Before anything else, we should start with some information about
Maranhão, a Capitania Hereditária (Hereditary Capitany -
Portuguese Administrative division of the Colony) donated by the
king D. João III, in 1535, to the chroni-cler historian and
grammarian João de Barros, who was one of the greatest
personalities of the Portuguese renais-sance. João de Barros was
also an overseer at Casa da Índia (The House of India), which
inspired his famous Décadas da Ásia (The Asian Decades).
Two Portuguese colonizers who were given neighboring Capitanies
(Fernão Álvares de Andrade, chief-treasurer of the kingdom; and
Aires da Cunha, a brave sea captain and hero in battles in sea
and land) joined João de Barros in a partnership. The three
partners organized the biggest private colonizing venture ever
seen in the history of Por-tugal. It was composed by ten vessels
and nine hundred people: seamen, settlers, soldiers and 113
gente de cavalo ("horse people"). The expedition, loaded with
provisions and weapons, left Lisbon in November, 1535 under the
command of Aires da Cunha.
In spite of all the efforts, the whole fleet sunk down when it
was already sailing Maranhense waters. The same happened to the
fleet of Luís Melo da Silva years later - who, differently from
his former fellows colonizers, survi-ved.
Such facts belated the Portuguese colonization in Maranhão,
which remained a simple emporium for adventurers for a long
time. These adventurers were mostly Frenchmen. They first
conquered the affection of the native indi-ans, who exchanged
various goods such as animals, furs, feathers and other products
from the land for all kinds of trifle brought by the European.
This recently-built relationship with native indians encouraged
the departure of an expedition which - under the command of
Daniel de La Touche, Lord of La Ravardière and François de
Rasilly, Lord of Rasilly and Aunelles - officially founded the
Equinodial France, in September 8th, 1612. This would hurry the
Portuguese decision in favor of conquering that land immediately,
what would eventually happen in 1615.
In order to occupy their new possession, the Portuguese sent
many expeditions to Maranhão. One of them, headed by Jorge de
Lemos Bittencourt and whose navigator and commander was Simão
Estácio da Silveira, arrived in São Luís in 1619 with more than
300 settlers, doubling the local population.
Due to the strategic location of the new colony, the advantages
offered by the route Lisbon-São Luís-Lisbon and because of the
vast territory (which stretched to far North) yet to be
conquered, the Portuguese created the Colonial State of
Maranhão, separated from the rest of Brazil, in 1621.
Despite that, Maranhão faced enormous economic problems. The
colony - having gone through property cycles, annulled by
constant retrocession - only experimented development after the
creation of the Capitania Geral Do Grão Pará e Maranhão
(1755-1778), by initiative of the Marquis of Pombal, who had
fomented mercantilism in the region.
From the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th
century São Luís, prospered substantially. It was, for quite a
long time, the fourth in the rank of the most important cities
in Brazil, being preceded only by Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and
The State of Maranhão has an area of 329000 km2 and an estimated
population of 5 million inhabitants, of which 39% live in urban
areas and 61% in rural areas.
Located between Northern and Northeastern Brazil, Maranhão is
indeed "Middle-Northern" . In the 21 micro regions of its
territory various landscapes - both of the North and Northeast -
can be found such as valleys, flooded camps, Brazilian savanna,
a large coast with bays, rivers, coves, gulfs and abundant
mangroves, beaches, islands and ports.
1.2 - São Luís, the Island (
Ilha de São Luís )
The Island of São Luís, in Northern Maranhão, is located at lat.
2o31'4" S and
long. 44o16'42" W
Its limits are the Atlantic Ocean (North), Arraial Bay and
Mosquitos Strait (South), São José Bay (East) and São Marcos Bay
(West). The island is linked to the continent by two bridges
over Mosquitos Strait, one for cars, buses and trucks and
another for railroad transportation. Being constituted by
repeated aggregation of tertiary sediments, the island has a
topography of ranked levels, its highest point being at 35m.
