Diamantina in Minas Gerais, 280 kilometers north of Belo Horizonte via the BR-040 highway, is the gateway to the Jequitinhonha valley.
Its formation dates back to the 18th century; it was then called the arraial of Tijuco, and arose from the exploitation of diamonds, which was ruthlessly controlled by the Portuguese Crown: no one moved around the region without official authorization.
Isolated from the rest of the colony, Tijuco prospered – for over a century it was the world’s largest producer of diamonds.
The current name was given to the village in 1831, when it was experiencing its last years of splendor: at the end of the 19th century, the stones were already scarce and new mines were discovered in South Africa.
Diamantina still preserves a beautiful architectural ensemble, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
Although its churches are not as opulent as those in Ouro Preto, they blend in with the colonial houses in absolute harmony.
An important regional hub, it has managed to keep itself alive and constantly renewed without compromising its memory: it is the quietest and best preserved of the historic cities, still untouched by the urban problems that haunt the gold circuit.
Diamantina’s architectural and urban complex
The city of Diamantina was formed with the discovery and exploitation of gold in the valley of the Tijuco stream in 1713, by the flag led by Jerônimo Gouveia who, starting from Serro, followed the course of the Jequitinhonha river until he reached the confluence of the Pururuca and Rio Grande streams.
The first settlements were set up in the place called Burgalhau (today Rua do Burgalhau, Rua do Espírito Santo and Beco das Beatas), but the town grew from 1720 onwards as a result of the discovery of diamonds.
During this period of historical formation based on mining, the city of Diamantina preserved significant cultural references from the colonial period, maintaining a rich collection, especially architectural and urban.
As such, Diamantina’s urban center has a configuration characteristic of cities from the colonial period, with an irregular pattern, with streets running transversely to the hillside, marked mainly by parallel streets with slight variations in the opening or deviation of some alleys and narrow streets.
The city’s architectural complex includes significant monuments in the history of art and architecture in Brazil in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, such as the churches of Mercês, Amparo, Carmo, Rosário, São Francisco de Assis and Senhor do Bonfim, as well as the Casa do Forro Pintado, the Forum building, the Municipal Market, the Diamond Museum, the Antônio Torres Library, the Casa da Chica da Silva and the buildings designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer: Hotel Tijuco, the Federal Faculty of Dentistry of Diamantina, the Professor Júlia Kubistchek State School and the Diamantina Tennis Club.
The city’s civil architecture is also a special reference point, with a lack of single-storey houses, and the most notable of which are the townhouses. Diamantina’s historic center is also exceptionally beautiful due to its composition with the Serra dos Cristais, forming one of the most significant landscape ensembles in Minas Gerais.
Tourist Attractions in Diamantina MG
- Igreja do Carmo
- Igreja do Bonfim
- Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário
- Mercado Municipal (dos Tropeiros)
- Museu do Diamante
- Igreja São Francisco de Assis
- Casa de Juscelino Kubitschek
- Passadiço da Glória
- Biblioteca Antônio Torres (Casa do Muxarabiê)
- Antiga Casa da Intendência
- Capela Nossa Senhora da Luz
- Teatro Santa Izabel
- Casa de Chica da Silva
- Antiga Estação Ferroviária de Diamantina
- Edifício do Fórum de Diamantina
- Igreja Nossa Senhora do Amparo
- Basílio do Sagrado Coração de Jesus
- Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Mercês
- Catedral Metropolitana de Diamantina – Santo Antônio da Sé
1. Igreja do Carmo
Built between 1760 and 1765 at the expense of the contractor João Fernandes, the Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church is a landmark in the urban image of Diamantina’s historic center.
In addition to the historical context surrounding the contractor and his history with Chica da Silva, the Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church stands out for being the only one in the city without a front tower.
This solution gives a special grace to the building, one of the most important and well-preserved in Diamantina.
Inside, the impressive painting of the nave ceiling stands out, considered to be the masterpiece of the Portuguese painter and keeper José Soares de Araújo, one of the most active in the Diamantina region.
Notice the exquisite carving of the altarpieces. R. do Carmo, s/n, Centro.
2. Igreja do Bonfim
Built by soldiers in the mid-18th century, next to what is believed to have been a barracks, this church combines Baroque and Rococo elements.
