Look at the road, look at the bridge, look at the mountain / where the white church is cut out. This is how Cecília Meireles described the old Vila Rica, and this is how – the church towers and the old roofs standing out against the dark backdrop of the hills – the Ouro Preto of today appears to those who arrive.
The story begins in 1698, when the São Paulo bandeirante Antônio Dias founded a settlement near the Itacolomí peak, where he had found gold.
Other settlements followed – among them Ouro Preto, founded by the Portuguese. The towns of Antônio Dias and Ouro Preto grew and merged, receiving the name of Vila Rica in 1711; the rivalry between the two parishes, however, never really disappeared.
Not by chance, the city has two parishes: in even-numbered years, the Holy Week procession, which is the highlight of the city’s religious and cultural life, leaves from the Pilar parish; in odd-numbered years, from the Antônio Dias parish.
In 1823, Vila Rica became the capital of the Province of Minas, under the name of Ouro Preto; in 1897, however, the capital was transferred to Belo Horizonte and the city fell into oblivion.
The counterpart to the economic decline was the preservation of its formidable architectural heritage, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1980.
Today, Ouro Preto faces many problems – the traffic that shakes the old buildings, the disorderly occupation of the outskirts, the poverty of the population.
None of this dulls the glow of the churches, the houses, the stone bridges and fountains, the hillsides steeped in history.
That would be reason enough to visit the city, but it also offers good hotels and restaurants, sophisticated shopping and ecological tours of the region.
Videos Tourist Spots of Ouro Preto
TOURIST POINTS OF OURO PRETO
1. INCONFIDENCE MUSEUM
The building, formerly the Town Hall and Jail of Vila Rica, was built in 784 and renovated in 1854.
One of the most representative and well-preserved examples of 18th century architecture in Minas Gerais, it houses the remains of the Inconfidentes.
It’s hard to find a Brazilian who isn’t moved by the names engraved on the tombstones of the austere Pantheon of the Inconfidentes.
The museum also features works by Aleijadinho and Ataíde, as well as 18th and 19th century furniture and documents.
Tiradentes Square, 139, Center
2. IGREJA DE NOSSA SENHORA DO CARMO
Whether in the tiles / or in the gold of the carvings / look, what’s alive / are the dead of Carmo.
The tiles mentioned in Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s poem adorn the church of the Third Order of Carmo (1776), which inaugurated the rococo style in Ouro Preto; the dead are those who rest in the adjoining cemetery.
It is the only church in Minas Gerais decorated with luxurious Portuguese tiles. Inside, the soapstone lavabo and the side altars, by Aleijadinho, and the painting in the sacristy, by Ataíde, stand out.
Next to the church, in the novitiate house – where Aleijadinho lived out his last years – is the Oratory Museum, which houses 162 oratories and 300 sacred images from the 17th to the 20th century, brought together by the collector Angela Gutierrez.
The collection includes curiosities such as portable oratories, so small that they could be carried in travelers’ pockets, and Afro-Brazilian oratories, built by slaves, as well as pieces richly crafted by both anonymous and renowned artists. R. Brigadeiro Musqueira, s/n.
3. MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE SCHOOL OF MINES
The former Palace of the Governors, built in 1741, now houses the School of Mines of the Federal University of Ouro Preto.
This is where the Museum of Science and Technology is housed, with its extensive and educational collection divided into the mineralogy (with a large collection of rare gems and crystals), mining, astronomy, steelmaking and natural history sectors.
The building, an attraction in itself, boasts a beautiful chapel and a fountain carved by Aleijadinho.
The back of the museum houses an astronomical observatory, which is open on Saturday nights for those wishing to enjoy the starry sky of Ouro Preto. Tiradentes Square, 20, Center.
4. IGREJA DE NOSSA SENHORA DAS MERCÊS E MISERICÓRDIA (MERCÊS DE CIMA)
Inaugurated in 1774, this church follows the style of the buildings of the early 1700s.
A later renovation altered its façade, introducing a single central tower, the standard used in the 19th century; in 1858 an adjoining cemetery was built, which is now disused.
