The former gold-rush capital is the best place to see the legendary sculptor Aleijadinho's artistry. Now a lively university town, it's been preserved as a national monument and a World Heritage Site. The surrounding mountains, geometric rows of whitewashed buildings, cobblestone streets, red-tile roofs that climb the hillsides, morning mist and evening fog—all give Ouro Preto a singular beauty.
In its heyday Ouro Preto (also seen as Ouro Prêto, an archaic spelling) was one of Brazil's most progressive cities and the birthplace of the colony's first stirrings of independence. Toward the end of the 18th century the mines were running out, with all the gold and jewels being sent to Portugal. The residents were unhappy with the corruption of the governor, and the Inconfidência Mineira was organized to overthrow the Portuguese rulers and establish an independent Brazilian republic. It was to have been led by a resident of Ouro Preto, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, a dentist nicknamed Tiradentes ("tooth-puller").
Walk down the hill from the bus station on the beautiful cobblestone street and you'll come to the former prison or the Museu de Inconfidência. Praça Tiradentes, the town's central square, teems with gossiping students, eager merchants, and curious visitors. Ouro Preto has several museums, as well as 13 colonial igrejas (churches) that are highly representative of mineiro baroque architecture. The Minas style is marked by elaborately carved doorways and curving lines. Most distinctive, though, are the interiors, richly painted and decorated lavishly with cedarwood and soapstone sculptures. Many interiors are unabashedly rococo, with an ostentatious use of gold leaf, a by-product of the region's mineral wealth. Note that many museums and churches are closed on Mondays.