Diamantina took its name from the diamonds that were extracted in great quantities here in the 18th century. Perhaps because of its remote setting in the barren mountains close to the sertão (a remote arid region), Diamantina is extremely well preserved, although its churches lack the grandeur of those in other historic towns. Its white-wall structures stand in pristine contrast to the iron red of the surrounding mountains. The principal attraction in Diamantina is the simple pleasure of walking along the clean-swept cobblestone streets lined with colonial houses—note the overhanging roofs with their elaborate brackets.
The city was the home of two legendary figures of the colonial period: diamond contractor João Fernandes de Oliveira and his slave mistress, Chica da Silva, one of Brazilian history's first powerful Afro-Brazilian women. Two area attractions are linked with her; to see them, you should contact the Casa da Cultura to arrange a guided tour. Former Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek was also born here.