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Ouro Preto

Vila Rica do Ouro Preto (from Portuguese, Rich Village of the Black Gold) is a city in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, a former colonial mining town located in the Serra do Espinhaço mountains and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of its outstanding Baroque architecture.

Important Data

Population: Data from the 2000 Census (IBGE)

  • Resident population: 66,277
  • Urban area: 56,293
  • Rural area: 9,985
  • Area of the municipality: 1,245 km²
  • Temperature: between 6 and 28 degrees Celsius. In June and July the temperature can reach 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Average elevation: 1,116 m. The highest point is Pico de Itacolomi with 1,722 meters.
  • The city has twelve districts: Amarantina, Antônio Pereira, Cachoeira do Campo, Engenheiro Correia, Glaura, Lavras Novas, Miguel Burnier, Santa Rita, Santo Antônio do Leite, Santo Antônio do Salto, São Bartolomeu and Rodrigo Silva.
  • Rivers: sources for the Velhas, Piracicaba, Gualaxo do Norte, Gualaxo do Sul, Mainart e Ribeirão Funil.
  • Climate: Tropical with altitude. Average rainfall of 2,018 mm/year, with irregular distribution. Rains concentrated in the summer.


The city is linked by good roads to:

  • Belo Horizonte 100 km
  • Rio de Janeiro 475 km
  • São Paulo 675 km
  • Brasília 840 km

Bordering municipalities are:

  • North: Itabirito and Santa Bárbara
  • South: Ouro Branco, Catas Altas da Noruega, Piranga and Itaverava
  • East: Mariana
  • West: Belo Vale and Congonhas


Founded at the end of the 17th century, Ouro Preto (meaning Black Gold) was the focal point of the gold rush and Brazil's golden age in the 18th century.

The city contains well preserved colonial architecture, with few signs of modern urban life. Churches decorated with gold and the works of Aleijadinho make Ouro Preto a tourist destination. In colonial times art was fairly advanced and developed into the "Barroco Mineiro", with many sculptors (Aleijadinho), painters (Mestre Athayde), composers (Lobo de Mesquita family), poets (Thomas Gonzaga).

In 1789, Ouro Preto was the starting point of the Inconfidência Mineira, a failed attempt to break from Portugal and form a Brazilian republic. In 1876 the Escola de Minas (mining engineering school) was created and set the technical basis for several mineral discoveries in Brazil. Ouro Preto was capital of Minas Gerais from 1822 until 1897, when the government moved to the new and planned city of Belo Horizonte.

The Economy

Although Ouro Preto now relies heavily on the tourist industry for part of its economy, there are important metallurgic and mining industries located in the city, such as Alcan - Alumínio do Brasil, the most important aluminum factory in the country, the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce and others. Main economic activities are tourism, transformation industries, and mineral riches such as deposits of iron, bauxite, manganese, talcum and marble.

Minerals of note are: gold, hematite, dolomite, turmaline, pirite, moscovite, topaz and imperial topaz. The imperial topaz is a stone only found in Ouro Preto.

The University and the "Republics"

Ouro Preto is also a university city with an intense student life. The Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto (Federal University of Ouro Preto) has approximately 8,000 students. Many live in communal houses, similar to fraternity houses, called "repúblicas" of which there are 66 belonging to the university, called "repúblicas federais" and 250 "repúblicas particulares", privately owned.

The "republics" of Ouro Preto are unique in Brazil. No other university city has the characteristics of the student lodging found here. In many ways they are similar to lodgings in Portuguese universities such as Coimbra and the tradition may have come from there. Each one has its different history. There are republics in which the freshmen, known as "bixos" (misspelling of "bichos", Portuguese for "animals"), have to undergo a hazing period, called "batalha" (battle), to be accepted definitely as residents of the houses. The choice called "escolha", has to be unanimous.

Of special interest to visitors is the Museu Mineralógico Da Escola De Minas (Mineralogy Museum), belonging to the Mining School of the prestigious Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto. The School opened its doors on 12 October, 1876. The Museum is located at the Praça Tiradentes (No. 20), in the city historical center. Probably no other place on earth has such a rich assortment of raw minerals on display, including precious and semi-precious gemstones and crystals of astounding dimensions. Security is tight, however, and for good reasons (for example, no cameras are allowed), due to the incalculable value of the gemstones and ores on display.


The beautiful town of Ouro Preto was the most remarkable of the settings chosen for the humorous movie "Moon Over Parador" (1988), with Richard Dreyfuss and Sonia Braga as the main characters in the story.


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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