The beautiful soapstone medallion over the door, with the Virgin spreading her cloak over the Moorish slaves, was wrongly attributed to Aleijadinho for a long time. Rua Pe. Rolim, s/n.
5. CASA DA ÓPERA (TEATRO MUNICIPAL)
Built in 1769, it is Brazil’s oldest operating theater.
The triangular façade, topped by a lyre, is different from the general pattern of the city’s colonial buildings; the interior, on the other hand, preserves the furniture and equipment from the 18th century. With perfect acoustics, the theater maintains an active cultural agenda.
It is currently closed for restoration and is expected to reopen in July 2006. R. Brigadeiro Musqueira, s/n, Centro.
6. IGREJA DE SÀO FRANCISCO DE ASSIS
A highlight of Brazilian colonial architecture, this church, built between 1767 and the beginning of the 19th century, is the masterpiece of Aleijadinho, who designed the high altar, pulpits, frontispiece and internal sculptures.
On the outside, the two cylindrical towers, the Cross of Lorraine flanked by two fireballs and the magnificent carvings on the medallion and the doorway are impressive.
Inside, another masterpiece is revealed: the painting on the ceiling by Manuel da Costa Ataíde, who depicted a moving Virgin of Porciúncula, with the black features of her concubine, surrounded by little mestizo angels.
The wooden side panels, painted as if they were tiles, are also by Ataíde. Lgo. de Coimbra, s/n, Centro.
7. IGREJA DE NOSSA SENHORA DAS MERCÊS E PERDÕES (MERCÊS DE BAIXO)
A legend surrounds this church, whose construction was completed in 1772: the chapel that gave rise to it was supposedly built by the wife of a judge sentenced to death for the murder of her own daughter.
Documents indicate that the episode did take place, but its relation to the construction is doubtful; the story, however, gives the church additional interest, as it houses a rich collection of images and sacred pieces, three of them by Aleijadinho: a crucifix and two roca images (made up only of hands and face, with the body covered in fabric) representing Saint Pedro Nolasco and Saint Raimundo Nonato. R. das Mercês, s/n, Centro.
8. MUSEU CASA GUIGNARD
One of the great names in Brazilian art, Alberto da Veiga Guignard was born in Rio de Janeiro but lived for a long time in Minas Gerais.
The city of Ouro Preto, where he lived in his later years, was one of his recurring themes.
In 1987, a museum was inaugurated in his honor, in a 17th century mansion with a fountain by Aleijadinho on the inside. The collection consists of around a thousand pieces, including personal objects, paintings, documents, photos and, of course, paintings.
The museum promotes cultural and educational events and activities. R Conde de Bobadela (r. Direita), 110, Centro.
9. IGREJA MATRIZ DE NOSSA SENHORA DA CONCEIÇÃO DE ANTÔNIO DIAS
In 1727, work began on this church, built on the same spot where the bandeirante Antônio Dias had erected a chapel in 1699 – it is therefore a milestone in the birth of Vila Rica.
The design and construction (which lasted until the middle of the 18th century) was carried out by Manuel Francisco Lisboa, Aleijadinho’s father; in fact, both men are buried in the church.
The façade is very similar to that of the Pilar parish church, but the riches inside are unique, starting with the eight altars separated by large carved pilasters.
The sinks carved in soapstone were considered the most beautiful in the city by the poet Manuel Bandeira.
In the sacristy is the Aleijadinho Museum, with magnificent rosewood chests of drawers and pieces such as the image of Saint Francis of Paola, with its menacing gaze, and the disturbing lions that used to support coffins.
Also note the delicacy and perfection of the Christ carved in ivory. Pça. Antônio Dias, s/n, Antônio Dias.
10. CAPELA DO PADRE FARIA
Built at the beginning of the 18th century to replace the makeshift chapel where Father João de Faria Fialho said the first mass in the village, the chapel is also known as Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Brancos.
The recent restoration has restored the exuberance hidden behind the simple façade, such as the magnificent gilded woodwork on the high altar and side altars and the painting on the ceiling, one of the oldest in Minas Gerais.
Oriental elements can be seen in the side paintings, which reveal the influence of Chinese porcelain ornaments brought by the Portuguese from Macau.
