Monday, March 23, 2009

Congonhas, Minas Gerais

One of the travel companies down here had a really great sale last week. They had trips all over the place discounted up to 50% if you traveled before June 30. We have a couple friends visiting in June, so we were able to book a great trip to Foz do Iguaçu for them and then a fabulous trip to Natal for all of us. One might have thought we would be satisfied with that . . . but then we got excited about some the offers for this weekend . . . and then I chickened out. There's just something about being 37 weeks pregnant that leaves me feeling like maybe I shouldn't jump the first flight out of town.

But we both were drawn to the idea of getting out of BH for the weekend. So after a little research on Friday, I decided we should go to Congonhas on Saturday and then spend the night at a pousada/fazenda out in the country.

Congonhas is a small town just about a 45 minute drive from us. And while we pass it each time we go to Rio, we've never stopped and explored. There really isn't a whole lot to see there, with the exception of the Basílica do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos. It is one of the many, many churches in our state designed by Aleijadinho, but is one of his most famous pieces of work because of The Prophets out front. He sculpted 12 Old Testament prophets from soapstone between 1800 and 1805 and placed them around the front of the church.

(Okay, and actually there is a place called Iglu Sorvette which makes the trip worth it as well, especially if you happen to be pregnant. They serve the biggest, yummiest waffle cone full of your choices of delicious ice cream flavors for a mere R$2.50 (just over US$1)! It could be very, very dangerous if we lived any closer to Congonhas than we do!)

The church sits on top of a steep hill.

Please excuse the scaffolding . . . they were doing some restoration work on the facade.

Each of the prophets has a scroll with a message in Latin. Unfortunately, my Latin isn't so good, so I have no idea what each says.

But some you don't need to read to know who they are . . . Daniel here for example (the lion gives him away!)

Or Jonah and the freaky-looking fish.

From the church, you get a great view of the city and surrounding mountains.

Or my belly blocking the view . . .

Downhill from the church are a series of six small chapels, also designed by Aleijadinho.

Inside each chapel is a scene from Christ's life, portrayed by carved wooden figures.

After spending some time at the Basílica, doing some shopping in the local shops, and eating a delicious lunch of frango com quiabo, arroz, and angu (chicken with okra, rice, and something similar to grits), we headed out of civilization to our pousada/fazenda.

Turning off the paved road is always a good sign to me. (And I feel especially at home when the soil is red clay and we're surrounded by tree plantations! Granted, I'm more accustomed to planted pines, but row after row of eucalyptus will do the trick too. And they smell really great!)

The place we stayed was situated on top of a mountain peak. The pool was on one side and the chalets/apartments on the other.
It was a simple place, but out of the city and away from noise.

And they kept the place manicured by allowing their horses (above) and donkey (below) to roam around at will grazing. :)

We enjoyed a nice, quiet Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning lounging around the pool, eating entirely too much, taking naps, going for strolls around the property, and just generally relaxing. A big storm started rolling in shortly after lunch on Sunday though. And since we had to get down the mountain on a dirt road and then cross a river which is known to flood the tiny little bridge and road leading to it, we decided to head out.

We made if off the mountain and onto pavement just moments before the downpour started!

But then we drove the whole way home in very heavy rain on half-flooded highways - that part wasn't so fun for the poor guy behind the wheel!


Ray Adkins said...


Those statues in Congonhas are "Aleijadinho's" most famous work because he did it while very sick with a degenerative disease that crippled his hands, they had to tie the carving tools around his wrists so that he could finish his work, and he finished just before dying from that same disease.
That pousada you visited looked like a little slice of heaven on earth.
I know what you mean about the red soil...

Stephanie said...

I LOVE your pictures!!! All your little trips make me excited to come so I can see them all myself! Glad you had a good time! Sounds like my kind of weekend!

Bruno said...

It´s sad that, unlike other famous historic cities in Minas Gerais, Congonhas failed to preserve its colonial streets, and today looks like a huge "favela" with that beautiful church in the middle.

Ray Adkins said...

That is got to be the most beautiful favela ever ;)
One of my favorite "cidades historicas"...

Corinne said...

I am impressed you actually found more to Congonhas than the 12 prophets! I now stand corrected when I say there is nothing in Congonhas. The chapels depict the stations of the cross, BTW.

Sounds like a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Did you go to the large room behind the church to see the hundreds of pictures of ill and dying people? The relatives placing them ask for prayers. This was a highlight (ok, of MANY highlights) of my stay in Minas Gerais. Some are painted, some are photos. And there are boxes of prostheses. A heart-wrenching place.

Justin said...

Great pictures and great story. I especially like the red clay and eucalypt plantation. Brings back memories :)