It has a single altarpiece in the chancel and the paintings, by an unknown artist, reveal the influence of José Soares de Araújo’s style on the artists of the time. Monsenhor Neves Square, s/n, Center.
3. Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário
One of the oldest churches in the city, it was built in 1731 and enlarged in 1772, keeping the original chancel.
Its main attraction is the perspective painting of the chancel ceiling, with Our Lady of the Rosary surrounded by angels, by José Soares de Araújo, as well as the altarpieces and the crossing arch.
It is located in the center of a square lined with stone, and in its square there is a fountain, also made of stone, from the 18th century. Pça. Dom Joaquim Silvério de Souza, s/n, Centro
4. Mercado Municipal (dos Tropeiros)
In 1835, Lieutenant Joaquim Cassimiro Lages built this building, which served as both a residence and a trading post, with a place to unload the goods transported by the tropeiros.
Today, it houses the Municipal Market, where you can find farm produce, handicrafts, cheeses, sweets and cachaça. Some say that Oscar Niemeyer was inspired by the building’s arcades to design the Palácio da Alvorada in Brasília. Pça. Bardo de Guaicuí, 451, Centro.
5. Museu do Diamante
Housed in the home of Father Rolim, one of the most influential inconfidentes, the museum retraces the history of the diamond cycle in the region through objects commonly used in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Its collection includes household utensils, furniture, paintings, images and weapons, as well as tools and instruments used in diamond mining. R. Direita, 14.
6. Igreja São Francisco de Assis
The predominant style in the Church of São Francisco, dating from 1775, is rococo – the beautiful carvings on the altars combine wood and gold. Take the opportunity to climb the bell tower, which is open to visitors.
However, it’s worth admiring the old building, with its sober façade and single tower, built on a corner, high above the street. R. São Francisco, s/n.
7. Casa de Juscelino Kubitschek
The house where Juscelino Kubitschek, former president of Brazil, lived during his childhood and adolescence on Rua São Francisco.
The building is made of pau a pique, a construction technique typical of the 18th century. The house has been transformed into a museum and the rooms house a library, personal objects, photos and the guitars used by the politician to participate in serenades.
8. Passadiço da Glória
The city’s postcard was built in 1876 to connect two buildings (one colonial and the other from the 19th century) that housed a nunnery – the aim was for the boarders to be able to move from one wing to the other without being seen.
Made up of two buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries connected by a walkway, it once housed the college of the Vincentian sisters and is now home to the Casa da Glória Institute at UFMG.
Rua da Glória, 297, Centro.
9. Biblioteca Antônio Torres (Casa do Muxarabiê)
The site originally belonged to Lieutenant Joaquim Cassimiro Lages who, in 1835, built a building for his home and, next door, a ranch for the muleteer trade.
Between 1881 and 1884 the site was dismantled as a result of the mining crisis.
In 1889, the Municipal Market was built to improve the marketing of products in the city, as well as to better organize and modernize the urban network.
10. Antiga Casa da Intendência
Built between 1733 and 1735 as the headquarters of the Intendência dos Diamantes, it became a school in the second half of the 19th century.
The building has a stone staircase (at the main entrance), a hipped roof, ten windows on the upper floor and nine on the first floor.
Inside the building, the gamela ceiling of the second floor hall is striking. In the other rooms, the oldest ceilings are in skirt and shirt.
11. Capela Nossa Senhora da Luz
It was built on the initiative of a Portuguese woman, Dona Tereza de Jesus Perpétua Corte Real, in fulfillment of a promise she made to save herself from the Lisbon earthquake in 1755.
Construction, however, took place much later and was completed in 1819, according to documents that inform about the transfer of the Archconfraternity of the Glorious Patriarch Saint Francis from the Chapel of Amparo to the Chapel of Luz. The donation was finalized five years later by Maria Tereza.
The Portuguese lady who built the chapel attached a shelter and school for orphaned girls to it. When Dona Tereza de Jesus died in 1826, she was buried at the entrance to the church.
The chapel of the light, like many others, has had to undergo several renovations, but has retained its style despite some alterations.
