Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Next Stop - Belo Horizonte - Part 5 - Ouro Preto

Wow,  Ouro Preto is amazing with history around every corner and although I have no connection with the afterlife,  I get the feeling a psychic would be extremely busy here.   If I remember correctly,  on our visit to the city of black gold we had  just gotten to Tiradentes square and left the car.  I shared about the beautiful buildings which line the square and how I wanted to explore them some more.  However, today the clouds continue to get darker and I know there are many interesting things to see so we will have to leave that for a later visit. 
Before we continue,  I figured I would share a little more of the knowledge I found about Ouro Preto.   Since we are going to visit many of the churches in the city,  I would share their importance in the early years of the community.  There are a total of twenty three churches dating back to the golden age and all are filled with intricate details of how life was back then.   Heck, with all the gold  being extracted from the mines at that time,  you would expect there would be some flaunting going on.  Faith and the church was just one of the 
outlets for these powerful mining companies to show their might.  They hired the best the world had to offer in regards to artists and craftsmen.  Commissioning them to build the most beautiful church in the city, demonstrating the mining companies strength and influence.   This avenue created a competition of who could adorn their sanctuaries with the most gold among the alters, images, and liturgical instruments.   This competition  allowed the arts to flourish and those who created them became geniuses.  
The most famous of these artist was Antonio Francisco Lisboa.  Born of a Portuguese man and his slave, Antonio learned his sculpting skills from his father who was a carpenter by trade.   The most amazing thing about this great sculptor is that he was plagued by leprosy thus giving him the nickname "O  Aleijandinho" (The Little Cripple).  After the disease took his feet and most of his hands,  Aleijandinho became recluse and only worked during the dark hours of the night.  His most profound
Nossa Senhora do Carmo
work is the creation of the "Twelve prophets" sculptures.  These soapstone figures were carved with hammers and chisels tied to his fingerless hands.  He would maneuver up and down the ladder on his knees as he no longer had feet to use.  Today, there is some challenge to the actual existence of Aleijandinho.  If he was real, he was truly a  remarkable talent and if it is a myth then he sure adds a nice story to a great city.   
Can you tell I start reading the history of this city an get lost for a bit?  I am sure there is much more I could share but maybe a future visit.  For now, lets move to our first stop which is the Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Lady of Mount Carmel).  Built between 1766 and 1772 by the
Photo of inside from internet 
brotherhood of terceiros do Carmo  this church does not lack anything.  Being a wealthy brotherhood,  they did not have difficulties building it with the finest materials available.  Aleijandinho is said to have contributed to some of the artwork inside which is again breathtaking.   
Next door to the cathedral in the churchyard a large building housing the Oratory Museum stands.  This is our next stop and not being Catholic I have to admit that I was not sure what an Oratory is or what we would find.  Upon entering the museum my learning begins as it is filled with oratories which are movable alters.  These alters range in size from the so called pocket oratories to the conventional oratories which are quite large and would require a couple of people to assist in 
Photo from internet 
moving them.  Inside the walls of the museum are hundreds of these small and not so small portable places of worship all telling a story.   Many have been created in the baroque style and are filled with intricate details.  The written guide provided at the front desk is in Portuguese but I am happy the labels on the actual pieces have been translated into English.  Some of the pieces were gifts given by fathers to their daughters on their wedding day and others were kept in the merchants cash drawer to keep their earnings safe.  Although photography is once again not allowed,  I do truly enjoy the time spent here.  
notice the 3' step
After this stop, the next church is a distance so we begin our walk down a steep street.  It is easy to see why the internet advises people to walk instead of driving.  It is quite steep and the streets are so narrow,  I am not sure you can travel down a couple of them even with a little S-Mart car.  The sidewalks are intense as well.  Not because of their artistic beauty but because of the drop offs as you walk along.   Yes,  drop offs, as they are not steps with more then a three foot drop to the sidewalk below.   You best pay attention or you are in for a nasty spill.   Although the cobblestone streets are narrow,  they are lined with wonderfully colored houses with fantastic colonial doorways.  One could fill a photo album with glorious photos of all the different doorway styles. We finally arrive at the third church on our 
Matriz Nossa Senhora do Pilar internet photo
journey The Matriz Nossa Senhora do Pilar which was finished in 1731.  As we walk to the austere facade of the church,  one can only imagine what is inside. We pay our small stipend and enter the sanctuary.  Its lavish interior is adorn with 434 kg (956lbs) of gold and 400 kg (880lbs) of silver. The most of any other church in Ouro Preto.   One could not spend an afternoon gazing at the intricate work and discover all the details.  I purchased some post cards to share with my readers as no photography is allowed but my scanner here in Brazil is only black and white and that could not do this place justice.  My next solution is to pull some photos off the internet so I hope you get a little idea of its grandeur.
