At the beginning of the 18th century, the future Tiradentes was just another prosperous mining town in Minas Gerais.
In 1718 it was elevated to the category of town and renamed São José, in honor of the Portuguese prince.
The current name came only after the Republic, in reference to the martyr of the Inconfidência Mineira, born on the Pombal farm, near the town.
The decline of the gold rush consigned Tiradentes to oblivion. Although it was listed by Iphan in 1938, the town remained isolated until the 1970s, when it was rediscovered by artists and intellectuals from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
Primarily restored, today it lives off tourism: its hotels and inns have 8,000 beds, more than the number of permanent residents (less than 6,000).
The colonial houses, a well-organized calendar of cultural events, good stores, restaurants and charming inns attract a sophisticated public with high purchasing power.
Tiradentes is a town that can be explored on foot – children might prefer to hire a buggy in the square.
So, a reminder: although the slopes are gentler than those of Ouro Preto, the cobblestones require sneakers or comfortable shoes.
History of Tiradentes
The town of Tiradentes was founded around 1700, when the Paulistas discovered gold on the slopes of the Serra de São José.
At the time, it was a village called Santo Antônio do Rio das Mortes.
In 1718, the town’s status was elevated and it was renamed Vila de São José, in honor of Prince José. Throughout the 18th century, the town made its living from gold mining and was one of the important gold producing centers in Minas Gerais.
The abundance of gold mines financed works and improvements in the region. Churches, chapels and other buildings bore the hallmarks of Baroque and Rococo architecture.
Great names in the art of the colonial period were called in to help compose the buildings, among them the famous sculptor Aleijadinho.
The decline of precious metal mining at the beginning of the 19th century practically brought the town to its knees. This process caused the region to fall asleep to the world, a fact that has contributed to the preservation of its architectural heritage.
After the Proclamation of the Republic in 1889, the city was named Tiradentes after Ensign Joaquim José da Silva Xavier.
The officer was considered an important name in the Inconfidência Mineira, during the 1780s, against Portuguese rule. Since then, the city’s development has gradually begun. Take the opportunity to find out more about Tiradentes and the town that bears his name.
There are still excellent examples of 18th century civil architecture in the town, such as the Sobrado Ramalho, located on Rua da Câmara, on the corner with Rua Dirección, a place known as Quatro Cantos.
Located in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, Tiradentes borders the towns of Coronel Xavier Chaves, Prados, Resende Costa, Santa Cruz de Minas and Vilarejo do Bichinho.
The distance from Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, to Tiradentes is approximately 200 km.
Tiradentes MG Tourist Attractions
1. Largo das Forras
Former slaves gathered in this square to celebrate the end of slavery in 1888.
Refurbished by the landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx in 1989, today it is the heart of the town: it is home to the Town Hall (a rare three-storey colonial building) and a large number of craft stores, restaurants, bars and inns.
In high season, it’s very busy and the atmosphere is festive.
On the side of the square, the old stone arch of the Forras bridge crosses the Santo Antônio stream.
2. Bom Jesus da Pobreza Chapel
This unique chapel, built at the end of the 18th century, has undergone several interventions. Its floor plan is simple and the altars are sparsely decorated.
The Chapel of Bom Jesus da Pobreza, or Bom Jesus Agonizante, marks the Largo das Forras. It stands between bars and restaurants and gives a certain colonial air to the square.
The history of the church is rather uncertain, due to the lack of documents about its construction.
It is believed to date back to the second half of the 18th century and to have been built in payment for a promise made by the then Captain Major Gonçalo Joaquim de Barros.
The church has a simple Baroque-Rococo façade and an interior marked by the image of a dying Jesus Christ in the middle of a wooden altar with colorful floral paintings.
It has undergone several interventions since it was built, including a major renovation in the 1950s;
However, it still holds a treasure: a moving image of the dying Jesus, one of the most beautiful in the entire gold region. Largo das Forras, s/n, Center.
3. São Joao Evangelista Chapel
The chapel, which belongs to the Brotherhood of Brown Men, began to be built in 1760, but was only finished at the beginning of the 19th century.
The façade is large and simple, with no towers: the bell was installed in one of the windows.
Inside, the altars have beautiful carvings in the rococo style and images over 2 meters high depicting the patron saint’s ordeal. Rua Padre Toledo, s/n, Centro.
4. Museu do Padre Toledo
The manor house where the priest and inconfidente Carlos de Toledo lived and plotted was converted into a museum in 1971 and exhibits period furniture, objects and paintings.
The highlight is the painted ceilings in its twelve rooms, some with classical motifs, such as the one in the Room of the Five Senses. Rua Padre Toledo, 190, Centro.
