By Davi Baldussi, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – There was a time Brazil could have been one of the most powerful countries in the world, if, that is, it wasn’t a colony of Portugal. During the 18th century Brazil, or more specifically the state of Minas Gerais, was a place where gold could be found almost as easily as a juice store can be today in Rio de Janeiro.
Sadly a great deal of the precious metal – researchers believe almost 1,000 tons – went to Europe. But today in Minas Gerais a visitor can still visit Ouro Preto, 400km from Rio, once called Vila Rica (Rich Village) and the home of gold.
In this small city on the hills, surrounded by natural beauty, everywhere you go there’s a church. Thirteen stunning Baroque-style constructions created by the hands of brilliant architect’s, paid for by the minerals embedded deep beneath their foundations.
One of the most famous is São Francisco de Assis, designed by Aleijadinho, perhaps the first great artist born in Brazil. The interiors of all these religious building’s are astonishing, full of decorations with intricate details, and each one a testament to the opulence that symbolized the era.
The jewel of St. Francis of Assisi is its ceiling, painted by Manuel da Costa Athayde, whose vision of redemption through music shows Mary as a happy mixed-race woman radiating light and crowned with a halo of stars. At her feet, cherubs and angels crowd, playing the lyre, violin, triangle, harp, flute and guitar. Such creative expressions, and many others, convinced UNESCO to designate Ouro Preto as a World Heritage Site in 1980.
Besides being the “home of gold” Ouro Preto was also the center of one of Brazil’s most famous (and failed) plot against the Portuguese crown, known as the Inconfidência Mineira. Though it occurred in the same era and spirit as the American Revolution, it did not share its success.
In 1789, Tiradentes, the leader of the Incofidência, and his followers were arrested. Some were expelled from Brazil, but Tiradentes was taken to Rio de Janeiro where he was hanged, drawn and quartered in 1792. Parts of his body were then posted on the road to Ouro Preto but his head was left hanging in the town’s main square, which to this day carries his name.
In addition to it’s artistic and historic treasure, Ouro Preto, also houses a rich culinary tradition, one of the most famous in Brazil. There are many restaurants around the country with the tag-line “comida mineira” (food of Minas), touting the local favorites of beans, ox meat and chicken with okra.
The city doesn’t have an airport, so there are two options to get there from Rio: by bus, a journey of around six hours, or by plane to Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais, from where a bus to Ouro Preto takes less than 2 hours. Depending on your budget the former is considerably more affordable, and to make your stay even more worthwhile, here are some of the better accommodation options to be found:
Grande Hotel de Ouro Preto
Endereço: Rua Senador Rocha Lagoa,168 – Centro
Telefone: (31) 3551-1488
Estalagem das Minas Gerais
Endereço: Rod. Dos Inconfidentes, Km 87
Telefone: (31) 3551-2122
Boroni Palace Hotel
Endereço: Rua Padre Rolim, 580 – Centro
Telefone: (31) 3551-5001
Endereço: Ladeira São Francisco de Paula, 68 – Centro
Telefone: (31) 3551-2944