Saturday, March 2, 2013

Minas Gerais... Historic Ouro Preto, Mariana, Itabirito, Congonhas and Tiradentes

A Brazilian friend of mine told me that one of the most beautiful areas in the country is the state of Minas Gerais. Another friend mentioned that the best food in the country originates from Minas Gerais. Well, I had to check it out for myself... off to Minas Gerais.
I stopped at this roadside restaurant and found a treat.
It was probably the best sandwich that I had eaten in a long time. The bread was called Pao de Batata. It was like potato bread with cheese. I ordered a chicken sandwich and it was delicious. 
Much of the road was asphalt, but I managed to wander around a bit and find some dirt.
This is a short 45 second video of a look around Minas Gerais.
After a few hours of riding, I reached my destination... Ouro Preto.

Ouro Preto (Black Gold) is a former colonial mining town located in the Serra do Espinhaço mountains and was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of its outstanding Baroque architecture. 
Founded at the end of the 17th century, Ouro Preto was originally called Vila Rica (Rich Village), the focal point of the gold rush and Brazil's golden age in the 18th century under Portuguese rule. 
The city contains well-preserved Portuguese colonial architecture, with few signs of modern urban life. Modern construction must adhere to historical standards maintained by the city. 
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. 
At that time, Vila Rica was the largest city in Brazil, with 100,000 inhabitants. 
In 1789, Ouro Preto became the birthplace of the Inconfidência Mineira, a failed attempt to gain independence from Portugal. 
The leading figure, Tiradentes, was hanged as a threat to any future revolutionaries. In 1876, the Escola de Minas (Mines School) was created. 
This school established the technological foundation for several of the mineral discoveries in Brazil. 
Ouro Preto was capital of Minas Gerais from 1720 until 1897, when the needs of government outgrew this town in the valley. 
The state government was moved to the new, planned city of Belo Horizonte.
Now, Ouro Preto is a major tourist destination, for its well-preserved colonial appearance with old buildings and cobblestone streets.
Sunset on the horizon
Sunset illuminating clouds on the horizon
So many niches to explore in Ouro Preto.
From Ouro Preto I took a day trip and rode to another historical town nearby called Mariana. Mariana is the oldest city in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, founded on July 16, 1696.
Mariana, originally known as Nossa Senhora do Carmo, came into existence with the discovery of gold along the Ribeirão Nossa Senhora do Carmo river in 1696. 
Known informally as the Primeira Cidade (First City), it is indeed a city of firsts.
It was the first vila established in the state and soon became the first state capital, and a major center for the burgeoning gold trade. 
In 1745, the Portuguese king, Dom João V, renamed the city after his wife, Maria Ana D'Austria. 
Around the same time, the city became the seat of the first bishopric in the state and hence became an important religious center for the region. 
In response to the influx of people, streets and rectangular plazas were planned, making Mariana the first planned city in the state. 
The Igreja de São Pedro dos Clérigos is a very attractive church designed by Antônio Ferreira Calheiros, who also designed the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Ouro Preto. Construction began in 1752 but the church was never really finished.
On the anniversary of the city's founding, the state governor comes to spend the day in Mariana, and the city relives the days when it was the grand capital of Minas Gerais.
These days, Mariana preserves many of the original colonial buildings and churches in such a thorough way that the traveller almost feels he has stepped back in time.
I continued my journey on to the small town of Itabirito. 
The fact that the city was located exactly between Ouro Preto and Corral Del Rey made ​​the city a strategic point to stop when traversing through the mountains between the two locations in the days of old. 
It was situated in what is called the Iron Quadrangle in Minas Gerais.
During the nineteenth century, there was a high flow of immigration to Itabirito, both caused by gold mining as the construction of the railroad. 
Its economy revolved around the mining, steel and commerce, with the latter two, dependant on the mineral activity invariably performed in the city.
It once served as the major transit location for transporting gold and other minerals from the area.
After a fun day of exploring historical sites, back in Ouro Preto, I found this restaurant along the central plaza that served typical food for the region.
Minas Gerais food is prepared and served in these cast iron pots.
There was a variety of meats, vegetables and stews.
All of it delicious. The best food in all of Brazil.

I spent the next day walking around Ouro Preto and found this street market.
The artisans created all types of figurines made of soap stone quarried from the surrounding area.
Religious carvings
Pottery and vases
Figurines of people
A depiction of the people of Minas Gerais
People and their past-times
For such a small town, Ouro Preto had a number of interesting sites.
Stone roads
Water fountains
Stone carvings of gobblins
Steep hillsides
And crazy frozen acai!
The next day I hit the road again and visited a few towns on my way back to Rio. The first stop was the small town of Congonhas. The main attraction was the Passion Figures at Congonhas carved by Aleijadinho
Aleijadinho was a Brazil-born sculptor and architect, noted for his works on and in various churches of Brazil. Born in Vila Rica, whose name was later changed to Ouro Preto. His father, Manuel Francisco da Costa Lisboa, a Portuguese man and a carpenter, had immigrated to Brazil where his skills were so in demand that he appears to have been elevated to the position of architect. His mother was a slave from African named Isabel. Aleijadinho was raised in his father's home along with his half siblings. It was there he is presumed to have learned the fundamentals of sculpture, architecture and the combination of the two. 
Aleijadinho first worked as a day laborer working on a church designed by his father called the Church of Our Lady of Carmel in the town of Ouro Preto. Within a very short time he had become a noted architect himself and had designed and constructed the Chapel of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi in Ouro Preto. He had also executed the carvings on the building, the most notable being a round base-relief depicting St. Francis receiving the stigmata.
At this church in Congonhas, there were twelve statues that were carved by Aleijadinho and this students.
And then there were more in these chapels.
These chapels contain the stations of the cross. Here are a few examples...
The last supper
The betrayal
The arrest
Carrying of the cross
The crucifixion. I did not stay long in Congonhas, just long enough to check out these statues.
I then made my way to the town of Tiradentes. Tiradentes is one of the smallest yet best preserved colonial towns in the Brazilian State of Minas Gerais. It has a population of about 6000 and boasts some fine examples of 300-year old buildings. Like this church called Igreja São Francisco de Paula.
A graveyard inside the grounds of the church
A statue inside the graveyard
The Igreja de Santo Antônio/Igreja Matriz which was constructed in 1732 looks simple on the outside.
But on the inside it is a beautiful church with the richest gold foil interior of any church in Brazil.
Tiradentes is also well-known amongst food lovers for its food festival in August and its many good regional and modern restaurants. I checked out this restaurant called the Bar do Celso.
I asked the waiter what he recommended. He brought me this meal of meat, ribs, sausage, rice and beans.

With a full stomach I rode back to Rio de Janeiro content that I had seen one of the most beautiful areas of Brazil.

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