internet photo
After sitting in the pews admiring the masterpiece,  we head to the side door at the front of the sanctuary which leads to the stairs taking us to the crypt of the church.  Down the stairs lies the Museu de Arte Sacra which is filled with over 400 pieces of religious importance from the early years of Vila Rica.  Holy images, flushes, banquettes, documents and even garments worn by residents of that time.  All displayed with a story interpreted into English which makes it a good visit for me and also helps me learn a little Portuguese as well.   Time passes and soon we are ready to head back through town . 
Along the street we stumble upon the Casa dos Contos (money house),  a tax collectors residence built between 1782 and 1787 turned into a present day museum.  The museum holds a large number of eighteenth and nineteenth century furniture pieces as well as documents,  letters, and a large collection of coins.    In the back corner of the home is a stairway leading to the underbelly of the house where the slaves quarters were.  This dungeon like area is filled with artifacts telling the story of slave life in the colonial period.  A 
wonderful collection of items depicting the hard life of slaves forced to work in the local gold mines.   All this set in a perfect dark and musty setting allowing visitors a true sense of what life must have been like.  As we leave the Casa dos Contos the skies continue to get darker and upon arriving at the restaurant we are stopping for lunch at, they open up and it begins to rain. 
We are not too worried about the rain as we enjoy a good meal but soon it is time to head back out and get a little wet.  It seems much later then it actually is as we have toured a lot and yet there is so much still to see.  I think we have covered only three of the twenty three churches in the city.  We walk to the Praca de Tiradentes  and as we look out over the city we can see a church around the corner so that will be our next destination.   
We arrive at the front steps of Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis,  built in 1766 this church is filled with work by Aleijandinho and painter Manuel de Costa Ataide.  It is considered one of the most beautiful catholic temples in Brazil and I say it is more masterpiece of art then cathedral.   After a short time admiring the wonderful details, we head back out to the little courtyard in front of the church.   In the distant valley we see another church steeple and decide to head in that direction.  It is getting later so we quicken our step to see as much as we can.  With the rain we will have to be careful as the roads and sidewalks begin to get slippery.  We soon realize just how slick they are as  Beatriz takes a spill.   She gets back up,  checks her camera and all her limbs.  Fortunately she is just a little embarrassed and happy her camera made it out of the ordeal without a scratch. 
Down the narrow streets not knowing which way to go.  We twist and turn as the streets are steep and windy.  As we had gazed from the courtyard above,  the cathedral had seemed so easy to get to.  Although a little turned around we do 
internet photo
manage to stumble upon the Igreja de Santa Efigenia dos Pretos.  This beautiful structure was built by the Encardadeira mining company.  It is actually decorated with less gold then some of the other churches in the city.  Don't get me wrong,  the artwork inside is still spectacular and the story even more interesting.  You see,  Chico-Rei was an African tribal king brought here as a slave to work the mines.   He worked extremely hard and over time was able to buy his and his tribes freedom.  After gaining freedom he continued mining and working hard until he was able to purchase the mine and later built the church.  Its a wonderful structure and although it does not contain the quantity of gold as the other churches, it is truly a masterpiece with an epic story.
Matriz Nossa Senhora da Conceicao
After a quick visit we head back outside determined to find the church we had seen in the valley.  When we finally arrive at its front steps it has rained a little more and we have had one more near casualty.  Luiz has followed Beatriz's lead and fallen on the slippery streets.  We are quite fortunate as neither have acquired any injury to limbs or cameras.  In our journey we realize we are not the only ones struggling with the wet roads as cars pass us heading up the steep hills only to return in reverse unable to make it to the summit.  Upon arriving at  Matriz Nossa Senhora da Conceicao we enter and find another masterpiece with a museum in the basement.   This is where Aleijadinho was buried and the museum here is in honor of his works.  Filled with many of his sculptures and his story,   it is definitely worth the hurried adventure to find the steeple.  After we are finished looking around (but rest assured we could have spent more time here as well)  we head back to the praca where Danillo and Junior are waiting for us.  They 
had decided not to follow us as we hurried down the hill in search of the church.  Once we meet up with them we stop at a couple of shops, grab a cup of coffee and a snack.  At this point it is beginning to get dark and with the rain and winding roads a decision is made to leave the city of black gold and head back.  Any more exploring will be left for another visit.    We take our time and arrive back in Belo Horizonte a little after dark,   just in time for dinner and then off to bed.  Tomorrow is a day of travel as we head back to Mineiros and home.  

Belo Horizonte - where we ate dinner 
thanks wikipedia  - the official Ouro Preto Tourist site -  and virtual-Brazil for helping me match the churches with my photos. 
All photos used  from the web are link to their original websites - click on the image to be taken to that page.  

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