Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Next Stop - Belo Horizonte - Part 4 - Ouro Preto

  Ouro Preto (Black Gold) has got to be the destination city for today!  My English student Rosana had shared with me that this is a place in Brazil I must see someday and since we are so close I think it is going to happen.  Yes,  confirmed with Luiz and the rest of my traveling party,  Ouro Preto it is.  Since I had heard so much about this city of black gold, I took to the internet to learn more and see what the fuss was.
Between 1693 and 1698 a group of bandeirantes from Sao Paulo were exploring the mountains of the Minas Gerais territory in search of minerals and
indigenous people to enslave.  It is folklore that one of these groups of rugged men came across the Tripui creek and along the riverbed, a bandeirante picked up a piece of "black gold".  These gold nuggets were of a purer carat and covered by a thin layer of iron oxide.  The actual person who discovered this gold nugget is not known but once its value was realized it sparked a gold rush to the mountain region and began Brazil's golden age under Portuguese rule.  The influx of adventures looking for fortune formed a small village named Vila Rica de Albuquerque (translates to: Rich Village of Alburquerque).  Minas Gerais was growing fast and in 1720  it became a state and Vila Rica its capital.
Gold was plentiful in the area and the tremendous wealth from the gold mines attracted the intelligentsia of Europe.  Philosophers, painters, sculptures and artists flocked to the small town as it flourished leaving an eclectic array of masterpieces.  As the mines became exhausted the Portuguese Empire began imposing higher taxes and demanding revenue which equaled that of the areas prosperous time.     This crack down lead to the Inconfidencia Mineira of 1789, an attempt for the state of Minas Gerais to gain independence from Portugal which failed.   This uprising is seen as the beginning of the end for the Portuguese rule of Brazil and as history shows, in 1822 the whole country gained its independence from the crown.  Shortly after independence,  the name Vila Rica was changed to Imperial Cidade de Ouro Preto in 1823 (Ouro Preto).   The city continued its prominence in the state of Minas Gerais as capital city until 1897 when the new capital of Belo Horizonte was planned and built. (thanks wikipedia and Ouro Preto official home page for the history lesson)
Enough of the history lesson, even though I found it quite interesting as there was a lot to read.  I am ready to head out to the countryside again and explore this colonial city.  Out of Belo Horizonte we head in the same direction as yesterday but a few miles on our journey we take a quick detour.  Danillo wants to show us the top of the world??  Yes - we turn down some less traveled roads ending up on a gravel road traversing the pot holes as we climb higher and higher.    We pull into one of the remaining parking spots and hop out of the car.  The rest of the climb will be by foot and the view is already spectacular.  I said the "Top of the World" because that is the name of the restaurant which sits on top of a ridge overlooking the valleys and smaller hills below.  As we approach the restaurant it is obviously not open at this time which is fine as no one is quite hungry yet.  The view is sure worth the little detour but soon Ouro Preto calls and we head back down the incline.  I will add this to the must come and try the cuisine on our next visit list. 
As anxious as I am to see this city of black gold,  there is one more stop we make which I am glad we did.  It is about at the half way point and we come to Jeca Tatu.  A Pamonharia which is a restaurant that specializes in pamonha. (read about Pamonha in this post) My first thought as we pull into the parking area is I am still not hungry and would rather just continue on.  However, upon exiting the car we are treated to a step back in time.  A bit unorganized but the collection of old 45 records and antique turntables is quite impressive even for North American standards.  Throughout the little road side stop there are old 45's littering the ceilings and walls.  Sinatra,  Olivia Newton John,  the Beetles are all represented here along with many Brazilian artists I have never heard of.  In the mix of records there is a collection of other artifacts from years gone by and after walking through and looking around I venture out the back door to the little chapel.  A small blue wooded structure with the typical Jesus statue blessing it from above and rosaries hanging within.  A little further down the path is an old school bus clearly nonoperational with a "livre" 
