Minas Gerais

Minas Gerais

[mee-nuhs zhi-rahys]
Minas Gerais [Port.,=various mines], state (1996 pop. 16,660,691), 226,707 sq mi (587,171 sq km), E Brazil. The capital is Belo Horizonte. Minas Gerais continues to produce more than half of Brazil's mineral wealth. Gold was discovered at the end of the 17th cent. and was mined extensively. The state has long led the country in iron-ore mining and steel production. In the mid-1990s, Minas Gerais, with its low land and labor costs and inexpensive power, experienced the highest industrial growth in South America, making its economy in Brazil second only to São Paulo. Numerous expansion programs have been pursued in the automobile, mining, and manufacturing sectors. Agriculture and livestock also are important to the state's economy.

Minas Gerais is one of the 26 states of Brazil, the second most populous and fourth largest by area in the federation. The capital is the city of Belo Horizonte, located near the central area. The main producer of coffee and milk in the country, Minas Gerais is known for its heritage of architecture and colonial art in historical cities such as Ouro Preto and Tiradentes. In the south, the tourist points are the hydro mineral spas, such as Caxambu, São Lourenço, São Thomé das Letras, Monte Verde and the national parks of Ibitipoca and Aiuruoca. The landscape of the State is marked by mountains, valleys, and large areas of fertile lands. In the Serra do Cipó, Sete Lagoas, Cordisburgo and Lagoa Santa, the caves and waterfalls are the attractions. Some of Brazil's most famous caverns are located here.


Minas Gerais is in the west of the southeastern subdivision of Brazil, which also contains the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo. It borders on Bahia and Goiás (north), Mato Grosso do Sul (far west), the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (south) and the state of Espírito Santo (east). It also shares a short boundary with the Brazilian Federal District. Minas Gerais is situated between 14°13'58' and 22°54'00' ' south latitude and between 39°51'32' ' and 51°02'35' ' longitude west of Greenwich.


Minas Gerais is the source of some of the biggest rivers in Brazil, most notably the São Francisco, the Paraná and to a lesser extent, the Rio Doce. The state also holds many hydroelectric power plants, including Furnas. Some of the highest peaks in Brazil are in the mountain ranges in the southern part of the state, such as Serra da Mantiqueira and Serra do Cervo, that mark the border between Minas and its neighbors São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The most notable one is the Pico da Bandeira, the third highest mountain in Brazil at 2890 m, standing on the border with Espírito Santo state. The state also has huge reserves of iron and sizeable reserves of gold and gemstones, including emerald, topaz and aquamarine mines.

Each region of the state has a distinct character, geographically and to a certain extent culturally.

  • The central and eastern area of the state is hilly and rocky, with little vegetation on the mountains. Around Lagoa Santa and Sete Lagoas a typical Karst topography with caves and lakes is found. Some of the mountains are almost entirely iron ore, which led to extensive mining (in some places at the expense of the environment). Recent advances in environmental policy helped to put limits to mining. To the east of the state capital Belo Horizonte, there is a region known as Vale do Aço (steel valley), mainly the cities of Ipatinga, Coronel Fabriciano and Timóteo, which holds a great number of iron and steel processing companies along the course of the Rio Doce and afluents. Now that mining is restricted large areas of forest are being removed for timber, charcoal and to clear land for cattle ranching. The original forest cover of these inland hills is very much fragmented. The city of Governador Valadares is in the limit of this region with the poor North.
  • The south of Minas Gerais is hilly and green, with coffee and milk production. This region is notably cooler than the rest of the state, and some locations are subject to temperatures just below the freezing point during the winter. The region is also famed for its mineral-water resorts, including the cities of Poços de Caldas, São Lourenço and Caxambu. Many industries are located at Varginha and Pouso Alegre.
  • The southeast of the state, called Zona da Mata (Forest Zone) was the richest region until the mid 20th century, nowadays the biggest city, Juiz de Fora, remains an important industrial, cultural and educational center, being also the fourth largest in the Minas state. The day-to-day living in the Zona da Mata however, is better represented by a group of smaller cities like Além Paraíba, Viçosa, Leopoldina, Cataguases, Muriaé, Ubá, Astolfo Dutra and several others. Those cities put together a strong economic presence based mostly on agriculture, textiles and minerals.
  • The west of Minas Gerais, also known as "Triângulo Mineiro" (which means "the Minas Triangle", due to the geographic shape of this region), is composed of a particular type of savanna, known as Cerrado. This region was initially occupied by great free-wheeling beef ranches, which are still important for the economy of the region. Over the 1990s, extensive soy and corn farms occupied most of the farming land available. The main cities of this region are Uberlândia and Uberaba.
  • The north of Minas Gerais is arid, being subject to frequent droughts. Recent irrigation projects use the water from the São Francisco river for agriculture; the river crosses the northern region carrying water from its basin in the central area of the state, which is subject to a regular rainfall pattern. The diamond mines of this region, manly in Diamantina, attracted miners but are now exhausted, and the remaining population lives in poor conditions, especially in the valley of the Jequitinhonha River. The region is, however, known for its high quality cachaça production. Salinas in particular exports large amounts of this beverage. The main cities of this region are Montes Claros and Teófilo Otoni.