In the churchyard, there is a three-armed cross made of quartzite and the bell tower – the only one that, disobeying the Crown’s orders, sounded the funeral knell on the day Tiradentes was executed. R. Nossa Senhora do Parto.
11. CASA DOS CONTOS
One of the best preserved examples of colonial civil architecture, the house, built between 1782 and 1784, served as a residence for a wealthy local merchant.
In 1789, it was used as a prison for the inconfidentes: one of them, the poet Cláudio Manuel da Costa, died in it.
Later, it was occupied by the Intendência do Ouro and other public offices. Today, restored, it displays furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries and houses a Federal Revenue agency, a study center on the gold cycle and a specialized library.
It has a monumental staircase, beautiful paintings on the ceiling and large furnaces and crucibles used for smelting gold. R. Sào José, 12, Centro.
12. IGREJA DE NOSSA SENHORA DO ROSÁRIO DOS PRETOS (SANTA IFIGÊNIA)
Just as they had their own parish church, each parish in Ouro Preto (Ouro Preto and Antônio Dias) had its own church of Our Lady of the Rosary, protector of black people.
This church, to which the devotion to Saint Iphigenia is added, was built in Antônio Dias between 1733 and 1785, at the behest – according to tradition – of Chico Rei, a freed slave who became the owner of a prosperous gold mine and freed hundreds of other captives.
To get to the church, located at the top of a hill, you have to climb a large staircase.
The simple façade features an image of Our Lady of the Rosary sculpted by Aleijadinho; inside there is no gold, but beautiful wood carvings depicting shells, prawns and other elements that evoke the African universe.
The tower clock, dating from 1762, still works.
At the entrance, you can see the stone basin where the black women used to wash their hair in order to donate the gold dust smuggled from the mines to the sisterhood. R. Santa Ifigênia, 396, Alto da Cruz.
13. IGREJA DE SÀO JOSÉ
The church, whose high altar altarpiece was designed by Aleijadinho, was built between 1752 and 1811.
Unfortunately, it has been closed for restoration and is not expected to open again.
Even so, it’s worth stopping and looking at the façade of the terrace with the soapstone balustrade that surrounds the central tower, one of the most original in the city The writer Bernardo Guimarães (1825-84), author of the novel A escrava Isaura, is buried in the adjoining cemetery. R. Teixeira Amaral, s/n.
14. IGREJA MATRIZ DE NOSSA SENHORA DO PILAR
The current building, dating from 1731, replaced the original parish church of Pilar, a landmark in the founding of the city, built between 1700 and 1703 in rammed earth and wood.
The altar of Saint Anthony and that of Our Lady of Sorrows, among the six existing, must have belonged to the old parish church.
The simple façade contrasts with the extraordinary richness of the interior, where more than four hundred kilos of gold were used.
There is opulence in every detail: in the central arch there are more than a hundred Brazilian flowers sculpted and plated in gold; the carving of the main altar is by Francisco Xavier de Brito, one of Aleijadinho’s masters.
During the restoration, the original version of the painting of the Holy Supper on the central panel, which had been repainted twice too late, was restored.
In the basement of the church is the Museum of Sacred Art of Ouro Preto, with a large collection of pieces produced between the 16th and 19th centuries, such as images, vestments, gold-embroidered fabrics and silverware. Monsenhor Joào Castilho Barbosa Square, s/n.
15. IGREJA DE NOSSA SENHORA DO ROSÁRIO
O traçado circular desta igreja construída entre 1733 e 1785 é único em Ouro Preto e remete às construções do Norte europeu – uma solução erudita aplicada a uma igreja levantada por uma ordem de escravos em substituição à capela original, de 1709.
A originalidade da obra contrasta com o interior despojado, onde se destacam os altares dedicados aos santos negros.
A imagem de Santa Helena é de Aleijadinho. Lgo. do Rosário, s/n.
In 1731, during the construction of the altar of the parish church of Nossa Senhora do Pilar, the Blessed Sacrament was temporarily transferred to the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos.
To celebrate its return in 1733 and the official inauguration of the parish church, a procession was held, a great baroque festival that became known as the Eucharistic Triumph.
