Historic Town of Ouro Preto
The town of Ouro Preto is located in the State of Minas Gerais, south of Belo Horizonte.
The first references to the existence of gold in the Ouro Preto region date from the 17th century, when a man by the name of Duarte Nunes found some dark sparkling stones in the prospecting dish he had immersed in the river. Such stones were taken to the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Artur de Sá Meneses, who confirmed the existence of gold covered by an iron ore layer. Soon after, an expedition gathered on the site and the first mass was celebrated in an impromptu chapel. By 1711 different settlements had come together to form a single one that became known as Vila Rica de Albuquerque, in honour of António de Albuquerque, governor of the captaincy of S. Paulo and Minas do Ouro. King João V abbreviated the name to Vila Rica and the local population would once again change it to Ouro Preto, one of the names of the original settlements.
Ouro Preto stands out among other Brazilian mining cities as it was the seat of the provincial government, housing the Casa dos Contos (the largest Town Hall and the Colony’s Jail), an active religious life and a society brought up with the refinement of the arts.
Ouro Preto was the first Brazilian historic town to be declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Historic and Cultural site.
Ouro Preto stands out from the remaining mining towns due to the nobility of the building materials used in the urban settlement and also due to its vernacular architecture, which is identical to that of the Portuguese villages in the Minho and Alto Douro. The predominance of stone buildings and sumptuous churches testify to the material and cultural prosperity of the time. Noteworthy in the historic centre are the former Governors’ Palace, the former Town Hall and Jail (Casa da Câmara e Cadeia), Casa dos Contos, Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Church of Our Lady of the Pillar and church of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Construction of the former Governors’ Palace began in 1741, by order of Gomes Freire de Andrade, to the plan of Seargent Major and engineer José Fernandes Pinto Alpoim. It is a defensive building accessibe through a ramp with sentry boxes.
The former Town Hall and Jail of Ouro Preto was built during different work campaigns that started in the second half of the 18th century. A number of administrative, political and judicial services of Ouro Preto were sited here, and it currently houses the Inconfidência Museum.
Casa dos Contos, built in the last quarter of the 18th century, had different uses along the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It is a magnificent building bearing strong resemblance to the mansions in the north of Portugal.
The church of our Lady of the Rosary, built in the last quarter of the 18th century, has an erudite design that was strongly influenced by German and Borrominian churches. The name of its author is still unkown today.
Construction of the Church of Our Lady of the Pillar resulted from the initiative of two associated brotherhoods: the Holy Sacrament and Our Lady of the Pillar, both founded in 1729. The church has a masonry and stone exterior, while inside there are extraordinary examples of colonial Baroque gilt carvings. These works can be seen in the small parish museum along with high quality utensils and silverware.
The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, begun in 1766, is the best example of Baroque architecture in the town of Ouro Preto. Even though there is no clear evidence to support this belief, some scholars claim that the entire project, including plastic arts, architecture and sculpture, are attributed to António Francisco Lisboa, a sculptor born in this mining town, known as «Aleijadinho» (1730-1814).
Lemos, A. Vieira de, António Francisco Lisboa O Aleijadinho, Época, Vida e Obra, Porto, Grupo de Estudos Brasileiros do Porto, 1972.
Guia dos Bens Tombados. Brasil, Coordenação de Maria Elisa Carrazzoni, Rio de Janeiro, Expressão e Cultura with Cultural Support from Caixa Econômica Federal, 1987.
Guia dos Bens Tombados. Minas Gerais, Coordenação de Wladimir Alves de Souza, Rio de Janeiro, Expressão e Cultura, with Cultural Support from Credi-Real – Banco de Crédito Real de Minas Gerais, 1984.
Jorge, Fernando, O Aleijadinho: sua vida, sua obra, seu génio, S. Paulo, 2ª ed., Bruno Buccini Editor e Edições Leia, 1961.
Junior, Augusto de Lima, O Aleijadinho e a arte colonial, Rio de Janeiro, Author’s edition, 1942.
Tiraveli, Percival, «Le Baroque religieux a l’apogée de la periode mineur» in Les Dossiers d’Archeologie, Number 169, Mars 1992, pp. 40-43
Património da Humanidade, World Heritage e Sites in Brazil, Pesquisa e Texto Percival Tirapeli, São Paulo, Metalivros, 2000
Dias, Pedro, Arte de Portugal no Mundo, Brasil - Arquitectura Civil e Religiosa, Lisboa, Editor Público – Comunicação Social, S.A., 2008.