5. Igreja Matriz de Santo Antônio
The work, which began in 1710, took forty years and half a ton of gold, which shines in the magnificent carving of the seven altars.
The Igreja Matriz de Santo Antônio is the oldest and main Catholic church in Tiradentes and a great example of Baroque and Rococo architecture. Construction began in 1710, when a group of devotees founded the Brotherhood of the Blessed Sacrament.
The largest of Tiradentes’ churches, the Matriz de Santo Antônio has a façade sculpture by Aleijadinho. The project dates back to the beginning of the 18th century, but the alterations made by the great artist from Minas Gerais only took place at the beginning of the 19th century.
Right from the entrance, it’s hard not to be impressed by the silver chandeliers and the amount of gold decorating the altar and its images. The sculptures in the doorway are also by Aleijadinho.
The church has 482 kg of gold inside, making it the second church in Brazil with the largest amount of the precious metal, behind only the Church of São Francisco da Penitência in Salvador.
On the choir balustrade you can see the organ brought from Portugal in 1788, placed in a wooden box with carvings and painted in rococo style by Manuel Vítor de Jesus, the artist also responsible for painting the ceiling and sacristy.
Also noteworthy are the large wooden chests with silver fittings and the 18th century images. The façade was modified in 1810, based on a project by Aleijadinho.
Tiradentes’ postcard, the Igreja Matriz de Santo Antônio is one of the most beautiful in Minas Gerais.
The sundial, located outside, is one of the city’s main symbols. It was carved from soapstone and indicates the time according to the position of the star.
In the churchyard there is a sundial built in 1785, now one of the symbols of the city.
On weekends, a light and sound show tells the story of the church and offers explanations about its artistic and architectural heritage. R. da Câmara, s/n, Centro.
6. Santuario da Santíssima Trindade
Manuel Vítor de Jesus was the designer of this church, built in 1810;
It houses a rarity: an image of God wearing the clothes of a medieval pope and holding out his hands. In the 1920s, the church, a pilgrimage destination, was given the title of sanctuary.
Pilgrimages to the Holy Trinity take place every year between May and June. Praça Padre José Bernardino, s/n, Center.
7. São José Fountain
The “blue fountain” was built in 1749 and is considered the most beautiful on the gold circuit.
Surrounded by a wall, drinking water flows from the three carved stone faces that make it up, coming from an ancient stone aqueduct, whose point of origin is the Mãe-d’água forest, at the base of the São José mountain range, where you can take a guided walk. Rua do Chafariz, s/n, Centro.
8. Church of São Francisco de Paula
The great charm of this small church, whose construction dates back to the mid-18th century, is its location: it sits on top of a hill from where you can enjoy a privileged view of Tiradentes. Rua Nicolau Panzera, s/n (Largo de São Francisco), Centro.
9. Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Mercês
Built at the behest of the Brotherhood of the Black Creoles (blacks born in Brazil), this church has an altar in polychrome carving in the Rococo style and an important collection of 18th-century images, among which stands out that of the patron saint, of extreme delicacy and femininity. Largo das Mercês, s/n, Center.
10. Yves Alves Cultural Center
The largest cultural center in Tiradentes is a portentous colonial-style building. It has an amphitheater, gallery, meeting room, cafeteria and bar, as well as a large garden area. Rua Direita, 168, Centro.
11. Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos Church
It is the oldest church in the city, built on the site of the original chapel in 1708.
According to legend, slaves worked on its construction on the nights of the full moon, decorating it with gold from the mines hidden under their fingernails.
It has three altars decorated with images of black saints. The nave and ceiling were painted by Manuel Vítor dos Santos. Praça Padre Lourival Salvo Rios, s/n.
12. Santana Museum
Tiradentes’ public jail building was built around 1730.
It suffered a fire in 1829 and was restored in 1835, retaining its original structure, gates and railings. However, its façades were rebuilt according to the neoclassical standards that prevailed in 19th century public buildings;
Practically deactivated from 1984 onwards, with prisoners being sent from the city to the district of Vila de Santa Cruz and São João del-Rei, the jail was emptied, and that same year, on September 27, the Minas Gerais state government donated the property to the Rodrigo Melo Franco de Andrade Foundation.
The foundation decided to set up the Presidente Tancredo Neves Museum of Sacred Art there, which was open from 1986 to 2005, with pieces donated by private individuals.
A few years later, the building was transferred to the Flávio Gutierrez Cultural Institute to house the Sant’Ana Museum, which opened in 2014.
The museum houses 291 images of St. Anne, the patron saint of homes and families, as well as miners.
