Mariana in Minas Gerais is one of the most important historic cities on the Minas Gerais Gold Circuit. Together with its districts, it holds interesting relics from the time when the history of the state began to be drawn.
Mariana was the first capital of Minas Gerais, the first city with a planned urban project in the state and the seat of the first Bishopric of Minas Gerais. Being in Mariana is like stepping back in time and immersing yourself in Colonial Brazil.
The layout of Mariana’s well-preserved historic center is different from that of all the other cities of the gold cycle.
The former Vila Real de Nossa Senhora do Ribeirão do Carmo, seat of the captaincy of São Paulo and Minas do Ouro between 1711 and 1720, was remodeled in 1745, the year it officially became a city and the seat of the first bishopric of Minas Gerais.
It was on this occasion that it received its current name, a tribute to the queen of Portugal, Dona Maria Ana.
The first planned city in Minas Gerais doesn’t have the crooked alleys and narrow lanes of its contemporaries, but its wide streets and square squares boast some of the greatest gems of the Brazilian Baroque.
Colonial architecture can be appreciated, for example, in Rua Direita, where well-preserved houses line the streets, many of which have been transformed into museums or cultural centers.
This is true of the Casa Setecentista, Iphan’s headquarters, which houses a collection of around 50,000 documents from the 17th to 19th centuries and in whose rooms exhibitions, lectures and courses are held (r. Direita, 7).
The Alphonsus de Guimaraens House Museum houses personal objects, period furniture, books, manuscripts and photographs of the poet from Minas Gerais (r. Direita, 35).
Also note the beautiful façade with soapstone balconies of the Casa do Barão de Pontal (r. Direita, 54).
In Minas Gerais square, in the center, the church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo and the church of São Francisco de Assis stand perpendicular to each other, both in front of the pillory (a replica of the original, demolished in the 19th century) and the Town Hall, in a unique composition.
TOURISM SPOTS OF MARIANA MG
1. CATEDRAL BASÍLICA DE NOSSA SENHORA DA ASSUNÇÃO (SÊ)
The church, which was built between 1709 and 1750, is a beautiful example of the first phase of Minas Gerais Baroque.
Almost entirely made of rammed earth, it has undergone several renovations. The simple façade hides a sumptuous interior, where you’ll find gems such as the Ataíde canvas in the baptistery, as well as the baptismal font and the tapa-vento attributed to Aleijadinho.
Its greatest treasure, however, is the magnificent German Arp-Schnitger organ, made in 1701 and donated by Dom João V in 1753.
It is the only instrument made by this manufacturer outside Europe and one of the very few in the world to retain most of its original mechanism. Fully restored, it can be heard every week at concerts in the cathedral. Pça. Cláudio Manuel, Centro.
2. IGREJA DE NOSSA SENHORA DO CARMO
The grandiose façade, with its florets and cylindrical towers, is reminiscent of the church of São Francisco de Assis in Ouro Preto.
One of the last examples of rococo in Minas Gerais, its construction began in 1784 and lasted until 1835, when the tower clocks were installed.
The carvings on the side altars, high altar and altarpieces are beautiful. In 1999, a fire destroyed a significant part of the central nave, several images and the ceiling painting. Pça. Minas Gerais, s/n, Centro.
3. IGREJA DE SÀO FRANCISCO DE ASSIS
Next door to the Carmo church, the São Francisco de Assis church is a beautiful stone building erected between 1763 and 1794, with an imposing soapstone doorway.
Inside, the highlights are the paintings in the sacristy by Manuel da Costa Ataíde and those on the nave ceiling by Francisco Xavier Carneiro.
Both artists also worked on the gilding of the delicate carvings on the altars and altarpieces. Ataíde is buried in the church, in grave number 94, just outside the entrance. Pça. Minas Gerais, s/n, Centro.
4. CASA DE CÂMARA E CADEIA
With the churches of Carmo and São Francisco de Assis, it completes the important architectural ensemble of the Minas Gerais square. Its bluish carved stone work is remarkable, especially the florion with the royal coat of arms in the portico.
The building, erected over a period of 30 years, from 1768 to 1798, is reminiscent of Portuguese farmhouses, with two floors and external staircases with soapstone bands and handrails.
On the lower floor you can still see the three prisons, for free people, slaves and women respectively.
As well as the jail and the town hall, the building housed a butcher’s shop, a chapel, a hospital and a gold smelter.
Today it is the seat of the Mariana City Council. Minas Gerais Square, s/n, Center.
5. IGREJA DE NOSSA SENHORA DOS ANJOS – ARQUICONFRARIA
The building, built in 1784 by members of the Order of the Cordon of St. Francis, is simple and graceful, eschewing Baroque elaborateness.
It is the only church in Mariana with a frontispiece divided into three levels, with a centralized tower, a common solution in other cities in the region. R. D. Silvério, Centro.
