Ouro Preto, Brazil

Prof. Marcelo Becker (D.Sc.) 

Founded in 1698, Ouro Preto is the masterpiece of colonial architecture in Brazil. As a result of a gold rush, Vila Rica, as Ouro Preto was called in those days, was important enough to become capital of Minas Gerais by 1720. This city consists of many beautiful buildings from the 18th century. Because of its unique Baroque architecture in a style called Barroco Mineiro, Ouro Preto is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Ouro Preto became the centre of the gold rush that opened up Minas Gerais and burgeoned its population. It grew fast. In 1711, Ouro Preto got city rights as “Vila Rica” and became capital of Minas Gerais in 1720. Around 1750, during its heydays, it had around 110,000 inhabitants. At that time, it was twice as large as New York and 5 times as big as Rio de Janeiro.

Ouro Preto was also the location of the Inconfidência Mineira (the Conspiracy of Minas Gerais). This was a movement for the independence of Brazil. The most prominent leaders of this movement were arrested in 1789. Its most enthusiastic leader was José Joaquim da Silva Xavier. He was nicknamed Tiradentes (‘tooth puller’) because of his job as a dentist. He was executed in 1792. After the independence of Brazil he became more and more seen as a national hero. At nowadays, the central square of Ouro Preto is called “Praça Tiradentes” and there is a statue of Tiradentes in the middle of this square.

Most gold mines were depleted at the beginning of the 19th century but Ouro Preto remained capital of Minas Gerais until 1897. Ouro Preto was unable to grow because of its mountainous geography. In 1897, the newly built city of Belo Horizonte became capital of Minas Gerais. The number of inhabitants of Ouro Preto dropped.

Ouro Preto gained new attention in the 20th century. A number of buildings were restored under dictator Getúlio Vargas. Since the 1980-ties, tourism became more and more important for Ouro Preto and it contributes to the maintenance of its monuments. Today, Ouro Preto is a small town. Most of its monuments can be visited on foot. The majority of its churches and museums is closed on Mondays.

São Francisco Church, the Tiradentes Square and view of Inconfidência Museum, and local artists.