Founded by the French in 1612, São Luís was taken by the Portuguese in 1615. The Portuguese influence in the city’s architecture is evident. The city’s Historical Center has a group of more than 3.5 thousand buildings landmarked as historical treasures, and it was declared a World Treasure by UNESCO in 1997.
In 1997, UNESCO gave the Historical Center of São Luís the title of World Heritage Site. It was a recognition of the beauty and importance of one of the largest groups of civil architecture of European origin in the world. That architectural group had already been landmarked by the Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional – IPHAN (The Brazilian National Historical and Artistical Heritage Institute) in 1955.
The main cultural event in the State of Maranhão and in the city of São Luís is the Bumba-Meu-Boi Festival, which gets the city of São Luís crowded between June and July. It is a tradition that has been holding strong since the eighteenth century, mixing dance, music, theater, and folklore. Nowadays, there are several Bumba-Meu-Boi groups in the city, subdivided by “accents”. Each “accent” has its own characteristics, which become evident in the clothes, in the choice of instruments, in the type of rhythm of the music, and in the choreographies.
The plot of the party brings back a typical story of the social and economical relationships of the area during its colonial period. On a cattle farm, the slave Father Francisco kills one of his master’s pet oxen to satisfy the desire of his pregnant wife, Mother Catirina, who wants to eat tongue. Upon realizing the disappearance of the animal, the farmer becomes furious. After investigating it, he discovers the author of the crime and forces Father Francisco to bring the ox back to life. Shamans and healers are then summoned to save the slave and, when the ox resurrects, everybody participates in an enormous party in commemoration of the miracle.
Another fundamental tradition of the state is the Tambor-de-Crioula, a celebration that mixes faith and fun. It pays homage to Saint Benedict, a black saint, the son of slaves.
São Luís is also known as the “Brazilian Reggae Capital”. The Jamaican rhythm arrived in the city
in the seventies and became very popular among its residents. Almost everyday there are parties in which people dance to this musical style.