June 2001

Towns Gold Built

The finest goods from India and England
were made available to Ouro Preto. The gold bought
the services of baroque artisans, who turned the city
into an architectural gem. At the height of the gold boom
there were 110,000 people in town
versus 50,000 in New York.

Historical Towns


Sabará stands on the muddy banks of the Rio das Velhas (Old Ladies' River). It was the first major goldmining center in the state, and during its peak was one of the world's wealthiest towns. This is reflected in its houses, mansions, churches, statues, fountains and sacred art. Sabará is now a poor town dominated by Belgian metalworks. In the boom years of the early 1700s, when the Rio das Velhas was 15 times wider, slave boats would sail all the way down the Rio São Francisco from Bahia. Sabará produced more gold in one week than the rest of Brazil produced in a year. You can still pan the riverbed for gold flakes, but the nuggets are long since gone.

Orientation & Information

Since it's only 25 km and half an hour by bus from Belo Horizonte, Sabará makes an easy and interesting day trip. There's an information booth at the entrance to town, but it's useless. The major sights are signposted from Praça Santa Rita anyway.


Most of the churches have small entry fees.

Matriz de Nossa Senhora de Conceição

The Portuguese Jesuits, cultural ambassadors of the farflung Portuguese Empire, were among the first Westerners to make contact with the orient. As a result, the Matriz de Nossa Senhora de Conceição (1720) is a fascinating blend of Oriental arts and Portuguese baroque—overwhelming with its gold leaf and red Chinese scrolls.

Restationed in Brazil, the Jesuits brought the Oriental arts to Sabará, as is evident in the pagodas on some of the church door panels by the sanctuary. There are several other interesting little details in the church. Floorboards cover the graves of early church members, the gold and silver nuggets nailed on these tablets indicating whether the deceased was rich or poor.

On the ceiling of the church is the patron saint of confessors, John Nepomuceno of 14thcentury Czechoslovakia, who is shown holding his tongue. King Wenceslau ordered St Nepomuceno's tongue cut out because the saint refused to reveal whether or not the Moldavian queen was faithful. Nepomuceno died of his wound, but became very popular posthumously in Czechoslovakian cult circles and, inexplicably, in Minas Gerais during the gold era. Note the little angel at his side shushing churchgoers with a finger to his lips. The church is open from 8 am to noon and 2 to 6 pm daily. It's on Praça Getúlio Vargas.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Ó

After surviving an attack by his own troops in 1720, Captain Lucas Ribeiro de Almeida built a chapel in thanks to the Virgin Mary. Like Nossa Senhora de Conceição, the chapel has Oriental details, and it's just as popular with pregnant women (and those who pray for fertility). It's plain on the outside but gilded on the inside. The chapel gives no clues as to the meaning of its name, Our Lady of O. It's open from 8 am to noon and 2 to 6 pm.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário

This halfbuilt church on Praça Melo Viana was started and financed by slaves but was never finished. It now stands as a memorial to the abolition of slavery in 1888. The church is open daily from 8 am to noon and 2 to 6 pm.

Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo

Aleijadinho had a lot to do with the decoration of this church on Rua de Carmo. His touch is everywhere, especially in the faces of the statues of São Simão and São João da Cruz.

O Teatro Imperial

Sabará has an elegant old opera house, O Teatro Imperial (1770). The crystal lamps and three tiers of seats in carved wood and bamboo cane are testimony to the wealth of days gone by. On Rua Dom Pedro II, it's open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm.

Museu do Ouro

Housed in an old gold foundry (1730), the gold museum, on Rua da Intendência, contains art and artifacts of Sabará's glory years, mostly related to the goldmining industry. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm.

Getting There & Away

Viação Cisne buses shuttle the 25 km to Belo Horizonte, leaving every 15 minutes from the bus stop on Avenida Victor Fantini you can also catch one on the road out of town.


