21 April, 2015

Back in Time...Again

The last time I visited the historic town of Ouro Preto I was alone and at the mercy of bus transportation. This time I came with friends and a rental car, both of which made getting lost in the small but winding town and to nearby locales a lot easier and much more fun. Visiting over a Sunday this time was also opportunistic in that many of the churches were open and we were able to see the insides in addition to the impressive masonry outside.

This visit was timed well in that the upcoming federal holiday is in honor of Tiradentes ("cheer-ah-den-sheez"), a martyred revolutionary against the Portuguese who was captured, hanged, and had the symbolic displeasure of his remains being scattered along the highway between Rio de Janeiro and Ouro Preto, with the final destination having his head displayed on a stake in the central plaza.

Ouro Preto: a veritable "Where's Waldo" of 18th Century churches.

Located south of the state capital of Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto and the surrounding towns such as Mariana and Congonhas, among others, date back to the beginning of 1700's, many sharing founding stories with colonists finding mining opportunities. My previous trip was too rainy to visit any mines. This time, however, I was able to enter an old gold mine situated between Ouro Preto and Mariana, in addition to the small mine in town owned by Chico Rei, a slave and former African tribal king, as well as Brazil's first abolitionist.

In the Minas de Passagem, a former gold mine.
It's hard to tell but this track is inclining at about a
45-50 degree angle!

Part of the 2kms of a subterranean lake in the Minas de Passagem.

In addition to Chico Rei and Tiradentes, Aleijadinho ("ah-lay-jah-jeen-yo") is another famous Brazilian from this era with connections to the town and history. The son of an architect, he learned to carve intricate and beautiful façades and statues, despite not being able to walk and having to strap his tools to his limbs after loosing use of his appendages, possibly due to leprosy.

Aleijandinho's intricate façade on the stunning
Igreja de São Francisco de Assis.

Close-up of one of Aleijandinho's soapstone angels,
characterized by large, open eyes and long flowing hair.

Set apart on the Alto da Cruz is the "slave church"
Igreja de Santa Efigênia do Pretos.

Built by Aleijandinho's father, the Igreja Matriz
Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Antônio Dias features
a unique cross atop a sideways moon, signifying
the domination of the Moors by the Christians.

While Ouro Preto has, arguably, the highest density of 18th Century churches of this era with Aleijandinho and his contemporaries' work, nearby Mariana and Congonhas also have a few notable structures as well and were well-worth the visit.

Two churches border the Praça Minas Gerais in Mariana.

Congonhas boasts the unique Basílica do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, famous for
Aleijandinho's last work (built between 1800-1805), The Prophets, which consists
of twelve soapstone statues lining the entrance to the church.

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