Upaon-Açu -the Big Island , as the island used to be called by
the indians, had twenty seven tribes and in the pla-ces where
they were located there are now villages, some of them
preserving the original names.
São Luís, the island, called in former days of ILHA DO
MARANHÃO(MARANHÃO ISLAND) has a surface of 905km2 and various
creeks, springs and perennial rivers - though none of them is
really large. There are also, igapós (river channels) and swamps
crowded with buritizeiros (buriti palms), juçareiras (juçara
palms) and other native species growing in richly irrigated
terrain. Cruel devastation, however, has diminished the number
of springs and rivers described enthusiastically by the first
chroniclers, especially Claude d'Abeville (1612) and Simão
Estácio da Silveira (1619).
The climate is tropical and semi-humid, with rainfall indexes
reaching 2083.7mm a year. It rains a lot, specially in March and
June, the peak months of the rainy season. The yearly average
temperature is 26oC (approx. 79oF), with a slight increase from
August to November - when it is, in compensation, softened by a
constant breeze. There are basically two seasons: Summer, with
sunny days and warm nights (specially at the beach); and Winter,
very rainy, from January to June.
Besides São Luís, capital of the State, there are three more
towns in the island: São José de Ribamar, Paço do Lumiar and
Raposa (created in 1994).
Manifestations of popular culture are many. Everywhere - and
sometimes at the same time - there are festive events, both of
religious and profane nature. Among the religious ones, we can
find the terrreiros (where African cults are performed), which
celebrate their deities all year long. Products, beings and
entities of the skies, earth and water are given celebration
with expositions, festivals, fairs and gatherings.
Some of these festivals have been happening for quite some time.
It is the case of the Festa da Juçara (Juçara is the fruit of a
palm out of which a delicious juice is extracted) that takes
place in Maracanã since 1970, thanks to the initiative of Rosa
Mochel Martins, whose drive for preservation and entrepreneur
spirit shall never be forgotten.
In Iguaíba we have the Festival do Coco D'água (The Coconut
Festival), in Tibiri and Pau Deitado there are shrimp festivals.
The festival calendar of the island is extremely rich and that
makes it impossible to list all of them. They are all,
nonetheless, celebrations of life and happiness.
The município of São Luís has an area of 518km2 and is located
in the northeastern part of the island. The oldest part of the
city faces São Marcos Bay and is embraced by two gulfs - or
rivers: Anil and Bacanga. The population of the whole island is
estimated in one million inhabitants, 800 thousand of which live
in São Luís. The city, however, stretches beyond its territory,
taking over part of the territory of neighboring towns. There
are plans for the institution of the 'Great São Luís', which
will comprise almost all the island.
After these first and general information on Maranhão - the
State - and São Luís - the island, we shall consider some
particular features that make it possible to know São Luís
better through its customs, folklore, history, archi-tecture,
cultural institutions, cookery and everything that constitutes
the culture of a people that is proud of being Brazilian, but
which is also aware of its traditions. This approach starts by....
The most important is not really how you get to São Luís.
Probably, for each way of arriving to the city of the Lord of La
Ravardière there is a corresponding group of first and
unforgettable impressions about it. Nobody, however, would like
to remain in these initial ways of seeing and feeling a city,
whichever it is.
In the particular case of São Luís, the necessity of discovering
and knowing it is even more compulsory, since it is not a city
like the others. Shining with a singular beauty provided by
tiled mansions with cantaria (Portuguese stone) thresholds,
fiança eaves and iron balconies, the city proves its history of
economical prosperity and refined taste. São Luís has a lot to
show and to offer, though it may initially look cautious and
modest. All this prudence does not resist the first and true
shake of hands, followed by a real, friendly hug. All the honors
are given to the visitor, a friend. That is a lesson of
hospitality taught by the Tupinambá indians, ancient lords of
this Island, which they called Upaon Açu.