Little is left of Congonhas' colonial past except the extraordinary Prophets of Aleijadinho at the Basílica do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. While the town is commonplace, these dramatic statues are exceptional. They are Aleijadinho's masterpiece and Brazil's most famed work of art. It's worth taking the trouble to get to Congonhas just to see them.

Set in a broad valley; Congonhas is 72 km south of Belo Horizonte, three km off BR-040. The city grew up with the search for gold in the nearby Rio Maranhão, and the economy today is dominated by iron mining in the surrounding countryside.

The 12 Prophets

Already an old man, sick and crippled, Aleijadinho sculpted the Prophets from 1800 to 1805. Symmetrically placed in front of the Basílica do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, each of the prophets from the Old Testament was carved out of one or two blocks of soapstone. Each carries a message: six of them are good, six bad, and all are in Latin.

Much has been written about these sculptures—their dynamic quality, the sense of movement (many talk of the appearance they give of a Hindu dance or a ballet), how they complement each other and how their arrangement in front of the church prevents them from being seen in isolation. The poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade wrote that the dramatic faces and gestures are `magnificent, terrible, grave and tender' and commented on `the way the statues, of human size appear to be larger than life as they look down upon the viewer with the sky behind them'.

Before working on the Prophets, Aleijadinho carved or supervised his assistants in carving the wooden statues which were placed in the six little chapels that represent the Passion of Christ: The Last Supper, Calvary, Imprisonment, Flagellation and Coronation, Carrying of the Cross and the Crucifixion.

Some of the figures, such as the Roman soldiers are very crude and clearly done by assistants, while others are finely chiseled. The statues were restored in 1957 by the painter Edson Mota and the gardens were designed by Burle Marx.


Held from 7 to 14 September, the Jubileu do Senhor Bom Jesus do Matosinhos is one of the great religious festivals in Minas Gerais. Each year, approximately 600,000 pilgrims arrive at the church to make promises and do penance, receive blessings and give and receive alms, The Holy Week processions in Congonhas are also famous, especially the dramatizations on Good Friday.

For Places to Stay & Eat read the book

Getting There & Away

If you get an early start, you can avoid spending a night in Congonhas. We've included detailed bus schedules to enable you to make quick connections. There are six daily buses from Belo Horizonte to Congonhas ($4, 1¾ hours). The last return bus to Belo Horizonte leaves Congonhas at 8.20 pm. Buses leave every hour for Conselheiro Lafaiete, where you can get a midnight bus to Rio.

To get from Congonhas to Ouro Preto, you can either go to Belo Horizonte or make a connection in Conselheiro Lafaiete. The latter route can be faster if you make a good connection. The drive from Lafaiete to Ouro Preto is almost all dirt road; it's very slow and often crowded, but quite scenic, with a view of several large mining projects. Try to get to Lafaiete a bit early to make sure you get a bus; if you do miss the last bus, there are a couple of hotels across from the rodoviária.

From Lafaiete to Ouro Preto ($4, 2 ½ hours) buses run Monday to Friday at 7.05 and 9 am noon, and 3 and 6 pm on Saturday at 7.05 am, noon, and 3 and 6 pm and on Sunday at 6 am, and 3 and 6 pm.

From Ouro Preto to Lafaiete, buses leave Monday to Saturday at 5 am (except Saturday) and 9 am, noon, and 2.50 and 6 pm; on Sunday they leave at 6 am, noon, and 2.40 and 6 pm.

To get from Congonhas to São João del Rei, catch one of the Belo Horizonte to São João del Rei buses that stops off at Congonhas. There are seven a day, the first at 7.30 am and the last at 8.20 pm.

Getting Around

From the Congonhas rodoviária the `Basílica' bus leaves every halfhour and costs $0.30. It's a 15minute ride up the hill to the basílica and the Prophets. Get off the bus just after it passes the church (as it begins to go downhill) for the best approach and first view of the statues. The same bus returns you to the rodoviária.


