Ouro Preto. Where the gold rush was born

When I arrived in Belo Horizonte and started meeting new people, every single time they asked me if I already visited Ouro Preto. My negative answer always caused an eye-popping expression and strong advice to go there immediately. After a few such talks I finally decided to do so. Now I’m wondering why it took me so long – the city is located just 100 km away from BH!

I woke up early in the morning, grabbed my bag and a few sandwiches and went to catch a bus. After 2 hours (and many marvellous views on the way) I arrived in Ouro Preto. Why is it such an important place on the map? The city was founded in 1698 as Vila Rica (Rich Town) and it was the part of the gold rush in Brazil (that’s why the name was changed to Ouro Preto which means “Black Gold”). Very quickly the population reached almost 80 thousand, even more than New York or Rio at the time. Officially, 80 tons of gold were exported to Portugal in the 18th century. Ouro Preto was the capital of Minas Gerais until Belo Horizonte was created in 1897.

Ouro Preto is known also for its amazing baroque architecture, financed thanks to the profits from gold extraction. Narrow streets, snaking up and down (it’s a very important remark for people with a weak condition) hide numerous churches, museums and colorful houses. The architecture reminds Portuguese locations and there is nothing surprising about it as the city was a Portuguese colony.

When arriving at the bus station, I set a route of my trip to visit as many places as possible and not to cross the same streets. It took me a while to say “no, thank you” around ten times to the annoying guy offering me a guide. Having settled this, I could start my sightseeing with visiting the São Francisco de Paula church. Sadly, I couldn’t take pictures there (as well as in many other museums and churches).

After a few minutes I was in the city center. I entered the building on the left which appeared to be Casa Dos Contos, the former residence of the tax collector João Rodrigues de Macedo (by the way, born in my lovely Coimbra), currently the museum of the history of Brazilian monetary system.

The next church that I visited was Igreja da Nossa Senhora do Carmo (The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) with the entrance fee of 3 reals. The building was designed by the father of Antônio Francisco Lisboa (known also as Aleijadinho) in the rococo style. Aleijadinho was a noted architect and sculptor and his works can be found in Museu do Oratório next to the church. He is also believed to lose his both hands due to leprocy and create new works with sculpting tools tied to his fingerless hands.

The view from the first floor of the church:

When I was visiting the previous church, I heard bells coming from a distance. It appeared that they belonged to the São Francisco de Assis church with a little cemetary on the side. There is a fair nearby, where you can buy souvenirs, garden accessories and other things, all made from soapstone.

The most important place in Ouro Preto is undeniably Praça Tiradentes with a former town hall, currently the museum (Museu da Inconfidência) of the Inconfidência Mineira Independence Uprising. Its aim was to separate from Portuguese colony and create a republic. The uprising was led by Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (byname: Tiradentes) that was hung on the square. Tiradentes is nowadays the patron of the Military Police.

Coimbra – this name always makes me smile! ;)

The São Francisco de Paula church is visible from almost every place in the city.

Even chain restaurants (as Subway seen below) have adjusted its branding to the local architecture. Amazing!

I noticed the slogan on one of the doors which says: “The state does not provide education, because education overthrows the state.” It relates to the current political situation in Brazil and controversial amendment to the constitution that freezes the budget spending (including education) for the next 20(!) years – in order to decrease the indebtedness of the country. The population’s discontent has been already visible – several strikes, closed schools and banks.

I mentioned the subject of education because there is one university in Ouro Preto that is a merger of two schools: the Pharmacy School (Escola de Farmácia), founded in 1839, and the School of Mines (Escola de Minas), founded in 1876. There is also a very famous party called Festa do 12, related to the foundation of the second school. It’s celebrated on 12th October and from what I’ve heard – it’s an event worth attending!

Over the years Ouro Preto preserved its baroque style and it was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.