São Luís is the capital of the Brazilian state of Maranhão. The city is located on São Luís island in the Baía de São Marcos, an extension of the Atlantic Ocean which forms the estuary of Pindaré, Mearim, Itapecuru and other rivers. Its coordinates are 2.50° south, 44.30° west. The city proper has a population of some 998,385 people (2006 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 sea ports; Ponta da Madeira, 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, Brazil's former President José Sarney, Belgian-naturalised soccer player Luís Oliveira, and Zeca Baleiro, an MPB singer.
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 England. The wealth originated by this activity was used to modernize the city; instigate religious men to come and teach in their schools; and water supplement. The city came to be the third most populous city in the country, but by the end of the 19th century agriculture faced its decay and, from this time forth, the city has been searching for other ways of sustenance.
Nowadays, São Luís has the largest and best preserved heritages of colonial Portuguese architecture of all Latin America. The island is known as the "Island of Love" and "Brazilian Athens", due to its many poets and writers, such as Aluísio Azevedo, Graça Aranha, Gonçalves Dias (the most famous), Ferreira Gullar, among others.
The per capita income for the city was R$ 9,543 (2005).
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 glad 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: 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 and pure enjoyment. 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 incredible costume, original choreography and music - all performed amongst the greatest 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 Joao and its requisite Forro dance in the North-Eastern states further south Bumba Meu Boi is a harvest festival but with the bull as its centre-piece. Food and drinks made from local produce not only accompany the event but are a pre-requisite due to the high calorific needs of the heavily costumed dancers.
Capoeira: 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.
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.