São Luís is the only Brazilian state capital founded by the French who ruled over some of Brazil until they were defeated by the Portuguese.
Founded in 1612, the city is named after French King Louis XIII. Later, it was also occupied by the Dutch, until the Portuguese colonizers took over.
While little material evidence remains from the French and Dutch periods, the historic downtown area, comprising over 3,500 buildings mainly covered with tiles in the manner of Portuguese architecture, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
A great number of Brazilian folkloric traditions as well as cultural expressions peculiar to Maranhão are alive and well in São Luís. The most important among them is bumba-meu-boi, a festive pantomime which takes place during June Festivals.
São Luís is also famous for recovering Carnival traditions that were fading away under the influence of Southeastern Brazil Carnival. Rhythms and dances such as tambor de crioula, or "the black woman's drum", which dates back to slavery times, are strong again in the city's Carnival.