The town of Serro, in its early days known as the former Vila do Príncipe do Serro Frio, was the seat of one of the first four districts of the Captaincy of Minas Gerais.
The city’s colonial architecture has been preserved, and its streets retain the characteristics of the eighteenth-century towns of Minas Gerais.
These characteristics earned it the recognition of being the first Brazilian municipality to have its architectural and urban complex listed by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) in April 1938.
Overshadowed by Diamantina, Serro has a life of its own, treasures of colonial architecture and a still verdant environment.
Its churches are characterized by their simple façades (wood and rammed earth were the techniques used in construction) and luxurious interiors.
The paintings on the ceilings stand out more than the carvings, especially those by Silvestre de Almeida Lopes, a great local painter.
The churches are closed most of the time and only open for mass at irregular times.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that Serro produces a unique type of cheese, light and soft in texture, considered one of the best in the state.
History of Serro MG
The history of the town of Serro goes back to 1702 when the Arraial do Ribeirão das Minas de Santo Antônio do Bom Retiro do Serro do Frio was founded, the date of the first gold mines in the region.
There, several ranches were built near the streams, forming the arraiais of Baixo and Cima, which developed and together gave rise to the town of Serro Frio.
The name is attributed to the Tupi-Guarani Indians and comes from the word Ivituruí (ivi = wind, turi = hill, huí = cold).
The disorderly exploitation of the first decade of the 18th century led to the creation of the post of superintendent of the region’s gold mines.
And, due to its growth, in 1714, the village was elevated to a town and given the name Vila do Príncipe.
Later, miners discovered diamond mines in the region.
In order to defend Portuguese interests, in 1720, the large Serro Frio district was created, which became the largest district in Minas Gerais and whose seat was Vila do Príncipe.
From then on, after the discovery of diamonds, various restrictions were imposed on gold mining in the region, culminating in the creation of the Casa de Fundição, which received all gold production in the region.
Serro’s urbanization process was determined by gold and diamond mining.
It is worth noting that the city still retains its urban and architectural image today, similar to that of the 18th and 19th centuries, characterized by long longitudinal roads, green areas and buildings.
The city of Serro presents a homogeneous set of colonial architecture, where two examples stand out:
- Casa dos Otoni – built in the 18th century, with a wooden structure, it has extensive grounds and a semi-detached shape, with a balcony and balustrade, wooden floors and a mat lining, and today houses the Casa dos Otoni Regional Museum.
- Chácara do Barão – built in the second half of the 19th century, in wood and rammed earth, it also stands out for the stonework used on the benches and the soapstone stove, as well as the stone tanks, components of the water supply system.
The religious buildings, built from the second half of the 18th century onwards, used the construction systems of the mining era – wood and rammed earth – and follow the style of the chapels and parish churches of the first decades of the 18th century, consisting of rectangular plans, straight frontispieces and square towers with tiled roofs, with a tendency towards the straight line.
However, we can see the insertion of elements typical of the region, such as glasses placed below the gable and side annexes, which were often incorporated later to house sacristies, consistories or storerooms.
Some other churches or chapels are distinguished by the use of a single central tower, or by the absence of towers.
Among them are the Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição – built in wood and rammed earth and, internally, featuring decorative paintings and ornamentation in the rococo style; the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo and the Igreja Bom Jesus de Matozinhos.
Tours of the city
A stroll through the streets of Serro is a trip back in time.
As in all of Minas Gerais’ historic towns, it only requires flat, comfortable shoes to walk on the cobblestone sidewalk, as well as breath to climb and descend the slopes.
Among the town’s houses, look out for João Pinheiro’s (Rua Luiz Advíncula Reis, s/n, Centro), a well-preserved townhouse from the mid-19th century, and Pedro Lessa’s (Rua Antônio Honório Pires, 38, Centro), from the same period.
Away from the center, in the Quatro Vinténs district, is the luxurious mansion of the Baron of Serro (Rua da Real Fundição do Ouro, s/n), an important local politician in the 19th century.
The building, surrounded by beautiful old imperial palm trees and restored by the State Institute for Historical Heritage, is notable for its angled sash windows and the three beautiful stone benches, similar to armchairs, on the veranda.
Tourist Attractions in Serro MG
1. Capela de Santa Rita
Located at the highest point in the city center, from where you can see the entire historic center and the Itambé peak, it is reached by a large stone staircase, one of Serro’s postcards.
The chapel was built in 1745, but has undergone several renovations.
The building dates back to the 18th century, with no precise date. In the 19th century, it underwent successive renovations that have characterized its current chamfered façade.
Its interior stands out for its simple marbled ornamentation and the altarpiece of São Sebastião made by order of Ensign Ângelo Martins de Siqueira, father of the legendary Ana D’África.
