Founded at the end of the 17th century, Ouro Preto (meaning Black Gold) was originally called Vila Rica, or “rich village”, the focal point of the gold rush andBrazil’s golden age in the 18th century under Portuguese rule.
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. 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.
- Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) – just off Tiradentes Plaza, next to the Inconfidência Museum.
- São Francisco de Assis (St. Francis of Assisi)
- Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao (Immaculate Conception)
- Capela do Padre Faria (Father Faria’s Chapel)
- Nossa Senhora das Mercês (Our Lady of Mercy)
- There are some important churches that are made out of gold.
- Museu da Inconfidência – In the former municipal palace on Tiradentes Plaza, traces the Inconfidencia independence movement.
- Museu do Oratório (Oratory Museum) – next to the church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo, displays religious art.
- Museu de Ciência e Téchnica (Museum of Science and Technology) – in the Ouro Preto School of Mines building on Tiradentes Plaza. The museum is noted for its collection of beautiful mineral specimens.
- Casa Dos Contos – Historical museum.
A number of former gold mines in the city offer tours to tourists. One of the most well known is the Mina do Chico Rei, near the sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Conceição.