With over three million inhabitants, Belo Horizonte is the third largest city in Brazil and the capital of the state of Minas Gerais. The state, the size of France, possesses the largest deposits of tin, iron, and zinc deposits in Brazil and has vast precious stones deposits. But first, there was gold, the little diamonds later, which provided legendary wealth here. In the city, the facilities of the lake of Pampulha are worth the detour. The São Francisco church and the Museu de Arte were designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the park by the famous landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.
You can go back in time to the gold rush, you can relax in the “golden belt” around Belo Horizonte: Ouro Preto, Congonhas do Campo, Sabará, Mariana, São João del Rei and Tiradentes enchantresses by their unique baroque architecture.
Ouro Preto, 100 km from Belo Horizonte, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here was the center of the gold rush in the 18th century. (Ouro Preto means “black gold” – the precious metal has iron oxide black impurities here.)
The fabulous wealth created a baroque city like a picture book. The number of inhabitants is now reduced to 30`000. There are five museums, 13 churches built on the hills, beautiful streets and squares and impressive colonial-style country houses.
In the center of Praça Tiradentes is the impressive Museu da Inconfidệncia. Several pieces recall Tiradentes (toothpicker), his real name Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, famous because he led unsuccessfully the revolt against the Portuguese colonial power. The disastrous end is documented in the museum.
Some works by the brilliant baroque artist Antônio Francisco Lisboa, also known as Aleijadinho (crippled). As a sculptor and architect, he created these impressive works, some of which are in the Carmo Church and in the collection of religious art, not far from the museum. The church, which had been designed by his father, was changed into the baroque style. At the same time, he created elaborate sculptures.
A discreet facade of the Igreja Matriz of Nossa Senhora do Pilar shows gilded walls where images of saints and chubby angels are hidden. More than 400 kilograms of gold and silver were used for the magnificent church.
Rather simple, that of Santa Efigenia dos Pretos, which is distinguished by its convex walls, curved facade and its magnificent steeples. The interior is home to a precious altar.
The Igreja de São Francisco de Assis is considered one of the masterpieces of Aleijadinho and one of the most important works of Brazilian colonial architecture, the whole facade is carved out of stone. The paintings on the walls and ceiling are a long-term partner with Manuel da Costa Ataíde.
Another remarkable church is the Igreja Matriz of Nossa Senhora da Conceiҫão of Antonio Dias, in which Aleijadinho fell. Various documents and works of the great master are exhibited. The Casa dos Contos museum offers gold coins and a foundry. Close to the technical school for mining, the museum contains the world’s largest collection of precious stones, minerals and crystals.
Other important historic buildings are the municipal theater of 1769 and the houses of Tomás Antônio Gonzaga and Tiradentes, some planned in 1792 after the coup d’état against the Portuguese colonial power eventually failed. In the shops around the Praça Tiradentes, one can buy crafts from clay, wood or gold, silver and precious stones.
Twelve kilometers from Ouro Preto is the mountain town of Mariana, the first capital of the region and the first in the Bishopric Minas Gerais. The basilica of the imposing Cathedral of Our Lady of Assunão and the Cathedral of Se is among the oldest churches in Minas Gerais. The Museum houses many baroque paintings and sculptures.
The Franciscan and lay churches of Carmel and the delightful Casa de Câmara e Cadeia (city administration and prison) with its beautiful staircase are worth a visit. In the streets, you can also see beautiful fountains and admire ancient homes.
Another baroque town worth seeing is Sabará, located 23 kilometers outside Belo Horizonte. The Museum of Gold, the Imperial Theater of 1770 (including crystal lamps and carved bamboo seats) and the many richly decorated churches testify to the ancient wealth of the city.
The Igreja Matriz of Nossa Senhora da Conceiҫão is richly decorated with gold leaf and Chinese ornaments. The Igreja de Nossa Senhora also shows indisputable Asian influences. (The Jesuits have had contact with Chinese culture.) The walls and ceiling are richly decorated with sculptures, gold leaf and mysteriously dark paintings. And the lgreja of Nossa Senhora do Carmo is the purest treasure chest filled with works of Aleijadinho. For example, you can see magnificent chairs of soapstone and woodcarvings on his part.
75 kilometers south of Belo Horizonte is Congonhas. It houses the greatest masterpieces of Aleijadinho. In front of the Basílica do Bom Jesus of Matosinhos, there are twelve living prophets carved in soapstone. Aleijadinho created them as an old and sick man. From him and his assistants also come wooden figures representing the history of the suffering of Christ. These 64 painted figures are arranged in six small chapels.
The old town of gold seekers, located between two mountain ranges, has a magnificent center with churches, museums and magnificent villas. It is located 190 kilometers from Belo Horizonte. The church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, designed by Aleijadinho, recalls the Baroque masterpieces of Ouro Preto. The church has a famous unfinished Christ figure.
The Cathedral of Nossa Senhora do Pilar has richly decorated walls and ceilings; the altars decorated with gold also deserve a visit.
The most beautiful of the seven churches of the city is the Igreja de São Francisco de Assis. It is considered the greatest architectural achievement of Aleijadinho. Inside are remarkable figures and fine woodwork.
The best museum in Minas Gerais is the Museum of Regional Art of Patrimonio Historico. Set in a beautiful villa, it displays sacred art on two floors; the third floor is dedicated to crafts and household items.
São João Station is home to the Museu Ferroviário, which offers a wealth of information and exhibitions on the railways. The show will feature Baldwin locomotives from the early 20th century.
The picturesque village of Tiradentes is only 13 kilometers by train from Sao Joao. He was named after his famous son, the Brazilian national hero “Tiradentes” (tooth puller) Joaquim José da Silva Xavier. Tiradentes was the leader of a planned coup against the Portuguese colonial power, was betrayed and executed in 1792.
The sights of the mountain village include one of the most beautiful churches in Brazil, the Igreja Matriz de Santo Antônio and the museum of Padre Toledo, period furniture and sacred art. In the shops of Tiradentes, you can buy antiques, woodwork and silver jewelry.
In Diamantina, 200 km north of Belo Horizonte, diamonds were discovered in the twenties of the 18th century. The place was the seat of the famous diamond dealer Joao Fernandes de Oliveira and his slave and lover Xica da Silva. Fernandes richly decorated the bell tower of the Igreja of Nossa Senhora do Carmo because the bell ring disturbed his mistress.
Next door is the enormous Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário, which was built by slaves and therefore contains black saints. The public library is a point of interest because of its beautiful balconies. The Diamond Museum is very representative, where old mining tools, documents and furniture are on display.
Among the most imposing buildings is the villa of the diamond merchant Fernandes and the Casa da Glória, the former seat of the royal governors. Very humble, however, is the birthplace of Juscelino Kubitschek, one of the most important presidents of Brazil and founder of Brasília.