The place is worth the warmth of its people, its misteries and
the taste of its typical cuisine. It is impossible not to love
the city once you stroll along its alleys, streets and hills as
many people have done throughout the centuries.
People who made history in the fields of politics, literature,
music, religion, teaching and science. People like Jerô-nimo de
Albuquerque Maranhão, the hero who expelled the French and first
chief-captain of Maranhão, land which he loved so much that had
its name added to his own. People like the navigator Simão
Estácio da Silveira, who brought so many settlers in 1619 that
the local population doubled and was the first president of the
City Congress. Silveira, back to Portugal, wrote Summary
Relation of the Causes of Maranhão, a rich propaganda of the
land, used to attract settlers. There are many more people who
made the history of São Luís Gabriel Malagrida, Antônio Vieira,
Manoel Beckman, Gonçalves Dias, João Francisco Lisboa, Odorico
Mendes, Sotero dos reis, Gomes de Sousa, Antônio Rayol,
Sousândrade, Joaquim Serra, Coelho Neto, Humberto de Campos,
Antônio Lobo, Antônio Lopes Nascimento Moraes and many others.
All these people represent the history of the city because their
lives were linked to it in various ways.
Some of these people lived on the streets and alleys with
picturesque and lyrical names, some of which with pure
Portuguese taste. The streets Formosa (beautiful), da Estrela
(Star), do Sol (Sun), da Viração (the turn), dos Afo-gados (the
drowned), das Crioulas, do Mocambo, das Flores (flowers), do
Alecrim , da Inveja, das Barrocas, da Itamacaca, do Portinho, da
Prensa, do Prego, do Rancho, da Lapa, do Caela.
Some alleys had their names changed. The Quebra-Costas (Backbreaker),
which was also called Pacotilha, is now called João Vital Street.
It was, however, Quebra-Bunda (Rearbreaker) the first name given
to it, due to the cons-tant accidents that happened in this
alley, due to its tortuous shape and slippery floor. The
Baronesa (Baroness) Alley is a homage to Dona Maria Francisca de
Viveiros, Baroness of São Bento, who lived in the mansion at
Santo Antônio where today the Music School of Maranhão is
located. This homage hides the real name: Beco da Bosta ("Shit"
Alley), because of the content of the pots the slaves used to
carry to throw away into the sea - this alley was their way.
The Catarina Mina Alley, doubtlessly the most beautiful outdoor
stairs of the city, used to be called Rua da Calçada (sidewalk
st.) but it was kindly renamed after its beautiful dweller (the
government intended to call it Rua Djalma Dutra, but nobody
seems to have noticed it...). It starts on Pedro II Ave., near
the gate of Palácio dos Leões and goes until Travessa da
Alfândega. Between Nazaré st. And Trapiche st. there are the
lioz stone stairs, in whose bottom the gorgeous mina black
Catarina Rosa Ferreira Jesus (Catarina Mina) had a house and a
shop. Catarina was a freed slave and got very rich. When she got
married her mestizo husband was named alferes (second
lieute-nant) thanks to her influence, according to information
provided by João Afonso do Nascimento, who pictured Catarina in
her opulent embroidered dresses and jewelry.
Wherever you are at - in a hotel or hosted by a friend or
relative - it is convenient to start your tour of the city from
a certain point. As a mere convention, we assume that this point
be the landmark of the foundation , by the French, in 1612. It
is indeed the third monument erected for this purpose. The two
former ones were destroyed during the various remodelings
performed on Pedro II Avenue.
The present landmark was devised by Carlos Alberto Braga Diniz,
a Maranhense architect. It was, surely, the first frustration of
his professional life. Recently graduated and back to São Luís,
Braga saw in the invitation for projec-ting the monument a
golden opportunity of professional satisfaction. He dedicated
his skills to the task and concei-ved what seemed to be adequate
to the city. His plans, however, never left the drawings. The
State Government drastically reduced the funds for the
construction of the landmark and therefore, the symbol - which
was to be inaugurated with a solemn event - was reduced to a
poor obelisk rather than a modest one.
