Historic Town of Ouro Preto (Black Gold) covers the steep slopes of the Vila Rica (Rich Valley), centre of a rich gold mining area and the capital of Minas Gerais Province from 1720-1897.
Along the original winding road and within the irregular layout following the contours of the landscape lie squares, public buildings, residences, fountains, bridges and churches which together form an outstanding homogenous group exhibiting the fine curvilinear form of Baroque architecture.
The built heritage of the Historic City of Ouro Preto bears exceptional testimony to the creative talents of a society built on pioneering mining wealth under Portuguese colonial rule.
Although the architecture, paintings, and sculptures are based on underlying models introduced by Portuguese immigrants, the works vary significantly from the contemporary European art, not only with respect to their spatial conception, but in their decorative treatment, in particular the stone sculptures carved on the facades, distinctive for their originality and design and in the combined use of two materials, gneiss and soapstone.
The historic town is vulnerable to urban growth, traffic, industrialization and tourist impact.
The expansion of Ouro Preto to the surrounding hillsides, occupying geologically unstable terrains, green areas, archaeological areas, and public spaces, poses a threat of irreversible damage to the urban setting.
The city centre contains well-preserved Portuguese colonial architecture, with few signs of modern urban development.
Any new constructions are required to be in keeping with the city’s historical aesthetic. 18th- and 19th-century churches decorated with gold and the sculptured works of Aleijadinho make Ouro Preto a prime tourist destination.
The tremendous wealth from gold mining in the 18th century created a city which attracted the intelligentsia of Europe. Philosophy and art flourished, and evidence of a baroque revival called the “Barroco Mineiro” is illustrated in architecture as well as by sculptors such as Aleijadinho, painters such as Mestre Athayde, composers such as Lobo de Mesquita, and poets such as Tomás António Gonzaga.
The street carnaval in Ouro Preto attracts thousands of people every year.
Traditional band music is played across town, and many people dress up in costumes during the holiday.
There are two main types of street parade in town: the one with samba schools and the one with blocos.
At this period expeditions to the interior of Brazil started, in search of minerals.
This became successful in what now is the state of Minais Gerais: in 1693 gold was discovered here.
Small settlements of miners in search for El Dorado were joined in 1711 to create the city of Villa Rica (later renamed to Ouro Preto, ´Black Gold´).
The settlers were divided in two parishes and in ethnic groups.
Each group constructed its own church, bringing in baroque artisans.
Vila Rica turned to be the Imperial Cidade de Ouro Preto in 1823, immediately following Brazil’s independence in 1822, and remained as capital of Minas Gerais Province until 1897, when the current capital Belo Horizonte was chartered.
The 18th-century years are gone forever, but they endowed a future legacy that today turned up as a gift representing one of the most interesting histories of the human Saga.