Ouro Preto is in the remote Serra do Espinhaço range, and the oddshaped peak of Itacolomy (1752 meters), 18 km out of town, is the first clue that you're approaching Ouro Preto. The first bandeirantes to penetrate the region used it as a reference point.


According to the Jesuit Antonil, a mulatto servant in the Antônio Rodrigues Arzão expedition went to the rivulet Tripui to quench his thirst and pocketed a few grains of an odd black metal he found in the stream bed. The little nuggets were reported to the governor of Rio and turned out to be gold. The exact location of the river was forgotten during the long expedition; only the strange shape of the peaks of Itacolomy were remembered.

On 24 June 1698, Antônio Dias de Oliveira rediscovered the area, convinced he had found the promised El Dorado. The mines were the largest deposits of gold in the western hemisphere, and the news and gold fever spread fast. Stories tell of men who acquired fabulous wealth from one day to the next, and others who died of hunger with their pockets full of gold.

Back in Portugal, King Dom João V was quick to claim a royal fifth in tax and a chain of posts was established to ensure that the crown was getting its cut. In theory, all the gold was brought to these casas de intendências to be weighed and turned into bars, and the royal fifth set aside. Tax shirkers were cast into dungeons or exiled to Africa. One common technique used to avoid the tax was to hide gold powder in hollow images of the saints. Bitter over the tax, the Paulista miners rebelled unsuccessfully against the Portuguese. Two years later, in 1711, Vila Rica de Ouro Preto the present town's predecessor, was founded.

The finest goods from India and England were made available to the simple mining town. The gold bought the services of baroque artisans, who turned the city into an architectural gem. At the height of the gold boom in the mid18th century, there were 110,000 people in Ouro Preto (the vast majority of whom were slaves) versus 50,000 in New York and about 20,000 in Rio de Janeiro. The royal fifth, estimated at 100 tons of gold in the 18th century, quickly passed through the hands of the Portuguese court, built up Lisbon and then financed the British Industrial Revolution. The greed of the Portuguese led to sedition on the part of the inhabitants of Vila Rica (1720). As the boom tapered off, the miners found it increasingly difficult to pay ever larger gold taxes. In 1789, poets Claudio da Costa and Tomás Antônio Gonzaga, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (nicknamed Tiradentes, meaning toothpuller after his dentistry skills) and others whose heads were full of the French revolutionary philosophies hatched the Inconfidência Mineira. This attempt to overthrow the Portuguese was crushed in its early stages by agents of the crown. Gonzaga was exiled to Mozambique, and Costa did time in prison. Tiradentes, the only man not to deny his role in the conspiracy, was abandoned by his friends, jailed for three years without defense, then drawn and quartered.

By decree of Emperor Dom Pedro I, Vila Rica, capital of Minas Gerais since 1721, became the Imperial City of Ouro Preto. In 1897, the state capital was shifted from Ouro Preto to Belo Horizonte. This was the decisive move that preserved Ouro Preto's colonial flavor The former capital assumes the symbolic role of state capital once a year, on 24 June. The city was declared a Brazilian national monument in 1933, and in 1981 UNESCO proclaimed Ouro Preto a World Cultural Heritage Site.


The city is one km above sea level, and temperatures vary from 2º C to 28º C. Winters are pretty cold. It can be rainy and foggy all year round, but you can expect daily showers in December and January. The best time to visit Minas is between March and August.


Praça Tiradentes, a few blocks down from the rodoviária on the main road, is the town center. Ouro Preto is divided into two parishes. If you stand in Praça Tiradentes facing the Museu da Inconfidência, the parish of Pilar is to the right, the parish of Antônio Dias to the left.

All of Ouro Preto's streets have at least two names: the official one and the one used by the locals because the other one is too much of a mouthful. Rua Conde Bobadela, the street leading off to the right from Praça Tiradentes as you're facing the Museu da Inconfidência, is commonly known as Rua Direita. Similarly, Rua Conselheiro Quintiliano is known as Rua das Lajes and Rua Senador Rocha Lagoa as Rua das Flores. To add to the confusion, the names are rarely posted.

