Historic Centre of São Luís
The late 17th-century core of this historic town, 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.
Justification for Inscription
The Committee decided to inscribe this property on the basis of criteria (iii), (iv) and (v), considering that the Historic Centre of São Luis do Maranhão is an outstanding example of a Portuguese colonial town that adapted successfully to the climatic conditions in equatorial South America and which has preserved its urban fabric, harmoniously integrated with its natural setting, to an exceptional degree.
The Historic Centre of São Luis do Maranhão is an outstanding example of a Portuguese colonial town that adapted successfully to the climatic conditions in equatorial South America and which has preserved its urban fabric, harmoniously integrated with its natural setting, to an exceptional degree.
The late 17th-century core of this historic town, founded by the French in 1612 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.
The buildings of the town are disposed on the rectangular grid of streets laid out in the 17th century. The private houses are built round courtyards, and the most outstanding examples have tiled roofs; facades faced with Portuguese azulejos or painted, ornamented cornices; tall, narrow window bays with decorated surrounds; and balconies with forged or cast-iron railings. The floors are dressed stone. Features relating to the tropical climate in which they were built include raised piers and shuttered verandas on the inside. There are some 4,000 buildings within the Historic Centre. They may be classified in three categories.
The sumptuous manor houses were built by the rich middle classes in the 18th century. Common features include dressed stone door and window openings, some embellished with classical decorative elements, triangular pediments, curved balconies, marble facades, and wrought-iron grilles. Inside there are vestibules with marble or river pebble floors. A main staircase provides access to the upper storeys in which the family lived, the ground floor being reserved for housing coaches and services.
The multistorey houses, sometimes up to four storeys in height, are mostly faced with marble. Balconies run right across the facades, in front of the windows. They have elegant wrought- or cast-iron balustrades.
The third group, that of small houses, is subdivided into 'full dwellings', with a central doorway and a window on either site; 'half dwellings', with a doorway at one end and two windows side-by-side; and simple door and window dwellings. They are either single- or two-storeyed. Despite their modest form, many have facades decorated with azulejos .
In addition to the dwelling houses that make up the greater proportion of the town's stock of historic buildings, there is a number of public buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries, which are largely in neoclassical style.
The economic stagnation of the earlier part of the 20th century has resulted in the historic urban fabric having been preserved to a remarkable degree. Only two buildings in unexceptionable modern style disturb the overall view.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
In 1612 two Lieutenants of Louis Xl1I of France, in the service of Marie de Médicis, were instructed to set up a colony in this region, as part of the policy of creating an "Equinoctial France" in Brazi.l. Daniel de la Touche, Seigneur de La Ravardière, and his associate François de Razi.ly, Seigneur de Razily et Aunelles, built a fort on the site of the abandoned Capitania de Maranhâo on the island of Trindade, known to the Tupinamb&s Indians as Upaon-açu. Historians assert that there bad been a Portuguese and Spanish village, known as Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, since 1531. The new fort was named Fort Saint-Louis in honour of the French king.
The French were weil received by the 27 tribes living on the island, but they were there for only two years. The Portuguese Jerônomo de Albuquerque drove them out in 1615 after the battle of Guaxenduba. However, less than three decades later Maranhâo again attracted an European colonial power. Emissaries of Maurice of Nassau, from The Netherlands, took possession of the town in 1641 and held it until 1643, when the native spirit re-asserted itself A resistance movement was organized by a local leader, Muniz Barreto; he was killed during the struggle against the Dutch invaders, but his successor. Teixeira de Melo, held the town until the Portuguese returned.
As early as 1615, when the French had been driven out, the Chief Engineer of the State of Brazi.l, Francisco Frias de Mesquita, visited Sâo Luis to draw up plans for new defences of the liberated town. In addition, he prepared an urban plan, and this was used as the guide to its expansion and development. lt was based on geometrie regularity (perhaps the fust of its type in Brazi.l), in contrast to the medieval layout of narrow winding streets applied by the Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and Olinda. lt was to served as the basis for the expansion of what was from .the early 17th century the capital of Maranhâo up to the end of the 19th century.
By the end of the 17th century Sâo Luis bad a population of some ten thousand, a figure that bad risen to seventeen thousand a century later. The economy of the town underwent profound changes during this period, owing to a number of measures taken by the Marquês de Pombal, Prime Minister of King José I. The most important of these were the introduction oftrade in black slaves and the creation in 1755 of the Companhia Gerai de Comércio do Grâo Para e do Maranhâo. Sâo Luis and Alcântara, the main shipping ports for the region, were integrated into the world trading system, exporting rice, cotton, and other regional products. The wealth that ensued led to a cultural flowering in both towns.
As Sâo Luis developed in the 18th and 19th centuries the early bouses in pisé and straw were replaced by solid structures in mortared stone and fin.ished with lime, fish oil, wood, and marble brought from Portugal. Features adapted to a bumid tropical climate were introduced, such as wooden verandas. The use of azulejos for cladding the exteriors became one of the most characteristic features of the architecture of Sâo Luis.
It was the fust town in this region of Brazil to install a tramway system, to set up a water and electricity company. to light its streets with gas, and to have a teleppone system. lts prosperity was enhanced by the establishment of a number of textile companies. which have left their mark in the form of imposing industrial buildings.
However, the 20th century saw a long period of economie stagnation. Ali expansion came to an end in the 1920s and the town ofthat period was effectively what is now identified as the Historie Centre of Sâo Luis. This was in fact a major factor in allowing the town to retain its historie :framework and features.Source: Advisory Body Evaluation