The church is located at the top of a long staircase from where you can see Pico do Itambé, with its 2044 meters of altitude, and a panoramic view of the historic center of Serro.
The architect Silvio de Vasconcelos visited this churchyard and, in the midst of a flock of swallows, recorded his famous phrase: “Serro, an enchanted city that has stood still in time”.
In the central tower there is a clock from Paris, which is in perfect working order. João Pessoa Square, s/n.
2. Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição
One of the most beautiful religious monuments in the entire diamond region, this church was built in 1776 on the site of an old chapel erected in 1713.
The façade is simple, with two side towers; inside, however, the baroque exuberance is revealed in the large relief depicting the Holy Trinity surrounded by angels and cherubs on the altarpiece of the high altar.
The Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição is the main church in the town of Serro, in Minas Gerais.
Listed by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute, it is one of the largest baroque churches in the state and has the tallest wooden towers among the colonial churches in Minas Gerais.
Saint-Hilaire described it as “one of the most beautiful and grandest he had seen in the entire Province of Minas”. It was possibly in this church that Maestro Lobo de Mesquita practiced his first musical chords.
In the pulpit, the solid silver chandelier, richly worked, stands out. Ladeira do Pelourinho, s/n.
3. Capela de Nossa Senhora do Rosário
Little is officially known about the history of this small chapel, which was possibly built out of the devotion of free blacks or slaves in the 19th century, as indicated by some of its construction features.
It is valued for its setting in the magnificent landscape, on top of a hill with a wide view of the valley and mountains that make up the Pico do Itambé massif.
The building, dating from 1759, is very simple and devoid of ornamentation; next to it is the cemetery for the members of the Brotherhood.
Although its original lines have been disfigured, the chapel occupies an important position in the town, as it hosts the Rosário Festival, with performances by congadas, reisados and other traditional folk dances. Largo do Rosário, s/n.
4. Igreja de bom Jesus de Matosinhos
Located on a hillside at the confluence of General Pedra and Matozinhos streets, this church was built at the end of the 18th century, although the scarcity of documentary sources does not allow us to historicize the various stages of its construction. The precise date when construction began is therefore unknown, as is the authorship of the architectural project and the ornamentation work.
The first information we have about this church is provided by the historian Canon Raimundo Trindade, who reports that its founder was Lieutenant José Ferreira de Vila Nova Ivo who, in 1781, legally justified the institution.
In his 1941 research report for IPHAN, Aires da Mata Machado claims to have found an allusion to the existence of this church in a settlement book dated 1785.
However, historians believe that the most concrete date about the history of this church in the 18th century is 1797, inscribed on a medallion in the painting of the chancel ceiling, which attests to the advanced stage of construction – at least of this part of the building – as it refers to the completion of the internal decoration work.
Baroque ornamentation is present above all in the throne arch.
On the ceiling, the painting of the patron saint is attributed to Silvestre de Almeida Lopes, one of the region’s greatest artists in the late 1700s. Cristiano Otoni Square, s/n.
5. Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo
Work on this church lasted from 1768 to 1780, but over the next century many renovations altered its façade.
The church was built on the initiative of the local Third Order of Carmel, which was split off from the Carmelite Brotherhood of the Tijuco arraial and formed independently in Vila do Príncipe.
In 1768, the brothers obtained the land on which they built the church from the Senate of the Town Council.
In 1780, work was already underway on the façade, and in June of the same year the work on the towers was agreed with the master, José da Silva Ribeiro.
On July 20 of the following year, the church was consecrated, which indicates that the work was practically finished.
But, most probably, due to the precariousness and fragility of the materials used – rammed earth and wood – the building was soon in need of reconstruction and/or renovation. Thus, throughout practically the entire 19th century, the church underwent numerous interventions aimed at its stability.
In the current one, the highlight is the painted wooden medallion over the doorway, an exception to the characteristic sobriety of the exterior of Serro’s churches.
The interior decoration is harmonious, combining the rococo style of the side altars with the neoclassical style visible in the more recent high altar. João Pinheiro Square, s/n.
6. Museu Regional Casa dos Otoni
The house where political leader and businessman Teófilo Otoni was born was built in the 18th century out of rammed earth.
Restored, it has been transformed into a museum, also housing Iphan’s regional office.
The collection includes sacred pieces and everyday objects that reconstruct daily life in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as official documents from colonial times. Cristiano Otoni Square, 72, Center.
7. Pico do Itambé
The highest point of the Espinhaço mountain range, the 2002-meter-high peak is within the state park of the same name and can be reached from the districts of Capivari (39 kilometers of precarious dirt road, by car, and another 5 kilometers of level hiking (30 kilometers also of precarious dirt road, plus 8 kilometers of medium-level trail).
On the way to the top, there are several waterfalls and swimming pools.