The town is very hilly and the rainslicked, cobblestone streets are extremely steep. Bring comfortable walking shoes with good tread.

If you plan to spend only one day in Ouro Preto, make sure it's not a Monday, as almost all the museums and churches are closed then.


Tourist Office

The tourist office, at Praça Tiradentes 41, is open from 8 am to 6 pm during the week and from 8 am to 5 pm on weekends. English is spoken, and staff give out a leaflet which indicates the opening times of the museums and churches; they also sell good maps ($2) and copies of the Guia de Ouro Preto, by Manuel Bandeira, in Portuguese ($ 10). Passeio a Ouro Preto by Lucia Machado de Almeida, has sections in English, French and Portuguese and costs $22. By the same author is the Minas Gerais Roteiro Turístico Cultural das Cidades Históricas (EmbraturAGGS). I'd like to thank Embratur for permission to use this material when discussing the myths and legends of Ouro Preto.

If you want to pack in a lot of sightseeing with little effort, hire an official guide ($30 for a fullday tour) at the tourist office. Cássio is a great guide and speaks excellent English. He really knows his baroque. Other guides include João Bosco, who speaks English and Italian, Herculiano, who speaks good English, and Affonso, who speaks Spanish. Beware of unofficial guides: there are some nasty characters hanging around.

The tourist office also organizes treks into the surrounding hills and horseback rides to Itacolomy. The cost is around $40 for the day. Speak to João or Reinaldo a day before you go, to give them enough time to get the horses ready.


The Banco do Brasil câmbio is at Rua São José 195, and most of the jewelry stores in town will change cash dollars.

Post & Telephone

The post office is in Rua Direita, close to Praça Tiradentes. The telefônica for longdistance calls is on the steep Rua das Flores, on the left as you walk down from the praça

Things to See

Apart from Niemeyer's Grande Hotel Ouro Preto and two other modem monstrosities, no 20thcentury buildings defile this stunningly beautiful colonial city. Spend a day walking on the cobblestone roads around the dark rock walls of the village admiring its carved fountains statues and crumbling orangetiled roofs. Gaze through the mist at a skyline of bare green hills, church steeples and gray skies.

The following sightseeing itinerary was made keeping the quirky visiting hours in mind. The schedule is crowded for one day, but if you hustle it's possible to see most of the sights in the Antônio Dias Parish in the morning, lunch in or about Praça Tiradentes, and spend the afternoon visiting the Pilar Parish and the Mineral Museum and the Inconfidência Museum. Bear in mind that you need at least two days to see the town properly, and more if you intend to visit some of the nearby historical towns.

Most churches charge around $1.25 per person admission, so travelers on a tight budget might have to pick and choose. Our favorites are, in rough order: Igreja de São Francisco de Assis (if you only visit one, make sure it's this one); Igreja de Santa Efigênia dos Pretos, Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar and Capela do Padre Faria.

Start at about 7.30 am from Praça Tiradentes and walk along Rua das Lajes, the road to Mariana, for a panoramic view of town.

If, after all this, you're enthusiastic for more, the tourist office can sell you some fine guidebooks—there's plenty to see. Those after something strenuous can hike to the peak of Itacolomy; it takes three hours to walk the 18 km from Praça Tiradentes. Parque Itacolomy (the easiest approach is from Mariana) is a pleasant excursion—the Park has some good walking trails, waterfalls and orchids, and the colonial town of Mariana is only 12 km away. Buses leave every halfhour.

Capela do Padre Faria

Work your way downhill off the road to this chapel. Padre Faria was one of the original bandeirantes, and the chapel (built between 1701 and 1704) is Ouro Preto's oldest house of worship. The chapel is set behind a triple branched papal cross (1756), the three branches representing the temporal, spiritual and material powers of the Pope. It's the richest chapel in terms of gold and artwork, but unfortunately, due to poor documentation, the artists are anonymous. The church bell rang for Tiradentes (when his body was taken to Rio); later, it rang once again, for the inauguration of Brasília. Note that the angel on the righthand side of the high altar has butterfly wings. The church is open from 8 am to noon.