Minas Gerais was formed mainly by colonists who searched for veins of gold (discovered 1693) and gems, and later diamonds. (The name literally means general mines, a shortening from Minas dos Matos Gerais, or mines of the general woods, this being originally the hinterland to the incipient colonies of São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga and São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.) These helped to boost occupation of the inner lands and led to the foundation of several new villages. In 1697, the Portuguese began building the Estrada Real, the "royal road," that would connect the ports of Rio de Janeiro and Paraty to the mineral-rich regions of Ouro Preto, Serro, and, at the northernmost point, Diamantina. The first capital and seat of the local see was the city of Mariana; it was later moved to Vila Rica. In the late 18th century, Vila Rica was the biggest city in Brazil and one of the biggest of the Americas in population. As the gold mines were exhausted over the 19th century, the city lost its importance; it was later renamed Ouro Preto and remained the state capital until the construction of the all-new, planned city of Belo Horizonte at the turn of the 20th century. The gold cycle left its mark in cities such as Mariana, Ouro Preto, Diamantina, Sabará, Tiradentes and São João del Rei. The relative isolation from European influence, added to the huge influx of gold and other valuable minerals, helped the local people to develop their own style of art, which became known as Barroco Mineiro. Prime examples of this period are the richly decorated churches at the colonial cities, some of them preserved today as museums. The most important artist of this period was Antônio Lisboa, who became known as Aleijadinho. His statues and paintings are now highly valued by experts as one of the most refined artistic expressions outside Europe at that time. In addition to art and architecture, there was an explosion of musical activity in Minas Gerais in the 18th century. Printed copies of European music, as well as accomplished musicians, made the journey to the area, and soon a local school of composition and performance was born and achieved considerable sophistication. Several composers worked in Minas Gerais in the 18th century, mainly in Vila Rica (now Ouro Preto), Sabará, Mariana, and other cities. Some of the names which have survived include José Joaquim Emerico Lôbo de Mesquita, Marcos Coelho Netto, Francisco Gomes da Rocha and Ignacio Parreiras Neves; they cultivated a style related to the classical European style but marked by more a more chordal, homophonic sound, and they usually wrote for mixed groups of voices and instruments.

During the 18th century, mining exploration was strongly controlled by the Portuguese Crown, which imposed heavy taxes on everything extracted (one fifth of all gold would go to the Crown). Several rebellions were attempted by the colonists, always facing strong reaction by the imperial crown. One of the most important was the Felipe dos Santos revolt that ended with his execution but also with the separation of Minas Gerais of São Paulo. The most notable one, however, was the Inconfidência, started in 1789 by group of middle-class colonists, mostly intellectuals and young officers. They were inspired by the American and French Illuminist ideals. The conspiracy failed and the rebels were arrested and exiled. The most famous of them, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (known as Tiradentes), was hanged by order of Queen Maria I of Portugal, becoming a local hero and a national martyr of Brazil. The Minas Gerais flag—a red triangle on a white background—is based on the design for the national flag proposed by the "Inconfidentes", as the rebels became known.

Due to the economic importance of the state and the particular traits of the local population—famed for its reserved and balanced character—Minas Gerais has played an important role on national politics. During the 19th century, politicians such as José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva were instrumental in the establishment of the Brazilian Empire under the rule of Dom Pedro I and later his son, Dom Pedro II. After the installation of the Brazilian Republic, during the early 20th century, Minas Gerais shared the control of the national political scene with São Paulo in what became known as the "Coffee and Milk" political cycle (coffee being the major product of São Paulo, and milk representing Minas Gerais, despite the last was also a great coffee producer).

