A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex, or city that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance. The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. Each Wednesday we feature a UNESCO world heritage site and today we will take a look at the historic town of Ouro Preto.
Founded at the end of the 17th century, Ouro Preto (Black Gold) was the focal point of the gold rush and Brazil’s golden age in the 18th century. With the exhaustion of the gold mines in the 19th century, the city’s influence declined but many churches, bridges and fountains remain as a testimony to its past prosperity and the exceptional talent of the Baroque sculptor Aleijadinho. Located 513 km north of Rio de Janeiro, It was created by thousands of soldiers of fortune eager to enrich themselves by exploiting the gold deposits; they were followed by many artists who came to settle and produce works of outstanding quality, such as the São Francisco of Assis church by Antonio Francisco Lisboa (Aleijadinho).
The town was shaped by the grouping together of small settlements (arriais) in a hilly landscape, where the houses, mostly single- or two-storeyed, seem to support one another, forming an irregular urban layout that follows the contours of the landscape. However, the resources derived from mining, coupled with the talents of artists such as Aleijadinho and others, some outstanding architectural and artistic masterpieces are to be found. A ‘Mining Baroque’ style developed in the second half of the 18th century which successfully fused Brazilian influences with European Baroque and Rococo.
The Church of Saõ Francisco de Assis is considered to be a masterpiece of Brazilian architecture. Ouro Preto also boasts a number of other fine churches and secular buildings such as the churches of Our Lady of the Pillar, the Rosário dos Homens Pretos, the Virgin of the Conceição, and the Virgin of Carmel, the House of the Baroness, the chafarizes of the High Da Cruz and Alto of the Heads.
Tiradentes Square is the main point from which all the roads diverge. Around it are situated imposing public and private buildings, such as the old Parliament House (1784), today the Museum of the Inconfidência, and the Palace of the Governors, which has become the School of Mines and Metallurgy.
The townscape of Ouro Preto is also noteworthy for its bridges and fountains, all blending into an urban and natural setting of great beauty.