Igreja de Santa Efigênia dos Pretos

Descending the Ladeira do Padre Faria back towards town, you'll come to the Igreja de Santa Efigênia dos Pretos. The church was built between 1742 and 1749 by and for the black slave community. Santa Efigênia, patron saint of the church, was the Queen of Nubia, and the featured saints, Santo Antônio do Nolo and São Benedito, are black. The slaves prayed to these images that they wouldn't be crushed in the mines.

The church is Ouro Preto's poorest in terms of gold and its richest in terms of artwork. The altar is by Aleijadinho's master, Francisco Javier do Briton. Many of the interior panels are by Manuel Rabelo de Souza (see if you can find the painting of Robinson Crusoe), and the exterior image of Nossa Senhora do Rosário is by Aleijadinho himself. The church was financed by gold extracted from ChicoRei's gold mine, Encardideira. Slaves contributed to the church coffer by washing their goldflaked hair in baptismal fonts. Others managed to smuggle gold powder under fingernails and inside tooth cavities. The church is open from 8 am to noon.

Oratório ViraSaia

At the beginning of the 18th century, there was a rash of ghost incidents in the city. Phantoms would spring from the walls near Santa Efigênia church and wing through town, spooking the towns-people. The simple village folk would faint and drop their bags of gold powder, which the banditlike ghosts would snatch. The terrorized people asked the bishop for permission to build oratories, and the bishop complied. Designed to keep evil spirits at bay, the oratories (glassencased niches containing images of saints) were built on many street corners. Not many oratories remain but there's one on Rua dos Paulistas (also called Bernardo Vasconcelos) and another on Rua Antônio Dias; the most famous one of all is the Oratório ViraSaia. Nowadays these few remaining oratories are used to scare off evil spirits during Holy Week.

The small oratory of ViraSaia is at the bottom of the Ladeira de Santa Efigênia (also known as ViraSaia), on the corner with Rua Barão do Ouro Branco. `Virasaia' has two possible meanings: it either originates from the Portuguese virar (turn) and sair (depart) or is the direct translation of virasaia, which means turncoat or traitor.

In the latter part of the 18th century, gold caravans destined for the Portuguese crown were, robbed on a regular basis, despite measures to cloak shipments by altering dates and routes. It didn't take long to surmise that it was an inside job. Someone working in the Casa de Fundição was leaking information Who would suspect that Antonio Francisco Alves, a pillar of the community, upstanding citizen, mildmannered businessman and gentle father, was in reality the brains behind the ViraSaia bandits—the very same outfit which looted the government's gold caravans? After a caravan's route was planned, Alves would steal out to the oratory and turn the image of Nossa Senhora das Almas within the sanctuary to face the direction of the gold traffic.

A reward was posted for the identity of the criminal. Finally a member of Alves' own band, Luis Gibut, turned him in. Gibut was a French Jesuit who fell in love with a beautiful woman, abandoned the order, and became a highway bandit and, eventually the turncoat's turncoat. This same Luis Gibut was responsible for teaching Aleijadinho the misspelled Latin phrases which the artist incorporated into many of his works.

Alves, his wife and his daughters were dragged off into the jungle to meet their fate. Sra Duruta, a good neighbor, came to the rescue and saved Alves, but it was too late for his wife and kids. Alves was one step ahead of the long arm of the law, but he didn't get off scot free. Shortly afterwards, he was plugged by another unnamed ViraSaia. The criminal gang continued to do successful robberies without its first chief. Luis Gibut, exJesuit, traitor and poor speller, is probably still doing time in purgatory.

Largo do Dirceu

Largo do Dirceu is next, just before you get to the Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Antônio Dias. This used to be a popular hangout of the poet Tomás Antônio Gonzaga and his girlfriend and muse, Marília. It figures prominently in Marília de Dirceu, the most celebrated poem in the Portuguese language.