Minas Gerais was also home to two of the most influential Brazilian politicians of the second half of the 20th century. Juscelino Kubitschek was president from 1956 to 1961, and he was responsible for the construction of Brasília as the new capital of Brazil. Tancredo Neves had an extensive political career that culminated with his election in 1984 to be the first civil president after the 1964 military countercoup. However, he died after a series of health complications just as he was about to assume the position. Also, Itamar, Brazil's previous president, lived there, though he was not born in Minas

To Paleontology it was very important the discovery of the Maxakalisaurus topai (Dinoprata) fossils, is a genus of titanosaurid dinosaur, found in Brazil, 45 kilometers (28 mi) from the city of Prata (Triângulo Mineiro), in the state of Minas Gerais in 1998. It was closely related to Saltasaurus, a sauropod considered unusual because it had evolved apparently defensive traits, including bony plates on its skin and vertical plates along its spine; such osteoderms have also been found for Maxakalisaurus.

The genus name is derived from the tribe of the Maxakali; Topa is one of their divinities.

The Maxakalisaurus fossils belonged to an animal about 13 meters (43.3 ft) long, with an estimated weight of 9 tons, although, according to paleontologist Alexander Kellner, it could reach a length of approximately 20 meters (65 ft). It had a long neck and tail, ridged teeth (unusual among sauropods) and lived about 80 million years ago. Because sauropods seem to have lacked significant competition in South America, they evolved there with greater diversity and more unusual traits than elsewhere in the world. Its replicas is exposed at the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, since August 28th, 2006.

See also the List of Governors of Minas Gerais.


According to the IBGE, in 2007 there were 19,522,000 people residing in the state. The population density was 33.2 inh./km².

Urbanization: 84.7% (2006); Population growth: 1.4% (1991-2000); Houses: 5,741,000 (2006).

The last PNAD (National Research for Sample of Domiciles) census revealed the following numbers: 9,019,164 White people (46.2%), 8,784,900 Pardo (Brown) people (45.0%), 1,639,848 Black people (8.4%), 58,000 Asian or Amerindian people (0.3%).

Ethnic groups found in Minas Gerais include: Amerindians, Portuguese, Africans, Italians, Germans and Lebanese.

The ethnic composition of the population varies from town to town. For example, in Córrego do Bom Jesus, a small town located in the extreme south of Minas Gerais, White people make up 98.70% of the population. In the other hand, in Setubinha, located in the northeast part of the state, 71.81% are mixed-race and 14.70% Blacks. It is historically explainable: southern Minas Gerais, in the border with São Paulo, received larger numbers of Portuguese farmers in colonial times. In the late 19th century, Italian immigrants also arrived. The north region, close to Bahia, was a place to the arrival of many African slaves since the 18th century. The central part of the state, where the capital Belo Horizonte is, has a more balanced ratio between Whites, Blacks and mixed people.


Religion Percentage Number
Catholics 78.70% 14,091,479
Protestants 13.61% 2,437,186
No religion 4.60% 822,855
Spiritists 1.59% 284,336
Umbandists 0.11% 20,223
Source: IBGE 2000.


The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 47.1%, followed by the industrial sector at 44.1%. Agriculture represents 8.8% of GDP (2004). Exports: iron ore 26.1%, siderurgy 20.9%, coffee 12.8%, not ferrous metals 7.2%, others agriculture products 6.2%, vehicles 5.9% (2002). Share of the Brazilian economy: 9% (2005).

Minas Gerais (or simply Minas, as it is commonly called) is a major producer of milk, coffee and other agricultural commodities, as well as minerals. Electronics are also produced in Minas. The automakers Fiat and Mercedes-Benz have factories there. Tourism is also an important activity for the state: historical cities like Ouro Preto, Mariana, Sabará, Congonhas, Diamantina, Tiradentes, and Sao João del Rey, are a major attractive for visitors interested in their colonial architecture. Other cities, like Araxá, Poços de Caldas, Lambari, Caxambu, and others, attract visitors interested in their mineral watersprings. Eco-tourism is a rising economic activity in the state, specially in localities situated on the several Serras (highlands) that exist in Minas Gerais.

The state has marked economic divisions. The southern part of the state (close to the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro state borders) has several mid-sized cities with solid industrial bases such as Juiz de Fora, Varginha, Pouso Alegre, and Poços de Caldas, as well as Ipatinga in the east of the state, which is also a modern and major industrial city and Itabira, considered city mother of the Company it is Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, that has actions quoted in Bovespa and NYSE. The northeastern region is marked by poverty, but Governador Valadares and Teófilo Otoni attract foreign traders for the semi-precious gems such as topaz and sapphire. The central region of the state (where the capital is located) has big reserves of iron (and to a lesser extent, gold) still being actively mined. The western part, the "Triângulo Mineiro", is less densely populated than the rest of the state, and it is now a focus of biotechnology investment, particularly on the cities of Uberlândia, Uberaba and Patos de Minas, which includes leading research on cattle, soy and corn culture.