(translation: library) sign hanging at the back door.  Curious I step up the wooden planks and enter into a library of such with books and chairs scattered about.  I suppose one is welcome to come and read for a while as you enjoy the reminiscence of riding one of these yellow bump finders down those old country roads. Remember I grew up in rural Iowa and road the bus to school many years.   We spend a little over an hour exploring this road side trap and soon it is time to get back in the car and continue our journey.  There are a few more clouds forming in the sky today and the forecast is a chance of rain.  Plenty to see when we get there so off we travel.
Driving into Ouro Preto is like hopping into a time machine and traveling back to colonial days.  It is quite amazing how nothing has seemed to change,  ok maybe the gas station on the corner would not have been there in colonial times, but that is on the outer edge of the city and of course people today do have cars.  I read online that the city has imposed strict guidelines for new
construction in order to preserve the historical architectural integrity of the community.  A few blocks into the city we arrive at a run down cathedral and our adventure begins.   It is the St. Francisco de Paula's Church built in the beginning of the 19th century.  Walking up to the building through the graveyard, one is transformed to a time when this area was filled with wealth and prosperity.  The structure is perched on a hillside that overlooks the city below.  As I peer off over the valley, I realize this is just one of many churches that protrude above the rooftops of the homes and shops below.  In need of a little repair the structure remains there standing proud.  A sprinkling of tourist dot the courtyard of the church as we head to the entrance.  I overhear a couple of guys speaking English and eves drop a minute.   They are arguing as not everyone in their touring party has the same idea of how to spend their day here.  I come to the conclusion they are not from the United
States either so instead of saying hello, I head towards the large oversize front doors. As I walk I think to myself how I appreciate my own traveling partners and that we all seem to get along without too much banter.   The front doors are wide open and there is a man taking donations at the threshold so I put my coins into the canister and enter.  AMAZING is simply the best word to describe the sanctuary with light blue walls accented with the golden detailed alter in baroque style.   The alter is a good representation of what those days of prosperity would have been like with all its gold trimming and extravagant craftsmanship.   Once again I am a little disappoint as no photography is allowed inside although I do understand why.  I am also not sure there is enough light for my little camera to capture its beauty anyway.
After this church we head to the main square and find a place to park.  From here one can look out over the city and I realize there are many more  cathedrals then I thought.  The skies are turning  gray and since it is going to take a while to see everything so begin I hoping the rain will stay away for a while.  We head off to explore the central part of the city.  The town square "Praca Tiradentes" is located here and is historically known as the location where the Inconfidencia Mineira of 1789 was exposed.  In 1894 a bronze statue was inaugurated honoring the only man to confess to his part in the uprising Jose da Silva Xavier who was known as Tiradentes (meaning tooth puller) because of his expert dentistry.  Today this large bronze statue still sits on its slab of concrete surround by cobble stone streets in the middle of the square.  Definitely not your typical green square found in other cities but it does
have its perks as we find a parking spot easily in a place that would be grass in other cities.  On the one end of the street stands the former town hall which became a jail and later the conspiracy museum which is currently housed in   the building.  Near it is the old governors palace which houses museum of science and technology.  The rest of the buildings on the square are a mix of small colonial style shops and houses. An interesting fact is that the 1988 movie "Moon over Parador" was partially filmed in the square.  Pretty good little movie I might add if you are looking for an oldie but a goody.  OK, I am a little off track and since there has been a lot already in this post and we have just left the car,  I think it is a good place to pause and make this a two part posting.  There is so much I want to share about the rest of our journey mixed with the history I found while researching on the internet.  I hope you have enjoyed it this far and look forward to bringing you the next post with our afternoon in Ouro Preto...  

To  Read Part 5 - CLICK HERE 

Jeca Tatu Chapel 

Cemetery at the church

Library in bus Jeca Tatu

Library in bus Jeca Tatu

Wooden horse - Jeca Tatu

View - Top of the World Restaurant - 

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