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São Luís

São Luís

São Luís, capital of the state of Maranhão, Brazil (population 870,028 as of 2000), and island on which the city is located (originally called Upaon-açu [Big Island] by the native Tupinambá). The Frenchman Daniel de La Touche founded the city on 8 September 1612, naming it in honor of King Louis XIII. The Portuguese drove out the French in 1615; the Dutch occupied the city from 1641 to 1644, when they, too, were expelled.

São Luís became the capital of the vast colonial state of Maranhão in 1626. With the growth of Maranhão's slave-based economy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, significant quantities of sugar, cotton, and rice were exported through São Luís. The city maintained direct relations with the Court in Lisbon. Sons of the elite, educated in Coimbra, held key court positions and received noble titles. São Luís was known as the "Athens of Brazil" owing to the remarkable number of its authors, poets, playwrights, scientists, journalists, and politicians who were nationally known during the 1800s. Modern writers, including Josué Montello and Ferreira Gullar, continue to give Maranhão national literary prominence.

São Luís was the first city in northern Brazil to feature public gas illumination, a trolley system, and public fountains with piped water. More than 4,000 buildings still remain from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, many with facades of colorful tiles brought as ballast from Portugal, along with the cobblestones that pave the narrow streets of the historical district. Brazilian independence and the abolition of slavery, followed by declining markets for agricultural exports, initiated a period of economic decline that continued through the early 1990s, despite the metallurgical industries and port facilities that were built in the 1980s.

See alsoBrazil, Geography .


César Augusto Marques, Dicionário histórico-geográfico da Provincia do Maranhão, 2d ed. (1970).

Ivan Sarney Costa, São Luís: Nature's Island of Loveliness (1989).

Jomar Da Silva Moraes, Guia de São Luís do Maranhão (1989).

Additional Bibliography

Andrés, Luiz Phelipe de Carvalho Castro, et al. Centro histórico de São Luís Maranhão: Patrimonio mundial. Sao Paulo: Audichromo Editora, 1998.

Santos, Maria do Rosário Carvalho. Caminho das matriarcas Jeje-Nago: Uma contribuicão para história da religião Afro Maranhão. São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial, 2005.

                                   Gayle Waggoner Lopes

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