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Ouro Preto

Ouro Preto (from Portuguese, Black Gold) is a city in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, a former colonial mining town located in the Serra do Espinhaço mountains and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of its outstanding Baroque architecture.

Important Data

Population: Data from the 2010 Census (IBGE)
  • Resident population: 70,227 (2010 Census)
  • Urban area: 56,293
  • Rural area: 9,985
  • Area of the municipality: 1,245 km²
  • Temperature: between 6 and 28 degrees Celsius. In June and July the temperature can reach -2 degrees Celsius.
  • Average elevation: 1,116 m. The highest point is Pico de Itacolomi with 1,722 meters.
  • The city has twelve districts: Amarantina, Antônio Pereira, Cachoeira do Campo, Engenheiro Correia, Glaura, Lavras Novas, Miguel Burnier, Santa Rita, Santo Antônio do Leite, Santo Antônio do Salto, São Bartolomeu and Rodrigo Silva.
  • Rivers: sources for the Velhas, Piracicaba, Gualaxo do Norte, Gualaxo do Sul, Mainart e Ribeirão Funil.
  • Climate: Tropical with altitude. Average rainfall of 2,018 mm/year, with irregular distribution. Rains concentrated in the summer.
  • Per Capita Income: R$ 23,622 (US$13,544.73)
  • HDI: 0.788 (Medium)

The city is linked by good roads to:
  • Belo Horizonte 100 km
  • Rio de Janeiro 475 km
  • São Paulo 675 km
  • Brasília 840 km
Bordering municipalities are:
  • North: Itabirito and Santa Bárbara
  • South: Ouro Branco, Catas Altas da Noruega, Piranga and Itaverava
  • East: Mariana
  • West: Belo Vale and Congonhas

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 and Brazil's golden age in the 18th century under Portuguese rule.

The city contains well preserved Portuguese colonial architecture, with few signs of modern urban life. Modern construction must adhere to historical standards maintained by the city. 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 Thomas Gonzaga.

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 1822 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.

The economy

Although Ouro Preto now relies heavily on the tourist industry for part of its economy, there are important metallurgic and mining industries located in the city, such as Alcan - Alumínio do Brasil, the most important aluminum factory in the country, the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce and others. Main economic activities are tourism, transformation industries, and mineral riches such as deposits of iron, bauxite, manganese, talcum and marble.

Minerals of note are: gold, hematite, dolomite, tourmaline, pyrite, muscovite, topaz and imperial topaz. The imperial topaz is a stone only found in Ouro Preto.

The University and the "Repúblicas"

Ouro Preto is also a university city with an intense student life. The Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto (Federal University of Ouro Preto) has approximately 8,000 students. Many live in communal houses, similar to fraternity houses, called "repúblicas" of which there are 66 belonging to the university, called "repúblicas federais" and 250 "repúblicas particulares", privately owned.

The "repúblicas" of Ouro Preto are unique in Brazil. No other university city has the characteristics of the student lodging found here. In many ways they are similar to lodgings in Portuguese universities such as Coimbra and the tradition may have come from there. Each one has its different history. There are repúblicas in which the freshmen, known as "bixos" (misspelling of "bichos", Portuguese for "animals"), have to undergo a hazing period, called "batalha" (battle), to be accepted definitely as residents of the houses. The choice called "escolha", has to be unanimous.

Of special interest to visitors is the Museu Mineralógico Da Escola De Minas (Mineralogy Museum), belonging to the Mining School of the prestigious Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto (UFOP). The School opened its doors on 12 October 1876. The Museum is located at the Praça Tiradentes (No. 20), in the city historical center, and contains a rich assortment of minerals on display, including precious and semi-precious gemstones and large crystals. Security is tight, however, and for good reasons (for example, no cameras are allowed), due to the incalculable value of the gemstones and ores on display.

Tourist attractions

Ouro Preto is a major tourist destination, for its well-preserved colonial appearance with old buildings and cobblestone streets.


The city contains numerous churches, many famous for their religious art and baroque architecture. Some of the best known are:
  • Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Our Lady of Mount Carmel) - just off Tiradentes Plaza, next to the Inconfidência Museum.
  • Säo 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)
  • 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 (Little King Mine) near the sanctuary of Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao.

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