The late 17th-century core of this Brazilian historic town in Maranhão state, founded by the French and occupied by the Dutch before coming under Portuguese rule, has preserved the original rectangular street plan in its entirety. Thanks to a period of economic stagnation in the early 20th century, an exceptional number of fine historic buildings have survived, making this an outstanding example of an Iberian colonial town.
Located on the promontory formed by the Rivers Anil and Bacanga, northwest of São Luís Island, the Historic Center of São Luís do Maranhão, Brazil is characterized by its urban grid of streets lined with residential buildings of various heights, many with tiled roofs, painted ornamented cornices, tall narrow windows set in decorated surrounds and balconies with forged or cast iron railings.
They date from the 1615 plan laid out by Portugal’s chief engineer in Brazil, following conquest of the fort that had been established on the site by the French in 1612.
Harmoniously expanded through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the historic center is an outstanding example of a Portuguese colonial town adapted to the climatic conditions of Equatorial America, with traditional Portuguese architecture adapted to incorporate raised piers and shuttered, wooden verandas.
The singularity of the construction techniques employed is expressed in the elegance of the traditional Portuguese azulejos tile work applied both as insulation and decoration; in the modulated use of occupied and empty spaces reinforced by crafted stonework; and in the sharp contrast between the dense ornamentation of the facades overhanging the streets and porches that open wide from side to side into interior patios, lined by a continuous series of venetians, lattices, and frames.