6. IGREJA DE NOSSA SENHORA DAS MERCÊS
From the second half of the 18th century, it preserves part of the wooden and rammed earth structure of the original chapel.
The building is reminiscent of the church of the Archconfraternity: the columns are plain and the altars are sparsely decorated; however, it houses a precious collection of images carved in wood and decorated with gold, including those of the Holy Family and Our Lady of Childbirth. R. das Mercês, s/n.
7. IGREJA DE SÀO PEDRO DOS CLÉRIGOS
One of the great attractions of this church is the climb up to the tower, from where you have a magnificent view of the city.
The oval construction began in 1752 and was never finished. The majestic façade contrasts with the bare interior, with a beautiful high altar carved from cedar.
The stone tower on the left is original; the one on the right was rebuilt with bricks. End of r. D. Silvério, Colina de São Pedro.
8. SEMINÁRIO SÃO JOSÉ
An avenue lined with imperial palm trees leads up to the imposing 1934 building, surrounded by gardens.
A large painting of São Sé decorates the colonial-style façade; the stone staircases are studded with imperial topazes, a gem typical of the region. R. Cônego Amando, 57, Chácara.
9. PALÁCIO DOS BISPOS E MUSEU DA MÚSICA
The huge 1750s Palácio dos Bispos building, also known as the Palácio da Olaria (Pottery Palace) and listed by the National Historical Heritage, is being restored (with no opening date yet) to house the Music Museum (currently on Rua Direita and only open to visitors by appointment) and a cultural center with a conservatory, library, exhibition hall and auditorium. R. Cônego Amando, s/n, Centro.
10. MUSEU ARQUIDIOCESANO DE ARTE SACRA
Housed in a mansion dating from 1770, it was built by José Pereira Arouca with stone masonry and stonework details.
One of the most complete sacred art museums in the country, its collection includes around 2,000 pieces of furniture, images, paintings, vestments, china and crystal.
In the entrance hall, the exceptional Samaritan Fountain stands out, a bas-relief in soapstone sculpted by Aleijadinho. R. Frei Durão, 49.
11. IGREJA NOSSA SENHORA DO ROSÁRIO DOS PRETOS
The work, an initiative of the black brotherhoods of Mariana, began in 1752 and was completed in 1758.
Designed by José Pereira dos Santos, it has a balanced and sober façade and a privileged location at the top of the Rosário hill.
It houses paintings by Ataíde and exquisite gilded carvings on the altars. R. Monsenhor Horta, Rosário.
HISTORY OF MARIANA MG
The flag commanded by Colonel Salvador Fernandes Furtado de Mendonça settled on the banks of a stream, where in 1696 he founded the village which he named Ribeirão do Carmo, in honor of the feast day of Our Lady of Carmo, and began building a temporary chapel on the site.
The bandeirante Furtado de Mendonça and his men found gold on the banks of the stream and settled in the village, which would become one of the main suppliers of the ore to Portugal.
The modest settlement grew day by day, attracting considerable crowds from various parts of Brazil and Portugal to exploit the most important gold deposits in Minas Gerais, an economic activity that lasted for more than a century and during which time many mining towns flourished.
In 1711, it was elevated to the category of town. Throughout Colonial Brazil, it was the first town, the only city and the main capital of Minas Gerais.
The town soon became the main center of commerce and education in Minas Gerais. During the rule of Dom Pedro de Almeida Portugal (Count of Assumar, governor and chief captain of the Captaincy of São Paulo and Minas do Ouro), one of the revolts against tax collection took place, which led to the creation of the Captaincy of Minas Gerais in 1720.
From 1743 onwards, the expansion of the town, at the request of the Portuguese government, was subject to the plan drawn up by the Portuguese architect José Fernandes Pinto Alpoim.
In 1745, it was elevated to the category of city, with the name Mariana, in honor of Queen Maria Ana of Austria, wife of King João V. Mariana was the first village in Minas Gerais and the first town in the captaincy to be granted city status.
Still in 1745, the city was granted a Bishopric, by bull of Pope Benedict XIV, and its first head was Friar Manuel da Cruz. The Bishopric, through which 10 incumbents passed, was elevated to an Archbishopric in 1906, with the inauguration of Dom Silvério Gomes Pimenta.
Mariana became known over time as the “city of bishops”.
The flourishing of the Third Orders in the second half of the 18th century – as happened in other cities in the captaincy and in the country – benefited Mariana with the construction of their temples.
In João Pinheiro Square, just a few meters from each other, are the churches built by the powerful brotherhoods of São Francisco de Assis and Carmo.
The churches of Nossa Senhora das Mercês and do Rosário, belonging to the brotherhoods of the blacks, are farther away: the first is located five blocks from the square and the other on a hill further away.
Having not reached the development of Ouro Preto, Mariana has fewer civil buildings and temples than the old Vila Rica.