They are Brazilian works, from various regions of the country, both erudite and popular, of the most varied styles and techniques, mostly produced by anonymous artists, between the 17th and 19th centuries, in a variety of materials.
Other Attractions in Tiradentes
1. Stroll through the city
Tiradentes stands out for its harmonious ensemble of colonial buildings and surprises with the large number of cultural activities it offers visitors.
As you walk around, take note:
- the Town Hall (Rua da Câmara, s/n), a 1718 building with a large balcony adorned with a rococo coat of arms.
- in the sobrado Ramalho (rua da Câmara, 124), home of the town band and the local Iphan office, which today houses exhibitions and remains open to visitors; in the sobrado Aimorés, home of the Aimorés Football Club (rua Direita, 159).
- in the six small chapels scattered around the streets that make up the Via Sacra Steps.
2. Train Ride
Inaugurated in 1881 by Dom Pedro li, the friendly train still runs between Tiradentes and São João del-Rei.
The 12-kilometer journey takes 35 minutes and is enchanting. The ride is especially pleasant in April and May, when the landscape is at its most floral. Av. Hermínio Alves, 366, Centro.
Tiradentes’ landscape is marked by the rocky massif of the Serra de São José, whose abrupt walls can be seen from anywhere in the city.
The mountain range, which is about 15 kilometers long and has an average altitude of 1100 meters, also runs through the lands of Coronel Xavier Chaves, Prados, Santa Cruz de Minas and São João del-Rei.
A state environmental protection area since 1990, in 2004 it was declared a Dragonfly Wildlife Refuge by the state government: it is estimated that the region is home to 120 species of this insect, or around 20% of the total found in Brazil.
The flora is varied.
From the historic center of Tiradentes, you can reach the mountains on foot, after a walk of around 40 minutes, or by carriage, horse or jeep.
There are many possibilities for exploration and they should be enjoyed with the guidance of guides – hired in the town itself or in São João del-Rei.
Hikes – Trekking
Basic recommendations for hiking in the Serra de São José: wear long pants, sunscreen and insect repellent. bring a snack, water and binoculars (some agencies provide all the equipment; check beforehand) and take special care with the small and desperate micuim, a species of tick, which is abundant especially between August and November.
Mosquitoes are just as frequent.
The crossing of the First Wall is a medium-level trail that lasts around five hours.
It starts at the Ipê site and passes through the lower part of São José until it reaches, after 50 minutes of walking, the Calçada dos Escravos – a short stretch of steep slope from where you reach the crest of the mountain and the viewpoint at an altitude of 1258 meters.
After the descent, you skirt the natural pools of the Mangue stream, return to the lower part and reach Tiradentes via the Pacu neighborhood.
On the São José ridge you’ll also find the old Carteiro trail, which connected all the towns in the region, reaching Resende Costa and a trail that went all the way to Goiás; at one point along the way there is a cross which, according to local legend, marks the spot where a messenger for the inconfidentes was murdered.
There is a small waterfall nearby.
Whoever wants to hike this medium-level trail, which is approximately 6 kilometers (round trip), can hire the services of an agency, which provides jeep transport to the top of the mountain.
The valley and Mangue waterfall trail, which is easy, repeats a previous stretch, but is limited to the lower part of São José.
It leaves from the historic center and goes to the beginning of the mountain range, about a 50-minute walk away; after another 50 minutes, you reach the Mangue stream, with a waterfall and several natural pools.
Whoever wants a greater challenge can try to complete the crossing of the São José mountain range, a difficult trail that can usually be overcome in ten hours.
The hike begins in the town of Prados, between areas of savannah, and continues on gravelly terrain to the crest of the mountain, from where there is a beautiful view of the district of Bichinho, from where it continues to the Von Martins peak, at an altitude of 1430 meters.
The descent, along the Muares trail, passes the first wall of São José and continues to the Mangue valley, where you can enjoy a beautiful sunset.
More peaceful, the Água Santa trail is a one-and-a-half hour walk, one way – the return is by car.
The starting point is the Pacu neighborhood; then you pass a sidewalk built by slaves, cross the mangrove swamp and cross the top of the mountain with a route that continues to the Águas Santas resort, with natural thermal pools at 27.5°C.
There is a reverse trail from Aguas Santas (see São João del-Rei).
The hike along the Estrada Real takes approximately five hours. The level of difficulty is medium, as there are some steep climbs.
The trail leaves Tiradentes, borders the São José mountain range and passes through regions of farms and Atlantic forest to the district of Bichinho.
Who takes you: Caminhos e Trilhas, Rua dos Inconfidentes, 218 B, historic center, Tiradentes.
There are tourist agencies in Tiradentes that offer cycling, horseback riding and jeep tours.