It is not possible to tell the exact location where Daniel de La
Touche, Lord of La Ravardière, and François de Rasilly, Lord of
Rasilly and Anuelles, erected a huge wooden cross to celebrate
the missal that solemnized the possession of the new land, on
behalf of the King of France. They finally made the bold dream
of the Equatorial France come true. It wouldn't last long,
however (1612-1615)... In spite of that, it is known that these
ceremonies took place somewhere in the place where today is
Pedro II Ave., that starts at the baluster over the bridge in
front of the archiepiscopal Palace. The ceremonies, as we know,
were celebrated very pompously, with the French dres-sing their
best costumes, their badges and condecorations and the indians
showing their strong bodies beautifully painted together with
necklaces, bracelets and other ornaments.
All that officialized the spiritual, administrative and military
domains of the Frenchmen over the new colony. Claude d'Abeville,
a Franciscan priest, chief of the religious mission in the new
possession, pictures that time in details in his book History of
the Cappuccini Priests' Mission in the Island of Maranhão and
neighboring Area. He also re-ports, in the name of the Regent
Queen, the text of the Fundamental Law established in November
From the landmark erected for eternal memory of its foundation,
São Luís generously and hospitably expands through its streets,
stairways, hills, fountains and alleys not only topographically,
but lyrically as well.
And what do the tiles, mansions, roofs and cantaria stones say?
They say that it takes time, investigation and patience to get
to know legends, myths and stories of heroism, sanctity,
revolution and tenderness; tales of passion and ecstasy, of
bursts of blinding hatred and merciless vengeance - our hearts
have always had this drive for extreme feelings and passion...
As the city grew, other locations started being occupied by
houses and mansions. Communication among these places were
initially provided by paths throughout the woods and then turned
into roads which have been develo-ped over a period of 400 years
of urban Planning.
The Palácio dos Leões (Lions' Palace), where State governors
used to work and live, is located on Pedro II Avenue - which
used to be called Maranhense Avenue. On its left side is La
Ravardière Palace, headquarters of the city administration, the
Prefecture. It was formerly the headquarters of the Senado da
Câmara e Cadeia( Chambers Senate and Jail), the Tribunal de
Justiça (Justice Court) and the Tribunal de Relação (Relationships
Court). In front of the building we can see the bust of Daniel
de La Touche, guarded by soldiers.
On the same side, as one moves towards the Cathedral, there is a
group of mansions that - for their size and ar-chitectonic
features - are not the most outstanding in the city. They are
remarkable, however, because of other reasons. The one showing a
belvedere ( divided today between numbers 199, the Commercial
Chamber, and 209, Rio de Janeiro Bank) was one of Ana Jansen's
residences. At the 241 the famous writer Graça Aranha lived from
the age of 2 to 16 (1870-1884). Graça Aranha wrote Canaã and was
one of the polemical participants of the 1922 Modern Art Week.
On the ground floor of the house his father, Temístocles da
Silva Maciel Aranha, wrote and published O País, a prestigious
and controversial newspaper at that time.
Opposite to the mansions, the first building is the Capitania
dos Portos (Port Authorities), whose construction is relatively
recent, as well as the buildings of Banco do Brasil, Banco da
Amazônia and the Tribunal de Justiça (Justice Court). All of
them occupy places where once colonial mansions were.
Next, there is João Goulart building, which was built with the
purpose of being the headquarters of INAMPS (today extinct). It
is an architectonic monster, a product of the 'civic' cares of
the military dictatorship. Its horrible taste replaced a
beautiful mansion of green and yellow tiles where the Post
Office used to be.
