Maranhão StateSituation and CharacteristicsThe state of Maranhão lies on the north coast of Brazil. Its boundary with Piauí state, to the east, is marked for much of the way by the Rio Parnaíba; to the south is Tocantins, with the Rio Tocantins forming the boundary for part of the way; while to the west is the state of Pará. The bulk of the population is concentrated in the intensively cultivated coastal regions and river valleys.HistoryThe first Europeans to land on the coast of the state, in 1500, were Spanish seafarers; then in 1534 Portugal established a capitania here. The French and Dutch continued until the 17th century trying to establish a foothold in the region. In 1823 the territory, which had been independent since 1621, was incorporated in the Brazilian empire.
Sao Luis, Brazil
São LuísSituation and CharacteristicsSão Luís, capital of Maranhão, was founded in 1812 on the island of São Luís in São Marcos Bay. It lies 806km/501mi south-east of Belém and 446km/277mi north-west of Teresima.Bus stationAvenida dos FrancesesAirportAeroporto Nacional Marechal Cunha MachadoHistoryThe town is believed to have been founded (and named after the French national saint) by Daniel de la Touche, Seigneur de la Ravardière. It was then the chief place in France Equinoxiale, a French colony in northern Brazil. The French were expelled in 1615 by a Portuguese force under the command of Jerónimo de Albuquerque, but in 1641 the Portuguese in their turn were driven out by the Dutch, finally establishing their control over the area only three years later.
MarketsIn the markets of São Luís visitors can buy lace, nets made of buriti and babassu palm fibres and other craft products typical of Maranhão. In Avenida Dom Pedro II, Rua do Sol and Rua São Pantaleão - in which is the church of São Pantaleão (1780-1817) - also a number of craft shops.
BeachesThere are many beautiful bathing beaches round São Luís, some of them fringed by dunes; but bathers should beware of the heavy seas on some beaches, with breakers up to 7m/23ft high, and also of the cars which race along some of the beaches. Among the most popular beaches are the Praia do Calhau (8km/5mi outside the town); the Ponte da Areia at the north end of the island, with the ruins of Forte Santo Antônio (1691); São Marcos (unsuitable for bathing), with the remains of the late 18th century Forte São Marcos; and the Praia de Araçaji (18km/12mi from São Luís), one of the most beautiful on this whole stretch of coast.
River tripsAn interesting, though arduous, experience is a trip in a catamaran on the rivers Anil and Bacanga, which flow through the town.The Governador Sarney Bridge over the Anil provides a link between the city center and the elegant residential districts on the coast.
Alumar Aluminium Plant
AlumarOn the outskirts of São Luís is the Alumar aluminium plant, one of the largest in the world, to which a seemingly endless succession of trains bring bauxite from the Serra dos Carajás (Pará state). There are conducted visits of the plant on Saturdays (tel. 216 1155).
A number of popular festivals are celebrated in São Luís. Some of them are of African origin, for example the Tambor de Crioula in June and the Tambor de Mina, dedicated to St Sebastian, in July; others have Portuguese roots.
Bumba meu Boi
The most important folk event, however, is the Bumba meu Boi, a combination of song, dance and play in which Indian, African and Luso-Brazilian elements are mingled. There are an estimated 60 Bumba meu Boi groups in the city - musicians playing a variety of instruments, such as zabumbas (large drums) and matracas (pieces of wood or iron rings which are struck against one another). On June 22nd, two days before the feast of St John, the leading figure in the play, the Boi (Ox), is "born", and on the following day he is "baptised" in the group's cult hall. This is the start of a festival which continues until July 30th or even until the end of September, when the Boi - a structure of wood and buriti palm fibers covered with embroidered velvet, glass beads and tinsel - finally "dies". The Bumba meu Boi was originally a parody by the oppressed members of the population directed against the society of slave-owners, and accordingly was from time to time suppressed by the authorities.
There are several attractions in the area surrounding São Luís.
The charming town of Alcantara ranks as a national cultural monument.
Parque Nacional dos Lençóis Maranhenses encompasses 155,000 hectares of coast, that includes desert, dunes, mangrove swamps, and beaches.