The Gold Circuit – Most precious Brazilian Heritage Introduction to the State of Minas Gerais
With extremely varied relief and vegetation, its valleys and mountains reveal historic-baroque towns inhabited by warm-hearted and hospitable people. The second state in Brazil in terms of its economy (it loses out only to the state of São Paulo) Minas Gerais is also known for its good and rich culinary art.
The occupation of the soil of Minas Gerais by the Portuguese began right after the discovery of Brazil, in the XVI and XVII centuries. The discovery of gold and precious stones attracted many explorers who transformed the state into the Brazilian economic centre of the day. Today, there is no longer an abundance of gold, but unforgettable landscapes remain, with buildings from the period, mountains, woods, pure air, lakes, caves, stories and legends.
Since the colonial era, Minas Gerais has stood out in Brazil because of its culture. Music, architecture, literature and the visual arts are some of the sectors successfully developed by artists from the state. In the towns of the gold circuit, where the XVIII century music from Minas Gerais grew, buildings of the XVI and XVIII centuries are preserved and express the art of the Minas Gerais’ baroque. The most famous of these towns, Ouro Preto, was the stage for the Inconfidência Mineira, the first movement for the independence of Brazil, and today, like Diamantina e the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, located in Congonhas do Campo, it has been recognized by the UNESCO as a Cultural Heritage of Mankind.
In the early eighteenth century, the “gold towns” were born. In a little over a decade, between 1711 and 1718, eight cities were founded in Minas Gerais. The best known are Vila Rica, followed by Ouro Preto which was the capital of the administrative area, Mariana and Sabará, all of which were founded in 1711 as a result of gold mining. Afterwards came São João del Rei and Serro in 1714, then Tijuco and Diamantina which marked the passing of the gold-mining era into that of diamonds.
A tour through the historical part of Minas Gerais may commence with São João del Rei, with its churches, bridges, museums, monuments and colonial residences, in addition to rich craftsmanship, with items like candelabra and tea services fashioned from tin. São João del Rei preserves a railway built by Dom Pedro II in 1881 which connects the town to nearby Tiradentes, an ecological heaven with lakes and waterfalls in addition to monuments, museums and churches built in colonial times. In Diamantina, in addition to churches with magnificent interiors, such as Rosário and Carmo, one will also find the only remaining example of muxarabi, a closed porch typical of the region, in the house where Chica da Silva once lived.
Another of the towns on the circuit, Congonhas do Campo, is the site of the remarkable soapstone complex consisting of the twelve prophets and the Stages of Holy Week, masterpieces by Aleijadinho, registered by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.