Matriz Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Antônio Dias & Around

The cathedral of the Antônio Dias parish, Matriz Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Antônio Dias was designed by Aleijadinho's father, Manuel Francisco Lisboa, and built between the years 1727 and 1770. Note the painting of the eagle: its head points downwards, symbolizing the domination of the Moors by the Christians. Aleijadinho is buried by the altar of Boa Morte. The cathedral is open from 8 to 11.30 am and 1 to 5 pm.

The Museu do Aleijadinho adjoins the church and has the same hours. Nearby is Encardideira, the abandoned mine of Chico Rei (ask around for directions). It's dangerous, full of crumbling secret passageways and rumored to be haunted.

Casa de Tomás Antônio Gonzaga

Rua do Ouvidor 9 is the address of Tomás Antônio Gonzaga's house, now the seat of the municipal government. Back in 1789, the gold tax and antimonarchist sentiment in Minas were rising concurrently. This is where Gonzaga, his poet friend Claudio da Costa (author of Vila Rica), Tiradentes and others conspired unsuccessfully to overthrow the Portuguese monarchy. The sad little event came to be known as the Inconfidência Mineira.

Igreja de São Francisco de Assis

Across the street from Gonzaga's house is the Igreja de São Francisco de Assis. After the Prophets, in Congonhas, Aleijadinho's masterwork, this is the single most important piece of Brazilian colonial art, and it was lovingly restored in 1992. The entire exterior, a radical departure from the military baroque style, was carved by Aleijadinho alone, from the soapstone medallion to the cannon waterspouts and the military (twobar) cross. The interior was painted by Aleijadinho's long-term partner, Manuel da Costa Ataíde.

The sacristy is said to be haunted by the spirit of an 18thcentury woman. In the dead of night, her head dissolves into a skull and she screams, `I'm dying, call Father Carlos'. The church and adjoining Aleijadinho museum are open from 8.20 to 11.45 am and 1.30 to 4.45 pm.

Praça Tiradentes

Praça Tiradentes is the center of town. It's a good place to have lunch, catch your breath by the statue of Tiradentes, or take in some museums before the churches of the Pilar parish open in the afternoon.

The Museu da Inconfidência, formerly the old municipal building and jail, is an attractive civic building built between 1784 and 1854. Used as a prison from 1907 until 1937, the museum contains the Tiradentes tomb, documents of the Inconfidência Mineira, torture instruments and important works by Ataíde and Aleijadinho. The museum is open from noon to 5.30 pm.

Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo

The Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo was a group effort by the most important artists of the area. Begun in 1766 and completed in 1772, the church features a façade by Aleijadinho. It's open from 8 to 11.30 am and 1 to 5.30 pm.

Casa de Tiradentes

The home of Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (Tiradentes) is nearby. After his failed rebellion against the Portuguese, and his execution in Rio, Tiradentes's head was paraded around town. His house was demolished, and its grounds were salted so that nothing would grow there.


The church of São Francisco de Assis, the Carmo church façade, the Prophets of Congonhas do Campos and innumerable relics in Mariana, Sabará, Tiradentes and São João del Rei were all carved by Aleijadinho (Antônio Francisco Lisboa). Brazil's Michelangelo lost the use of his hands and legs at the age of 30 but, with a hammer and chisel strapped to his arms, he advanced art in Brazil from the excesses of the baroque to a finer, more graceful rococo. The Mineiros have reason to be proud of Aleijadinho—he is a figure of international prominence in the history of art. Aleijadinho's angels have his stylistic signature: wavy hair, wideopen eyes and big, round cheeks.

