor houses an exhibition of photos and objects that show the transformations the Historic Center has undergone. It also features a collection of models and miniatures of typical boats used by people from Maranhão.

A permanent exhibition of models exhibits some of the vessel models used by people from Maranhão. Rua da Estrela, 562, Praia Grande.



A visit to the Museum of Visual Arts is worth a lesson on European tiles, whose presence is remarkable in the capital of Maranhão.

Most of the tiles on the first floor, dating from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, are blue and white and come from Portugal.

But there are also tiles from France, Germany and England. On the second and third floors are works by artists from Maranhão and from other origins, such as Cícero Dias, Tarsila do Amaral and Alfredo Volpi.

The third floor offers a beautiful view of the historic center, São Marcos bay and Praia Grande Market. R. Portugal, 273, Praia Grande.



The place where the city's former slave market used to function became the Museu do Negro, aimed at preserving Afro-Brazilian memory and culture.

Its collection includes images, musical instruments, clothes and pieces used in festive or religious rituals. In the inner courtyard of the manor there is a replica of a pillory. R. Jacinto IHaia, y/n, Desterro.


Throughout the old part of the city, tourists come across shops that sell typical products from Maranhão, especially drinks, sweets and handicrafts.

One of these places is the Praia Grande Market (Rua da Estrela, s/n, Historic Center), built in 1820 and installed within the Casa das Tulhas complex.

It contains tiquira – cassava cachaça – and all kinds of grains and spices, which give it an unmistakable perfume; old men meet there to play cards and dominoes. On Friday nights, the market is packed with visitors.

Another point is the Ceprama Craft Center, which sells painted tiles, lace and wood and fiber items produced throughout the state (Rua São Pantaleão, 1232, Madre de Deus).

23 History of Praça João Lisboa in São Luís do Maranhão

24 Maranhão Natural History and Archeology Research Center

25 Rua do Giz in São Luís do Maranhão – History and Architecture

26 Church of São José do Desterro in São Luís do Maranhão – History

27 Eden Cine in São Luís do Maranhão


After Bahia, Maranhão is the Brazilian state in which religions of African origin are more representative.

One of its strongest manifestations is the tambourine, similar in many points to Bahian Candomblé and Pernambuco's Xangô, but based on a particular mythology.

The rites and touches vary from one terreiro to another, but they are always marked by the trance of the participants, who are shown to be incorporated by supernatural entities.

The orixás, related to nature, take on the traits of characters known to people from Maranhão, such as King Sebastião, a resident of the island of Lençóis, who would have built a castle at the bottom of the sea for his beloved, Princess Ina.

The largest and most traditional terreiro is the Casa das Minas (Rua de São Pantaleão, 857, Centro), built in the 1158th century. In addition to it, the Fanti-Ashanti House (Rua Militar, XNUMX, Cruzeiro do Anil) stands out.


Maranhão is the state that most enthusiastically celebrates bumba-meu-boi.

The tradition, linked to June festivals and whose origins refer to the games of slaves who worked in cattle raising, mixes African, Portuguese and indigenous influences and fuses, in the same rite, theater, music and dance.

It all starts with the story of Catirina, a farm slave who, pregnant, has the desire to eat beef tongue – not just any beef, but her boss's favorite tongue.

For this, Catirina summons her husband – Pai Francisco, or Nego Chico, or Preto Velho – to kill the animal and bring him the delicacy.

Man obeys; discovered by the boss, he is summoned to resurrect the ox, in case he does not want to die. A shaman helps him with the task: “Get up, ox; dance, ox,” he urges. The animal finally gets up and goes dancing.

Preparations for the party begin in January, but it is in May that the rehearsals take place.

On June 23, the eve of St. John, the ox is baptized by a priest – outside the church. The presentation of their leather to the community – decorated with velvet, satins, beads and sequins – is the starting point for the dances.

The game has several “accents”, that is, rhythms – such as the rattle (indigenous influenced), zabumba (in which African features predominate) and orchestra (with European influence).

Among other important folkloric manifestations in the state, it is worth mentioning the Divino Espírito Santo festival, the tambourine, the coconut dance, the stone dance and the São Gonçalo dance.


In the mid-1970s, Jamaican reggae arrived in the capital of Maranhão to stay.

In addition to the constant presence on radio and TV programs, the rhythm permeates the city's daily life, especially thanks to radiolas – a kind of mobile DJ studios, whose huge equipment spreads the sound of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and other classics of the genre.

In 2005, more than fifty radiolas animated São Luís with the “pedras”, that is, the good reggae songs of the 1970s.

To supply their repertoires, radiola owners commission recordings from Brazilian singers, who go by names like Dub Brown, Henry Murvin and Ronnie Green.

To the international scene, Maranhão exports, among others, Célia Sampaio and the band Tribo de Jah.

Radios sell CDS, but if the idea is to dance to the rhythm outside the home - whether alone, like Jamaican idols, or in the forró style, preferred by people from Maranhão - there are plenty of options: the Roots Bar brings together the "water troughs" the most authentic and the most accomplished dancers (Rua da Palma, 85, Centro).

Nelson's Bar is frequented by the city's middle and upper classes (av. Litorânea, s/n, Praia do Calhau).

The Bar do Porto is a favorite among tourists (Rua do Trapiche, Historic Center).

Bar do Léo, which plays, in addition to reggae, Brazilian music, Zeca Baleiro and Rita Ribeiro (Mercado de Vinhaes, s/n, Centro) often perform.

Tourism and Travel Guide of São Luís do Maranhão in the Northeast

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