São João del-Rei was founded in the 18th century and has a great number of buildings from that era, including more than 70 churches. It was there where Tiradentes, the leader of the Inconfidência Mineira, was born in 1746.
Gold, animal husbandry and agriculture aided the development and progression of the former town, given city status on December 8, 1838.
The city is served by Pref. Octávio de Almeida Neves Airport and by the woodburning steam railway to the colonial town of Tiradentes.
São João del Rei was an important station on the Estrada de Ferro Oeste de Minas, a narrow gauge railway characterised by woodburning steam locomotives, and the location of a major roundhouse. The station and surrounding facilities have been turned into Brazil’s largest railway museum, and a tourist railway operates from the station to the well preserved colonial Tiradentes.