Not all houses were spared from the devastation of the
architectonic features of the area. It can be explained. Once it
is the oldest part of the city, many of the mansions built here
were not prepared to last for centuries. Some even had to be
completely removed, as it is the case of the old cemetery, which
lay on the beck of Misericórdia (Mercy) Church, also destroyed
in the 17th century.
In the beginning of this century (1904), under orders of Afonso
Henriques de Pinho, the whole area was remodeled and beautified,
losing its wide look and turning into an Avenue, thanks to the
construction of sidewalks and flower beds.
This avenue has suffered many interventions throughout the years.
The worst of all of them, doubtlessly, was the sacrifice of many
trees that had been wisely planted there and in other spots of
São Luís. There was a time when people were aware of the
importance of vegetation, specially in a tropical climate like
ours. Streets, squares and avenues used to have many trees, as
well as the backyards of the residences, full of fruit-bearing,
Near the Palace of Commerce there was Sotero dos Reis' star,
inaugurated in 1928 under the initiative and support of Admiral
R. F. Catanhede. The monument was three meters tall and had on
its top a brass medal with the image of Sotero dos Reis, made by
Newton Sá, a Maranhense sculptor.
The building of Palace of Commerce was built in two phases. The
first one, in the location of the former Hotel Central; the
second one in the site where there was an old mansion known as
Palácio dos Holandeses (Dutch Palace), which was destroyed
because of that. The headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce was
supposed to display a permanent museum of products made in the
State, offices and a Hotel (Hotel Central) - this hotel was
closed in 1994 after a long period of decadence. It was owned by
Francisco José da Silva in the years of 1871-2 and Alfred
Champoudry & Cia in 1896. Coelho Neto, the writer, was lodged at
Hotel Central in 1899 during his pompous visit to Maranhão.
Sousândrade, the poet, offered him the Honor Toast in a The
banquet given in that year, by the local society for the writer,
who was then in the peak of his career.
São Luís was founded by the French, who managed to remain here
for nothing more than three years (1612-1615) and invaded by the
Dutch, whose domain did not last any longer (1641-1644). The
city, Brazilian as few others, can consider themselves, remained
as a typical Portuguese town for more than two centuries. So
Portuguese that independence was only accepted in July 28, 1823
- almost 1 year after it was claimed D. Pedro I, the emperor -
as a result of bloody, unforgettable battles.
Finding any evidence - material or not - of French or Dutch
cultures is, therefore, a tough task. From the French, there is
nothing more than the name of the city - São Luís was named
after the king of France, Louis. From the Dutch, there is the
Fonte das Pedras (Rocks Fountain), though not in its original
features. The fountain was used by the Dutch after their
strategic anchoring at Desterro, whose temple - a simple
hermitage facing Bacanga river at that time - they are said to
have profaned. The Calvinist invaders commanded by Pieter Bas (chief
of arms) and the French Pasquier seemed to be not very tolerant.
From the Flemish domain we also kept for three centuries the
Palácio dos Holandeses, which was demolished during the
construction of the Palace of Commerce.
What else would remind us of the French and Dutch rule? One
could mention São Luís Fortress (called São Felipe by the
Portuguese), where today Palácio dos Leões is. Or also the tale
of the providential action of Our Lady of Victory, the Miracle
of Guaxenduba, during the expulsion of the Dutch. We could add
the Convento do Carmo (Carmo Convent), site of the Portuguese
resistance and the legend of São João Batistas' miracle...
These are all, however, our remembrances, not theirs. Reminders
of our bravery and faith.
Those who are from here belong to the city, which, in its turn,
belongs to them in the proportion of their love and affection to
it. Those who arrive, as long as they do so with no intentions
of predatory exploration or colonialist occupation, are welcomed
as our popular hospitality requires; with modesty, but from the
very bottom of our hearts:
- "Come in, have a seat. My house is your house."
ruction of sidewalks and flower beds.
This avenue has suffered many . Coelho Neto, the writer, was
lodged at Hotel Central in 1899 during his pompous visit to
Maranhão. Sousândrade, t