Ouro Prêto is considered by many to be the crème ala crème among Minas Gerais’ many colonial towns. Its importance in the country’s history cannot be underestimated as it has once been the center of Brazil’s gold mining and government. It is here where the first independence movement of the country was held. Currently, the city still plays an important role in the field of arts and education and is among three of the country’s most visited cities.
Legend says that the (once) abundant supply of gold in Ouro Prêto was discovered when a mulatto slave found odd grains of black metal after he drank from a small river near the city’s current site. As the odd grains turned out to be actual gold pieces, the place was named Ouro Prêto, which is a Portuguese term for “black gold”. At that time, it became the New World’s site for the largest gold deposits.
Aside from marking the country’s gold rush era, Ouro Prêto is also filled with austere houses, cobblestone streets, and churches that may be small in size but has interiors that are lavishly decorated.
The city’s architecture will not fail to impress visitors as two of the country’s top artists, painter Mestre Athayde, and sculptor and architect Antônio Francisco Lisboa (the Aleijadinho) – who was born in the city – poured out their skills and creativity to make Ouro Prêto a city that would stand out on its own.
When the city lost its gold and wealth, what seemed to be a curse became a blessing in disguise. Because the city lacked the finances already, changes in its structure had been prevented. Thus, the beauty and richness of most of the city’s buildings were preserved through time. In 1980, the city was recognized as one of the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO; the first among the Brazilian towns. And because the state capital was transferred from Ouro Prêto to Belo Horizonte in 1897, the city was able to keep its colonial feel more intact.
A small city, tourists would not find it hard to appreciate what Ouro Prêto has to offer. People can easily stroll around the city’s attractions and explore its historical streets and fountains. The gold may have run out already, but the mines are still existing, open for everybody to see.
Despite the city’s fall from the top, as far as its wealth of gold is a concern, Ouro Prêto has still been attracting a lot of tourists for its simplicity and tranquillity. Something to look forward to for those looking for a peaceful and quiet vacation.