Walking Tour of Ouro Preto, Brazil
A great excursion from Rio which involves a minimum of two (2) days is to the well-preserved hilltop town of Ouro Preta. The trip is about 300 miles (480 km) north from the city, and there are also buses available. The city is a marvel of elaborate Baroque architecture, and, although the streets are steep, a delight to explore by foot, as beautiful buildings await the visitor on virtually every turn. Especially magnificent are the city’s churches, many of which are adorned with the sculpture and stonework of Ouro Preta’s favorite son, artist Aleijadinho. (Note: avoid coming on Mondays since many of the attractions are closed)
My walk begins on the hilltop space known as Praca Tiredantes, dedicated to the famous martyr who led an unsuccessful rebellion against Portugal in the late 18th century. The hero’s monument graces the center of the square. The School of Mining is on one side of the plaza, housed in what was once the Governor’s Palace, while the Museu de Inconfidencia, a second-rate venue which documents the events of the rebellion mentioned above, sits on another side, in another classic Colonial building which was the Paco Municipal. One of the city’s important churches, Igreja do Nossa Senhora do Carmo, can also be found on the square. The church was started by Aleijadinho’s father, but the great artist completed the job and did much of the interior work.
Exit the square by walking eastward and downhill on Rua Brigador Mosquiero, then bear left onto Rua do Pilar (very steep), which leads to Ouro Preto’s oldest church, Matriz do Nossa Senhora do Pilar. It is an excellent example of Brazilian Baroque with a liberal sprinkling of Rococo. It dates to the early 18th century. There is a small museum within the church, displaying religious art.
When you leave the church, turn left and then bear left on Rua A de Albuquerque, which leads to another pretty church, Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosario. It was the church of the city’s slaves, so colors were substituted for the gold of the richer parishes, yet it is stately in its simplicity.
Now, begin to walk back up the hill by taking Rua G Vargas to Rua da Escadinha, then left onto Rua Sao Jose, across a stone bridge and into Praca Reinaldo Alves de Brito. You will come to the Casa dos Contos, the old Treasury Building, a spectacular mansion which epitomizes the wealth of the community during its heyday. The museum inside is of marginal interest, but the interior of the palace must be seen. Be sure to find the mirante, on the top floor, for some of the best views of the city.
Continue up the hill to the Plaza Tiradentes and walk northward across the square and walk downhill on Rua Claudio Manoel, which leads to Largo do Coimbra, a square that contains one of Brazil’s most beautiful churches, Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis. The carved soapstone and wood altars and other features of the church were all done by the master, Aleijadinho, himself and are positively breath-taking. In addition, the finest painter of the time was commissioned to do the ceilings.
After your inspiring visit to the church, continue on Rua Claudio Manoel to the river and cross it, and then climb up the steep Rua Santa Efigenia. The church at the end of the ascent, Igreja de Santa Efigenia, contains some spectacular artwork inside, done by several of the masters of the day.
Now, descend the hill by retracing your steps across the bridge, and then turn right on Rua Chico Rei, to Rua Dom Silverio. Here you will find one of the town’s former gold mines, Mina do Chico Rei, where you can wander through the tunnels to het some appreciation of the difficulties of extracting the precious metal. Next, return to Rua Claudio Manoel and turn right, then bear right onto Rua Bernardo Vasconcelos. The church on this street is Matriz Nossa Senhora da Conceicao, where Aleijandinho belonged and was buried. His tomb is marked, “Antonio Francisco Lisboa.” There is also a small, but fascinating museum, dedicated to the artist, in the church sacristy. After your visit, continue uphill to the Praca Tiradentes, the starting point of your tour.