Minas Gerais Feature

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A Bit of History

Exploration of Minas began in the 17th century, when bandeirantes (bands of adventurers) from the coastal areas came in search of slaves and gold. What they found in the area was a black stone that was later verified to be gold (the coloring came from the iron oxide in the soil). In 1698 the first capital of Minas was founded and called Vila Rica de Ouro Preto (Rich Town of Black Gold), and some 13 years later Brazil's first gold rush began. Along with the fortune seekers came Jesuit priests, who were later exiled by the Portuguese (for fear they would try to manipulate the mineral trade) and replaced by ordens terceiras (third, or lay, orders). By the middle of the century the Gold Towns of Minas were gleaming with new churches built first in the baroque-rococo style of Europe and later in a baroque style unique to the region.

By the end of the 18th century the gold had begun to run out, and Ouro Preto's population and importance decreased. The baroque period ended at the start of the 19th century, when the Portuguese royal family, in flight from the conquering army of Napoléon Bonaparte, arrived in Brazil, bringing with them architects and sculptors with different ideas and artistic styles. Ornate twisted columns and walls adorned with lavish carvings gave way to simple straight columns and walls painted with murals or simply washed in white.

Today Minas Gerais is Brazil's second most industrialized state, after São Paulo. The iron that darkened the gold of Ouro Preto remains an important source of state income, along with steel, coffee, and auto manufacturing. The traffic that the mines brought here in the 17th century thrust Brazil into civilization, and now, well into the wake of the gold rush, a steady sense of progress and a compassion for the land remain.

Updated: 09-2013

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