Diamantina, in Brazil

The town of Diamantina is like an oasis lying in the heart of the arid and rocky mountains of East-Central Brazil. It is in the State of Minas Gerais, 350km from Belo Horizonte and 710km from Brasilia, on the slope of a hill, spread over a difference of height of 150m.

Diamantina is a Brazilian municipality in the state of Minas Gerais. Its estimated population in 2006 was 44,746 in a total area of 3,870 km².

Arraial do Tijuco (as Diamantina was first called) was built during the colonial era in the early 18th century. As its name suggests, Diamantina was a center ofdiamond mining in the 18th and 19th centuries. A well-preserved example of Brazilian Baroque architecture, Diamantina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Other historical cities in Minas Gerais are Ouro Preto, Mariana, Tiradentes, Congonhas and Sabará.

Diamantina shows how explorers of the Brazilian territory, diamond prospectors, and representatives of the Crown were able to adapt European models to an American context in the 18th century, thus creating a culture that was faithful to its roots yet completely original. This urban and architectural group, perfectly integrated into a wild landscape, is a fine example of an adventurous spirit combined with a quest for refinement that is so typical of human nature.

The town lies in the heart of the arid, rocky mountains of East-Central Brazil. It is in the State of Minas Gerais, 350 km from Belo Horizonte and 710 km from Brasilia, on the slope of a hill, spread over a difference of height of 150 m. The land of the Diamantina region is composed almost exclusively of quartzite rocks and schist, which give this region its mountainous and colourful aspect, but it also has a poor, permeable soil with a rupestrine vegetation.

The morphology of the town, inspired by the model of a Portuguese medieval town, has developed while respecting the continuity of the first settlement. The 18th-century built-up area has become denser without losing its original character. The layout of roads, lanes, alleys and public squares is the result of a natural occupation of the site, given the demanding topography, and it reflects the traffic which grew between the mining hamlets over the years.

The centre of the old town has a greater density, and it is situated on ground that is slightly flatter than the outskirts. The architecture of Diamantina is of Baroque inspiration like most other mining villages in Brazil. However, it has a number of specific features which distinguish it from the traditional Portuguese colonial model. Its geometry and certain details confirm that the colonizers sought to transpose on a modest scale some of the features of the architecture of their home country to their adopted land, as was equally the case for music and the arts.

The streets of the town are paved with large, flat, grey flagstones laid in such a way as to form a type of paving known as capistranas, named after President João Capistrano Bandeira de Melo, who introduced it in 1877. This picturesque paving creates a contrast between the road and the casario, a regular alignment of 18th- and 19th-century semi-detached houses, with one or two floors. Their facades, in bright colours on a white ground, are borrowed systematically from the same typology, and they display certain affiliations with the Portuguese Mannerist architecture.

Most of the churches and religious buildings in Diamantina have been incorporated inside the regular and homogeneous complex of the casario, usually standing back only slightly from the alignment. This reveals that the spiritual power was closely related with the population, which distinguished it from, and no doubt subjugated it to, temporal power, given the very few church squares and areas set aside for social intercourse and public events. The construction of the churches is similar to that of civil buildings: they have the same colours and textures; the churches have only one bell tower, usually erected on the side of the building; and the pediment is in sculpted wood.

The town has a few architectural curiosities of interest, especially the Old Market Hall constructed in 1835 and recently restored, the Passadiço, a covered footbridge in blue and white wood spanning the Rua da Glória to join the two buildings of the Eschwege Geology Centre, the muxarabi of the Antônio Torres Library, a kind of balcony completely enclosed by a wooden lattice, and finally the chafariz of the Rua Direita, near the cathedral, a sculpted fountain which guarantees that whoever drinks from it will return to Diamantina.


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