Monday, January 14, 2008

Do you know Ouro Preto?

This is the first question people down here always ask when they find out we just moved to Belo Horizonte. Ouro Preto is the pride of many Mineiros (that is, people from our state, Minas Gerais.) It is just over a 1 hour drive from our apartment, so we decided to take a little day trip on Sunday so we can finally answer that question with a big resounding "Sim! Nós conhecemos Ouro Preto."

For a little background info:
The city was founded back in 1711 during the big gold rush in the area. Brasil was still a Portuguese colony back then, so the current Portugal ruler, King Dom João V, took 1/5 of all the gold found and the locals brought in slaves from Africa to work in the gold mines. Because of the abundance of gold, the city was able to hire artisans to come in and build beautiful churches and other buildings throughout the 1700's. The most famous of the artisans is mostly known by the name Aleijadinho. He was the son of a Portuguese architect and a black slave. His name means 'little cripple' and he got that name when he was in his 30's and due to a terrible case of either syphilis or leprosy he lost all his fingers, toes, and the use of his lower legs. His disability didn't affect his work though. He would strap chisels and hammers to his arms and still do his work. He is responsible for creating a style known as Barroco Mineiro, which is a simplified version of baroque. Aleijadinho used local wood and soapstone to carve out some of the most beautiful tables, statuary, columns, etc. in several of the churches in Ouro Preto. Also due to the abundance of gold in the area at the time, the insides of the churches have gold accents on everything over hand-high. (Everything below that level seems to have been scraped off since then!) The city is built into steep hills and is known for it's cobblestone streets, 23 churches from the 1700's, and lack of any buildings from the 1900's! It served as the capital of Minas Gerais until 1897 when Belo Horizonte was designed and built to serve as the new capital in an attempt to keep from ruining the colonial charm of Ouro Preto.

So, that's your history lesson of the day. :) And here are a few of our pictures from the beautiful town.

This is the main square. There is a big statue in the center, shops and restaurants around the perimeter, and the old capital building (which is now a pretty interesting museum) is in the background. The touristy part of the city extends in all directions from this square.

One of the many churches from the 1700's.

This one was perched on a hilltop. The street ran behind it, but nothing else was built in the immediate area.

This was one of the more recently restored churches- it was really gorgeous (this was one of two that we toured the inside of as well.)

This is the front of the church above. The detail work above the doors was incredible.

Many of the streets were too narrow and/or steep for car travel. It made it really great for walking around (and getting an awesome thigh and calf workout! I was really glad I chose to wear my cross trainers. I saw more than one girl trying to manage the cobblestone hills in strappy sandals or heels. Ouch!)

In the background is one of the most famous churches of Ouro Preto, Igreja de São Francisco de Assis. The entire exterior and most of the interior was carved by Aleijadinho himself. I am standing next to the town's Artisan Fair. (Also worth noticing is all the people in jeans, long sleeves, and coats. It was overcast and about 72 degrees and everyone was freezing! Nope, I am not missing the 12 degrees of Burlington, IA right now! hehe)

And here we record our presence in Ouro Preto together. The infamous 'self-shot'!

It was a really great town and it is so close to us. We plan to go back to take in a few more of the adventures. There is a gold mine close by that you can take a cable car down into and tour, waterfalls you can repel down, an 18 km hiking trail that takes you to a tall peak overlooking the city, and of course, more of the town to explore. It is definitely on the schedule for a day trip when we have visitors! (Just be sure to pack your walking shoes!)


Justin Tyson said...

You're not fooling anyone, Eric. We all know you're standing on a stepstool in that last picture.

Tony Tyson said...

I can't wait to visit! I'll bring my hiking shoes.