The procession featured biblical characters, others characterized as the seven planets, Moors and Christians, the four winds, followed by members of the various brotherhoods of Ouro Preto, whose costumes and vestments, as well as the horses’ harnesses, were made of silk, gold, silver, precious gems and feathers.
The festival lasted for days and shows the splendor of the heyday of the gold cycle, the strength of the Church in the 18th century and the ritualistic and festive aspect of Minas Gerais’ religiosity.
16. IGREJA DO BOM JESUS DE MATOSINHOS (SÃO MIGUEL E ALMAS)
The highlight of this church is Aleijadinho’s portico, which dramatically shows Saint Michael the Archangel over the fires of hell, surrounded by the souls of purgatory.
Inside there are only three altars in the rococo style, with painted altarpieces and no gilding.
The church dates back to the gold rush – it is estimated that it was built around 1763 and finished at the beginning of the 19th century.
The ceiling of the high altar and nave has been restored, allowing us to see parts of the original painting by Ataíde, who also painted the Holy Supper and the Crucifixion in the nave.
In the sacristy there are altars with paintings from the 18th century and five paintings of the Way of the Cross, attributed to Aleijadinho or his disciples. R. Alvarenga Peixoto, s/n, Cabeças.
17. IGREJA SÂO FRANCISCO DE PAULA
The city’s most recent church took almost a hundred years to build: construction began in 1804 and was completed in 1898, when mining was already in decline.
Clearer and lighter than previous buildings, it is one of the few churches in Ouro Preto with information plaques next to some pieces and altars.
The wind screen door, with red and green glass, was designed by Aleijadinho, and the blue paintings on the seven altars are gold-plated.
On one of the altars, to the left, there is a coat of arms with the symbol of the Empire and a carnation fixed by Dom Pedro II in 1871 to mark his passing.
Experts attribute the beautiful image of Saint Francis of Assisi on the high altar to Aleijadinho.
The church also houses two of the four Portuguese porcelain statues that adorned the entrance stairs. Its location, at the top of the Piedade hill, offers a beautiful panoramic view of the city. R. Fr. Marcos Pena, s/n, Centro.
18. OTHER ATTRACTIONS
18.1 CITY WALK
To get to know the soul of Ouro Preto, visitors need to take their time;
This is the only way to see, for example, the various steps – small chapels with a single compartment where processions stop during Holy Week – built between the 18th and 19th centuries;
One of the oldest is the step in Praça Tiradentes, in the heart of the city, next to the residence on the corner of Rua Conde de Bobadela.
The Antônio Dias step dates from the mid-19th century and is located next to the recently restored Antônio Dias fountain;
The stone fountains, which supplied Vila Rica during the gold rush, are another symbol of the city: see, in the center, the Contos fountain (1745), near the Casa dos Contos, and the Marília fountain (1758), in Rua Santa Ifigênia, built by Manuel Francisco Lisboa, Aleijadinho’s father.
On the tour, you’ll also see the old bridges that cross Ouro Preto and the wealth of buildings, many of them of great historical importance, such as the house of Tomás Gonzaga (61 Cláudio Manuel Street), which houses the Secretariat of Tourism and Culture, and the house of Cláudio Manuel da Costa (6 Carlos Tomás Street), now a private residence.
Throughout its history, Ouro Preto has attracted artists of different styles. Many of them open their studios to visitors or sell their paintings from their homes.
Gold has long since declined, but Ouro Preto retains its tradition as a center for the sale of jewels and precious stones.
However, the only gem mined in the region is the rare and valuable imperial topaz; the others come from other places in the state. Whatever your interest – gems or mounted jewelry – avoid fairs and street vendors; only buy from stores that issue guarantee certificates.
19. GOLD MINES
Of the numerous gold mines that gave Vila Rica its glory, two, dug by hand at the beginning of the 18th century, can still be visited, revealing to tourists a little of the impressive reality of the workers who exploited them;
19.1 Chico Rei Mine
At the Chico Rei mine, legend and history are intertwined: according to Topázio-imperial tradition, Chico – who would have been a king in Africa before being imprisoned – bought the Lavra, became rich from it and managed to free several other captives.
