Founded at the end of the 17th century, Ouro Preto was the focal point of the gold rush and Brazil’s golden age in the 18th century. With the exhaustion of the gold mines in the 19th century, the city’s influence declined but many churches, bridges and fountains remain as a testimony to its past prosperity.
Founded in the early 18th century 513km north of Rio de Janeiro, the Historic Town of Ouro Preto (Black Gold) covers the steep slopes of Brazil's Vila Rica (Rich Valley), center of a rich gold mining area and the capital of Minas Gerais Province from 1720-1897. Set in a remote and rugged landscape, the aesthetic quality of the vernacular and erudite architecture and irregular urban pattern of Ouro Preto makes the town a treasure of human genius.
The Historic City of Ouro Preto was the symbolic center of the Inconfidência Mineira in 1789, a Brazilian independence movement, and home to exceptional artists responsible for many of the most significant works of the Brazilian Baroque period, including the Church of São Francisco of Assisi by the distinguished architect and sculptor Antônio Francisco Lisboa (Aleijadinho). The area’s isolation for the better part of the 19th and 20th centuries generated economic stagnation, fostering preservation of the original colonial constructions and urban pattern.
Along the original winding road and within the irregular layout following the contours of the landscape lie squares, public buildings, residences, fountains, bridges and churches which together form an outstanding homogenous group exhibiting the fine curvilinear form of Baroque architecture.
The most notable of the city’s architectural works are represented by the religious monuments and administrative buildings, including the Palácio dos Governadores (Governors' Palace), today the School of Mines, and the former Casa de Câmara e Cadeia (Administrative and Prison House), home to the Inconfidência Museum. The Baroque churches carry sculptures by Antônio Francisco Lisboa, Aleijadinho, colonial Brazil’s greatest artist, and the ceiling paintings of Manuel da Costa Athaide among others.