WORKING DOWN T´PIT

Ouro Preto Travel Blog

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Tirandentes

São Jao del Rei. was the first colonial gold mining town in the state of Minias Geras that we decided to visit. At every stop on the 6 hour bus journey, I´d turn to someone and ask Àqui São Jao del Rei?´ in my best Portuguese accent. Each time, I was met with a blank stare, then repeated the question even more slowly • once, maybe twice more. Eventually, ´Aah, São Jao del Rei! Nao aqui.´. Yep, it sounded similar to the words I´d said, but apparently just different enough to be completely unintelligible. That was the first hint that this language was going to be a little trickier than we´d expected.

 

When we eventually got off at the right stop, we found a quiet town but very much alive, with a clean, wide river and simple 18th century buildings.

Overlooking Ouro Preto
Only the ornate churches hinted at the town´s former wealth.

 

Tirandentes (´Tiradench`, as we later heard it called) was a smaller, more picturesque colonial mining town. More a charming destination for romantic weekend retreats for the wealthy Brazilians than a living town though. Almost every perfectly restored building on each cobble stoned street had a gift shop, art gallery or expensive restaurant. The streets were steeply hilly and most were too narrow for cars, so we could almost hear the stillness of the mountains that back-dropped the village. Even though it was tourist-town, it really was very pretty.

 

This region of Brazil was where the first rumblings of rebellion against the Portuguese began. The fact that this is where the country´s  richest gold mines were discovered is not coincidence. The local ´miners´- although it seems that none of the Portuguese decscendents actually did a day´s work in the mines; that was all done by the African slaves! • strongly objected to the king of Portugal´s  tax on their (hard earned!) gold. Surely it was all theirs for the taking.

 

One of the founders of this rebellion, was a dentist, know as Tirandentes (´tooth puller´), which is a nickname I wish I´d been given, by the way. Unfortunately, he was beheaded, drawn and quartered and his body put on display after the failure of the rebellion. But as we all know, Brazil eventually won independance and the locals kept all their gold (and their slaves) and lived happily ever after.

 

Ouro Preto is a university town, with busy streets crowded with Brazilian students and tourists. With historic buildings nestled into the gentle valleys of  lush green hills, cobblestone streets winding and curving steeply in every direction and stunning views at ever turn • it really was a pleasure just to be there. There was a church on almost every corner. At least twenty were pointed out to us by a friendly old man while we were standing in just one spot. Each in this town was more ornate and dripping with even more gold, than the next. We calculated that there must have been over $40 million USD of gold in one church alone. Now, couldn´t that feed a few starving people in the favellas?

 

We were able to go into the disused gold mine Minas de Passagem on an original cable car. It was quite dark, but the walls glittered with fools gold. The slaves´ shrine to the saint who meant to prevent them from being crushed in the mines was still there. For some reason, this saint was appeased by gifts of lipstick and every hade had been offered to her. There was also a clear, fresh water lake in the mine, which sparkled blue under the lights. Adam had a quick swim • when else do you get the chance to swim in a fresh water subterranean lake (in a disused gold mine), after all?

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Tirandentes
Tirandentes
Overlooking Ouro Preto
Overlooking Ouro Preto
Ouro Preto
photo by: Paulovic