Interesting facts

Vehicles: 4,887,283 (March/2007); Mobile phones: 11.3 million (April/2007); Telephones: 4.2 million (April/2007); Cities: 853 (2007).


Portuguese is the official national language, and thus the primary language taught in schools. However, English and Spanish are part of the official high school curriculum.

Educational institutions

  • Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) (Federal University of Minas Gerais);
  • Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais (PUC-MG);
  • Universidade Federal de Alfenas (Unifal-MG) (Federal University of Alfenas);
  • Universidade Federal de Itajuba (UNIFEI) (Federal University of Itajuba);
  • Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (UFJF) (Federal University of Juiz de Fora);
  • Universidade Federal de Lavras (Ufla) (Federal University of Lavras);
  • Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto (Ufop) (Federal University of Ouro Preto);
  • Universidade Federal de São João del Rei (UFSJ) (Federal University of São João del Rei);
  • Universidade Federal de Uberlândia (UFU) (Federal University of Uberlandia);
  • Universidade Federal de Viçosa (UFV) (Federal University of Viçosa);
  • Universidade Federal do Triângulo Mineiro (UFTM) (Federal University of Mineiro Triangle);
  • Universidade Federal dos Vales do Jequitinhonha e Mucuri (UFVJM) (Federal University of Jequitinhonha and Murici Valleys);
  • Universidade Estadual de Montes Claros (Unimontes) (State University of Montes Claros);
  • and many others.


Minas Gerais may be called Deep Brazil by analogy with the France profonde. It has a distinctly more native flavour than cosmopolitan São Paulo, a more traditional slant than flashy Rio de Janeiro, and is more Portuguese than the South and São Paulo with their great influx of Italians and other Central Europeans, the North with its native Indians, or the Northeast with its heavy Afro-Brazilian influence.

The people are considered reserved, prudent, relatively silent to the point of melancholy, but welcoming and family-focused. It is one of the most religious states, with a large proportion of staunch Roman Catholics and a burgeoning Evangelical and neo-Pentecostal population, with pockets of African religions. Kardecist Spiritism is also professed by a significant portion of the population, partly due to the influence of Chico Xavier, the main spiritual icon of Brazil, who lived in Minas Gerais all his life.

Minas Gerais is also known nationally for its cuisine. The cultural basis of its cuisine is the small farmhouse, and many of the dishes are prepared using locally produced vegetables and meats, especially chicken and pork. Traditional cooking is done using coal- or wood-fired ovens and cast iron pans, making for a particularly tasty flavor; some restaurant chains have adopted these techniques and made this type of food popular in other parts of the country.

Many of the cakes and appetizers of the local cuisine use corn or cassava (known there as mandioca) flour instead of wheat, as the latter didn't adapt well to the local weather. The best-known dish from Minas Gerais is "pão de queijo", a small baked roll (known internationally as "Brazilian cheese rolls") made with cheese and cassava flour that can be served hot as an appetizer or for breakfast.

The state is also Brazil's most traditional producer of cheese. Minas cheese is renowned nationwide as the distinct Brazilian cheese. Cachaça is also a local produce of some importance.

Minas Gerais is often recognised abroad as the state where the footballer Pelé was born (he has lived in the state of São Paulo since childhood, though).

Many famous Brazilian writers were born in Minas Gerais: Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Fernando Sabino and João Guimarães Rosa. Aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont was born in Minas Gerais.


International Airport

Tancredo Neves/Confins International Airport is located in the municipalities of Lagoa Santa and Confins, 38 km (23 mi) from Belo Horizonte, and was opened in January 1984. It was planned from the start for future expansion in steps to meet growing demand. The airport has one of the lowest rates of shutdown for bad weather in the country. However, the Confins airport was not using much of its capacity until 2005, when it was decided that a large part of the Pampulha Airport flights (which is smaller and located inside Belo Horizonte's urban area) would move to Confins. It was planned from the start for future expansion in steps to meet growing demand.

