After the craziness of Carnival in Rio, I escaped for a few days to a more relaxed setting: Ouro Preto (“black gold”) and Mariana, in the state of Minas Gerais, which are two of the best-preserved colonial villages in Latin America.
Villa Rica de Ouro Preto is the quintessential gold fever boom town. In the 18th century, gold production in Minas Gerais reached memorable proportions, surpassing that of all the Spanish colonies in the two centuries before. Fortune-seekers rushed to Ouro Preto, alongside thousands of slaves to provide labour in the mines. While making a fortune from gold, the rich enjoyed luxurious and ostentatious living standards. The economic centre of Brazil shifted from the North (sugar barons) to the South, and so remains until today.
From the second half of the 18th century gold production in Ouro Preto declined, and fortune-seekers moved elsewhere. Today, Ouro Preto and Mariana are two small, laid-back towns, preserved as if frozen in time.
The main tourist drag in Ouro Preto are the 23 churches spread along the village, also owing to the gold fever. It is quite impressive that in such a small village there are that many churches, and all of them are architecturally beautiful. There was certain competition between religious orders that made them strive to build more and better churches. Blacks weren’t allowed to attend mass with whites, so they built their own temple with what they could pilfer from the mines. The style is known as Barroco Mineiro, a variation of the European style whose most acclaimed representative is Aleijadinho, an Ouro Preto native.
Ouro Preto and Mariana are both small laid-back towns, good for wandering about and admire colonial architecture or try traditional food from Minas Gerais. After that, there’s not much else to do, and after a couple of days, I headed back to Rio.