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Maranhão: colonial towns and natural attractions

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Maranhão is a state in the Northeast of Brazil located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Brazilian states of Piauí, Tocantins and Pará. The territory of the country is rich in forests. In the northern part of the state there are vast plains crossed by numerous rivers. Among these in the east, along the Piauí border, the Parnaíba river flows. While in the west, on the borders with Pará and Tocantins, are the rivers Gurupí and Tocantins.

The state coast is low and jagged, and stretches for about 640 km. Studded with numerous islands, it has vast coves such as the bays of São Marcos and São José.

Most of the Maranhão is located at heights of less than 300 meters. Only in the southern part of the state does the terrain rise with some mountain ranges and low plateaus. These are the extreme offshoots of the Brazilian Planalto Central. Here are the Serra do Penitente, the Serra das Alpercatas and the Chapada das Mangabeiras. In the latter mountain range is the highest point of the Maranhão at 804 meters.


After timid attempts at Portuguese colonization in the 16th century, Maranhão in the early 17th century was only nominally in the Portuguese sphere of influence. In 1612, the French sent an expedition that occupied the island where the city of São Luís do Maranhão stands today, founding a fortified outpost, Fort Saint-Louis. This was the basis of their new colony in Brazil called France équinoxiale, the French remained in São Luís only until 1615, when they were defeated by the Portuguese in the decisive battle of Guaxenduba.

The Maranhão was occupied between 1641 and 1644 by the Dutch, who had settled in Pernambuco and other areas of Brazil since 1630. In the following centuries Maranhão developed a rich plantation agriculture where cotton and rice were mainly grown. The region became one of the most prosperous in Brazil.

After having had for centuries a thriving agricultural economy based on slavery and plantations, the economy of Maranhão, in the mid-nineteenth century had a rapid decline caused by the end of slavery and the decline of cotton, which was the main agricultural product of the region.

According to recent statistics, Maranhão is among the poorest states in Brazil. But the state has considerable potential especially with regards to tourism. There are historic cities of great value such as São Luís do Maranhão and Alcântara, and natural attractions such as Lençóis Maranhenses, the delta of the Parnaíba river and the Chapada das Mesas.

The climate of Maranhão.

  • Area: 331,935 km²
  • Population: 6,569,683 (2010) (mulattos 66.74%, whites 25.57%, blacks 6.41%, Asians 0.67%, Amerindians 0.60%)
  • Capital: São Luís do Maranhão
  • Time zone: UTC-3



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