The first step was undertaken with careful concern for the environment, including monitoring by specialized consultants, since the region has a rich archeological heritage. Among the hundreds of caverns in the region, the one at Lapa Vermelha stands out. Located 2.7 km (1.6 mi) from the airport, the oldest female cranium in the Americans was discovered there, dated at roughly 12 thousand years old. Confins is certified by the ISO 9001 standard, covering ten processes in the administrative, operational, safety/security and maintenance areas. The Tancredo Neves International Airport has both domestic and international flights (to some locations in South America and Europe).


Because of its central position, the state is crossed by the most important national highways, like BR-116 (Rio-Bahia), BR-040 (Rio-Brasília) and others. Many of the most important Brazilian routes cross the state and, for this reason, it counts the greater proportion of car accidents per capita.

BR-122, BR-040, BR-135, BR-146, BR-251, BR-259, BR-265, BR-265, BR-265, BR-265, BR-267, BR-352, BR-354, BR-356, BR-356, BR-364, BR-367, BR-367, BR-367, BR-381, BR-381, BR-383, BR-383, BR-393, BR-459, BR-462, BR-464, BR-491.


As in the rest of Brazil, football is the most popular sport among locals. Belo Horizonte has two of the most successful teams in the country, and the city also has one of the biggest football stadiums in the world, the Mineirão, opened in 1965.

The older Independência Stadium hosted a legendary victory of the United States World Cup Team 1950 in a 1-0 triumph over England. See England v United States (1950) and

Atlético Mineiro, which is also called by its nickname and mascot "Galo" (rooster) is one of the oldest football clubs in the city and was founded in 1908. Atlético Mineiro was the first Brazilian champion, in 1971, and has also won two CONMEBOL Cups (nowadays called Copa Sudamericana) and 39 State Championships. In spite of so much tradition, the team has suffered through very difficult times recently and was relegated to the Brazilian Série B. However, the club won the championship in 2006 and is back to Série A in 2007. Cruzeiro was founded in 1921 by the members of the local Italian community. Cruzeiro has been one of Brazil's most successful clubs in the 1990s and early 2000s, winning 4 National Cups, 1 National League, 2 Copa Libertadores, and 2 Supercopa Libertadores, and is also the winner of Taça Brasil in 1966 and 34 State Championships.

The city is also home to América Mineiro, which has its own playing field, the Independência Stadium. It was a major team in Brazil decades ago, but passed three years striving to leave Brazilian League Série C. Things came worse at the beginning of 2007. The team was relegated to the Módulo II of Campeonato Mineiro, for the first time in its history and didn't even qualify for playing the Série C, being completely out of Campeonato Brasileiro in 2008. It was 15 times state champion (ten of then in a row), the last was in 2001, also won the National League second division in 1997 and the Sul-Minas Cup in 2000.

Besides football, Belo Horizonte has one of the largest attendances at volleyball matches in the whole country. Crowds usually go to Mineirinho in order to watch either the Brazil national volleyball team or Minas Tênis Clube matches.

Minas Tênis Clube is a sport association with various modalities, and its volleyball team has some of the most advanced training facilities in the country. Besides Mineirinho, the clubs also plays on its own ground, the modern Telemig Cellular Arena. Both its male and female volleyball teams have already won the Brazilian Superleague of Volleyball titles.

Belo Horizonte is one of the 18 remaining candidates to host games of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, that will be hosted by Brazil.


The flag of the state of Minas Gerais is the oldest one adopted in Brazil that was devised by Brazilians. It was remembered by the Republican Party, which opposed the Brazilian Imperial Government, and adopted unofficially as the flag of the state. Since 1946 it has been the official flag.

The sentence "Libertas quæ sera tamen", seen in the flag, is a motto in Latin which translates in Portuguese as Liberdade ainda que tardia and in English as "Freedom, no matter how long it takes". The triangle was said to represent the Trinity and the three ideals of the French Revolution: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

The colors were chosen for their revolutionary meaning: white represented the desire to form a peaceful new nation, discarding all colonial institutions, and red symbolised the flame of liberty.


In spite of not being the largest state of Brazil, Minas Gerais has the largest number of cities. Of the more than 5,500 municipalities in the country, Minas has 853 of them, a fact explained by the number of inhabitants and by the vast territory (larger than Metropolitan France). The most notable cities are: the capital Belo Horizonte, Contagem, Betim, Juiz de Fora, Montes Claros, Uberlândia, Ipatinga, Uberaba and Ouro Preto.


Further reading

  • Cheney, Glenn Alan, Journey on the Estrada Real: Encounters in the Mountains of Brazil, (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 2004) ISBN 0-89733-530-9

External links

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