In addition, with the gold extracted, he built the church of Santa Iphigenia.
It is believed that he was responsible for introducing congado, a dance of African origin, into the city’s religious festivities.
The mine, now privately owned, with a restaurant and craft store attached, has 360 meters to visit.
Access to the more than ninety galleries that extend under Ouro Preto is restricted to researchers and geologists (Rua Dom Silvério, 108, Antônio Dias);
19.2 Mina du Veloso
This is further away from the center, in the São Cristóvão district. We were looked after by the guide Dudu, who was great and explained a lot about types of mining.
In one of the mine’s halls you can see stalagmites (but you don’t go inside, you only see them from a distance). One thing that is different is that there is a well with super-crystalline water, although it is undrinkable due to the high concentration of ores.
At some points, ferns are sprouting on the walls;
19.3 Felipe dos Santos Mine
This is also further away, in the Alto da Cruz neighborhood.
It was opened to visitors more recently and is the subject of studies by geologists and engineers, who believe that the mine was also used for mining ochre.
The visit was guided by the mine’s current owner, who focuses more on legends and beliefs. There is a small waterfall inside the mine.
History of Ouro Preto MG
Historic cities in Minas Gerais were born out of the mining fever that marked Brazil during the 18th century until the first decades of the following century. The historic cities of Minas Gerais are divided into two groups: those of the gold circuit, to which Ouro Preto, Mariana, São João del-Rei, Tiradentes and the various towns and districts that surround them belong, and those of the diamond circuit, whose main centers are Diamantina and Serro.
Ouro Preto and Diamantina have been declared World Heritage Sites by Unesco; the other cities, regardless of their titles, also boast treasures of colonial art and architecture.
What they all have in common – more than the houses, the magnificent churches and monuments, the uneven cobblestones and the beautiful landscapes that surround them – is the untranslatable atmosphere in which nature and history, past and present, are intertwined.
Ouro Preto is the main Brazilian city of that period, its origins are linked to the discovery of alluvial gold by the explorers Antônio Dias de Oliveira and Father João de Faria Fialho, who occupied the banks of the streams and the hills surrounding the city, where the ore was abundant.
Ouro Preto was founded in 1698 by bandeirantes from São Paulo, it became the seat of the Captaincy of Minas Gerais in 1711, when it was elevated to the category of town, with the name of Vila Rica de Albuquerque.
The town, located on the slopes of a narrow, winding valley delimited by two mountain ranges in the region known as Minas Gerais, originated from the process of aggregation between the various gold-mining settlements established there at the beginning of the 18th century. The richness of the deposits explains its first name (Vila Rica) and the name it received in 1720 (Ouro Preto).
From the mid-18th century onwards, in place of the pau-a-pique and adobe techniques, buildings were built of stone and lime, an expression of the wealth brought about by gold mining and slave labor.
The gold and the talent of exceptional artists – such as the sculptor Aleijadinho and the painter Manoel da Costa Athaíde – made it possible to build monuments that make the city stand out in world architecture for the splendor of the admired baroque of Minas Gerais, the result, among other things, of the genius of its main craftsmen.
One of the most important events in Brazilian history in the 18th century took place in the city: in 1789, the Inconfidência Mineira – the movement for independence from Portugal – took place, and its martyr, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (Tiradentes), became the nation’s civic patron.
In the last years of the 18th century, the city began to take on its current appearance and reached its apogee until it regressed in the 19th century, when its economy turned to coffee growing and cattle breeding.
In 1823, after Brazil’s independence, Vila Rica received the title of Imperial City of Ouro Preto from King Pedro I and became the capital of the Province of Minas Gerais.
The drastic reduction in gold mining and the resulting change in economic activities led to a significant decline in Ouro Preto’s economic activities. In 1897, the city lost its status as capital to Belo Horizonte.
Despite the decline of gold mining, the city continued to be part of the gold circuit and mineral extraction is still one of its main economic activities. Due to its historical status and privileged location, tourism is important in the region.
And as in the past, Ouro Preto’s cultural and artistic life is still very active and diverse, standing out nationally;