The son of a Portuguese architect and a black slave, Aleijadinho lived from 1730 to 1814 and was buried in the Matriz Nossa Senhora da Conceição, within 50 paces of his birth site. By federal decree he was declared Patron of Brazilian arts in 1973. For many years Manuel da Costa Ataíde, from' nearby Mariana, successfully collaborated with Aleijadinho on many churches. Aleijadinho would sculpt the exterior and a few interior pieces and Ataíde, would paint the interior panels. With his secretlyconcocted vegetable dyes, Ataíde fleshed out much of Aleijadinho's work.

Escola de Minas

The Escola de Minas in the old governor's palace in Praça Tiradentes has a very fine museum of mineralogy. It's open from noon to 5 pm Monday to Friday.

Casa dos Contos

The Casa dos Contos (Counting House) is now a public library and art gallery. Claudio da Costa was imprisoned here after participating in the Inconfidência Mineira. It is open from 12.30 to 5 pm. Next door is the old Ponto do Leilão, where slaves were taken to be tortured.

Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar

The Matriz de Nossa Senhora do Pilar is the secondmost opulent church in Brazil (after Salvador's São Francisco) in terms of gold, with 434 kg of gold and silver and one of Brazil's finest showcases of artwork. Note the wildbird chandelier holders, the laminated beaten gold, the rolled church doors, 15 panels of Old and New Testament scenes by Pedro Gomes Chaes, and the hair on Jesus (the real stuff, donated by a penitent worshipper).

Legend has it that the Pilar and Antônio Dias parishes vied for the image of Nossa Senhora dos Passos. In order to settle the argument, the image was loaded onto a horse standing in praça Tiradentes and rockets were fired to scare the horse; the idea was that the image would belong to the parish to which the horse bolted. Since the horse knew only one path, it galloped straight to the Matriz do Pilar. The church is open from noon to 5 pm.

Teatro Municipal

Built in 1769 by João de Souza Lisboa, the Teatro Municipal is the oldest theatre in Minas Gerais and perhaps all of Brazil. The theatre is open to visitors from 1 to 5.30 pm.


Ouro Preto's Semana Santa (Holy Week) procession, held on the Thursday before Palm Sunday and sporadically until Easter Sunday, is quite a spectacle. The Congado is to Minas what Candomblé is to Bahia and Umbanda is to Rio: the local expression of AfroChristian syncretism. The major Congado celebrations are for Nossa Senhora do Rosário (on 23 to 25 October, at the Capela do Padre Faria), for the New Year and for 13 May (the anniversary of abolition).

The Cavalhada held in Amarantina (near Ouro Preto) during the Festa de São Gonçalo, from 17 to 23 September, isn't as grand as the one in Pirenópolis, but is impressive nonetheless. The Cavalhada is a reenactment of the battles between Christians and Moors in Iberia.

For Places to Stay and to Eat, read the book.


The kids hang out in Praça Tiradentes, before thronging to Club Ouro Preto for some slow and steamy dancing. It's open on Saturday and Sunday nights from 8 to 11 pm. During the rest of the week, there's a lot of spontaneous music in the bars along Rua Direita. The Scotch Bar, on Rua Direita, on your left about halfway down the hill, has a young, hip crowd.

Things to Buy

A soapstone quarry in Santa Rita de Ouro Preto, 28 km away provides endless supplies for attractive, Henry Moorestyle carvings, and imitations of Aleijadinho. Woodcarvings, basketwork and unglazed ceramics are sold in the souvenir shops of Praça Tiradentes. Wilson Prolin, a fine local painter, has a studio in town.

Imperial topaz is found only in this area of Brazil, and there are lots of gem shops around Praça Tiradentes. Casa das Pedras and Grupiara Pedras both sell topaz with a certificate of guarantee.

Getting There & Away

There are two buses a day running from Belo Horizonte to Ouro Preto, the first leaving at 6.45 am and the last at 10.15 pm (1¾ hours, 98 km). During the peak tourist period, try to buy your bus tickets at least a day in advance or you may find yourself without a ride. One bus a day makes the sevenhour trip to Rio ($13).

Excerpts from Brazil - A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro,  and Robyn Jones. For more information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications. Used by permission.

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