Ouro Preto, the Splendour and Darkness of Gold

The discovery of the Brazilian gold in the late 17th century had a pivotal and lasting imprint on the local social, cultural and economical life. The gold rush in Brazil brought a massive migratory wave of people from all over the world seeking for their fortune.

With the large gold deposits discovered in the mountains of Minas Gerais by “bandeirantes” (adventurers of mixed indigenous and European background that were exploring the interior of Brazil), the rush lead the major gold-producing area of Ouro Preto (Black Gold) to flourish. In 1750, the mining wealth transformed Ouro Preto into the most populous city in the New World (doubling in number the population of New York), and the capital of Minas Gerais, until the rugged landscape hosting the city became a limitative factor, and the state government was moved to Belo Horizonte in 1897. Nearly 800 tones of gold were mined during the 18th century. However, the gold rush in Ouro Preto did not benefit everybody that lived here. The actual mining work was done by slaves brought from Africa, accounting for almost two thirds of city’s population during the gold mining days.

By the time the gold deposits got exhausted in the 19th century, the gold legacy had already transformed the city into an architectonic treasure of human genius. Despite the challenging uneven terrain, the city grew homogeneously, hosting many of the most significant works of the Brazilian Baroque architecture, such as the city’s religious monuments and administrative buildings. For its outstanding Baroque architecture, UNESCO designated Ouro Preto a World Heritage Site.

The end of the golden period and the passing of time didn’t wash away the city’s splendour. Nowadays, many governmental initiatives are targeting the protection of the historical city of Ouro Preto, fostering preservation of the original colonial constructions and urban pattern.

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