12. Teatro Santa Izabel
The Santa Izabel Theater was built in 1841 and opened to the public the following year. The purpose of creating this theater was to invest the funds in the city’s hospital, the Santa Casa de Caridade.
In 1912, the theater was torn down in favor of a new theater and cinema built on the old Rua Tiradentes, now Rua Direita,
On the site of the theater, in Cavalhada Velha, the municipality and the government of Minas Gerais built the Public Prison, removing it from the central area of the city.
In 2007, work began on restoring the building and, in 2010, the Santa Izabel Municipal Theatre reopened its doors.
13. Casa de Chica da Silva
The beautiful solarium was the residence of the slave Chica da Silva between 1763 and 1771. The house now serves as the headquarters of the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (Iphan). Inside, you can see a collection of paintings depicting the black queen.
14. Antiga Estação Ferroviária de Diamantina
The Central Railroad of Brazil, which linked Diamantina to Corinto, Curvelo, Belo Horizonte and the coast, was inaugurated in 1914. This railway terminal operated until the early 1970s, when the passenger trains were deactivated.
Today, the city’s Fire Brigade occupies the building and the station marks the start of the Maria Fumaça Green Trail.
15. Edifício do Fórum de Diamantina
The Forum building was built in the middle of the first half of the 18th century and was used as a dwelling house, with an imposing backyard.
16. Igreja Nossa Senhora do Amparo
The chapel was completed in 1776. It was built by the Brotherhood of the Pardos do Arraial do Tijuco and has altars in the Baroque-Rococo style, with the chalice-shaped pulpit and the 18th century images standing out.
The finishing and ornamental work is attributed to the painter and brother of the order Silvestre de Almeida Lopes, such as the painting and gilding of the chapel and the painting of the two altars of the crossing arch (1796).
Throughout the 19th century it underwent several renovations, such as the demolition of the original tower in 1813, which, because it was made of stone, caused damage to the structure of the building, but was rebuilt five years later.
17. Basílio do Sagrado Coração de Jesus
The main points of interest in this late 19th century neo-Gothic church are its beautiful French stained glass windows and the soapstone altar table. The project was designed by Father Júlio Clavelin, who was also responsible for the plan of the neo-Gothic church of the Caraça Sanctuary in Santa Bárbara. Sacred Heart Square, 11, Largo. Dom João.
18. Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Mercês
The construction of the Church of Nossa Senhora das Mercês began on March 16, 1778. The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Mercy was created in 1772, as a result of a split in the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Blacks, from which the mulatto brothers had disassociated themselves, with the resolution of forming a new brotherhood.
19. Catedral Metropolitana de Diamantina – Santo Antônio da Sé
The current Cathedral was built between 1932 and 1938, replacing the old church of Santo Antônio do Tijuco (built around 1750 and demolished in 1932), which was located in the same space, but faced Rua Direita. From this old church, we can see the presence of the side altars that recall the Baroque style and some individual pieces.
20. Stroll around the city
The integrity of the buildings and the beauty of the urban organization enchant in Diamantina.
A stroll through its streets can begin at the Metropolitan Cathedral (pça. da Matriz), a building from the 1930s with no architectural interest, which marks the central point of the city.
In Rua da Quitanda, behind the cathedral, there are terraced houses where musicians perform in an open-air evening concert by music bands.
In front of the square is the town hall building (pça. Conselheiro Matta, 111), built in 1735, where the Intendência dos Diamantes used to be. On the side of the square, in the Casa do Muxarabiê (Rua da Quitanda, 50), a trellis covers the window, an Arab-inspired feature so that residents could see the street without being seen.
A little further on, it leads to the famous Mota Alley, with its many bars and workshops. Close to the Municipal Market is Rua do Burgalhau, where the oldest houses in the city are concentrated, dating back to the time when the arraial was formed.
In the Casa de Chica da Silva (pça. Lobo de Mesquita, 266), where the former slave lived between 1763 and 1771, Arab influences can once again be seen.
Much more modest, the Casa de Juscelino (Rua São Francisco, 241), a wood-framed building from the 18th century, now houses a museum with photos, information and personal objects of the former president born in Diamantina. On the same street, you’ll find the large Forum House (Rua São Francisco, s/n), a fine example of 18th century architecture.