Archives for category: Ouro Preto

Parati is a historic town set on the edge of the Mata Atlantica, the Atlantic rain forest, on the coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro. First settled by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, it became the port for shipping gold and diamonds from the interior to Rio and on to Portugal. Miners, supplies and slaves travelled by mule train into the state of Minas Gerais (MG, `General Mines`) by the same route, the Caminho do Ouro, running along an indigenous path. Parati offered a break in the escarpment of the 1,500 kilometre Serra do Mar, and a natural harbour.

Gracious living in Parati

Gracious living in Parati

The town grew into a substantial settlement, with a good number of churches, and forts to protect it – the gold-laden ships were a target for pirates operating from the many nearby islands and beaches.

British and Portuguese cannon, Forte Defensor

British and Portuguese cannon, Forte Defensor Perpétuo

Parati’s economic fortunes have risen and fallen, its relative isolation preserving the Baroque architecture which underpins its revival as a tourist destination.

Entrance to Casa Turquesa

Entrance to hotel Casa Turquesa

Baroque luxury raises an echo in Parati’s restaurants and antique shops, and modern luxury is also in evidence.

Restaurante Refugio

Restaurante Refugio

Its cobbled streets are hard going on foot, and motor vehicles are allowed only on Wednesdays, for deliveries. Horse-drawn carts carry supplies and tourists over the cobbles.

Cobbled streets at a leisurely pace

Cobbled streets, at a leisurely pace

You could be back in the eighteenth century, though many of the town houses are now shops, restaurants and business premises.

Working tourist town

Working tourist town

Like Ouro Preto, the much larger Baroque town at the other end of the Caminho do Ouro, Parati allows you to see domestic Baroque architecture in operation. White-washed walls are thick – some with sandstone mouldings – decorated with stucco and paint, roofs of clay pantiles, and wooden floors above the ground floor flagstones.

Baroque cooling

Baroque air conditioner

Only the churches are higher than two stories. Rooms are high-ceilinged, window-frames painted in powder blue or grey.

Tidal canal

Tidal canal

Parati is set just below sea level in a river delta, with breaks in the sea wall which allow high tides to flood some streets. Flooding was once the only form of sanitation, and given the horses, it’s still a good thing, though it doesn’t smell entirely clean.

Rio Perequê-Açu canalised

Rio Perequê-Açu canalised

The river to the north of the historic town centre provides a cool corridor against the January heat.

Capela de Santa Rita

Capela de Santa Rita, completed 1722

Parati is undergoing renovation – two of its four historic churches are closed, and the SESC cultural centre is being refurbished. The elaborate Santa Rita church was built for the Portuguese and for freed slaves.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito, 1725

The Rosário, built for the slave population, has a much simpler facade, and its corner mouldings are of painted stucco, not sandstone.

Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores

Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores, 1800

Nossa Senhora das Dores – Our Lady of Sorrows – is an elegant little building on the Rua Fresca sea front. It was used by society ladies, and renovated in 1900. Behind the church is a walled church yard. The church was closed when we were there, with no sign of when it opens.

Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Remédios

Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, completed 1873

Nossa Senhora dos Remédios is large and central, with a tree-lined square in front, and a campanile for its clock. It’s structurally simple, a series of lean-tos, and the interior is modest by Brazilian standards. 

Largest church in Parati

Largest church in Parati

Painted marble-effect mouldings and painted walls – which look like wallpaper – saints in glassed-in niches, and sober monochrome floor tiles all make for a subdued interior.

Painted chancel walls

Painted chancel walls

This looks a middle-class church, presumably built on the coffee trade which replaced the gold shipments.

St Michael, a Brazilian favourite

St Michael, a Brazilian favourite

Another active trade in Parati was the cachaça industry. A few small producers are still distilling this spirit from sugar cane – Parati was well-known for it. These days the best cachaça is said to come from the state of Minas Gerais, though it is still actively retailed to tourists in Parati. Proving the point, we found a large retailer whose display included a collection of old bottles from Parati …

Cachaça museum

Cachaça museum

… and a collection of miniatures – a smart way to sell to the souvenir market – which were overwhelmingly Mineiro.

Minas Gerias miniatures, with seductive labels

Minas Gerias miniatures, with seductive labels

Parati understandably promotes and preserves its former glory, but there’s a faint echo of other sentiments.

The land on which the historic centre is built was donated by a Senhora Maria Jácome de Melo on condition that a church dedicated to Nossa Senhora dos Remédios was built … and that the local indigenous Guaianá were unharmed.

Santa Rita is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young 19th-century bride found dead on her wedding morning. The groom reportedly went mad, having begged for the coffin to be opened. When years later the coffin was actually opened, the corpse was face down, a punishment meant to prevent the soul leaving the body through the mouth.

A smaller church in Parati, the Capela da Generosa, was funded by a local woman in memory of a Teodoro who is said to have drowned in the Rio Perequê-Açu while impiously fishing on Good Friday.

Looking towards Rua Fresca

Looking towards Rua Fresca

Standing on the Rua Fresca and recalling that it was the rich who enjoyed the sea breeze, that the streets were awash with sewage, that a slave who tried to escape could only could take the heavily-patrolled Caminho do Ouro through the rainforest or the sea road controlled by cannon and pirates, that the indigenous people were subject to the Europeans, that even Christian salvation was markedly stratfied, you sense a less pretty view of the Baroque town, driven by the greed for gold, by violence and military rule, by slavery and oppression.

It seems fitting that a vampire wedding – from the Twilight saga – can be filmed here. And this week in Parati, a shooting amid Carnaval celebrations …  http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/carnival-suspended-paraty-brazil-deadly-shooting-28988156

Visiting the Baroque Brazilian city of Ouro Preto – built on the wealth of the gold found locally with iron oxide (‘black gold’ or ouro preto) – you may be directed to one of the museums, the 1784 Casa dos Contos. It’s a museum of coinage and the gold cycle, serving at various times as private residence and tax office, barracks and prison, Government mint and gold foundry, post office and savings bank, and town hall. The building has played a major role in the history of the city.

Substantial Baroque building - with Niemeyer's Grande Hotel behind

Substantial Baroque building – with Niemeyer’s Grande Hotel behind

Ouro Preto – first named Vila Rica or ‘rich village’ – was in its heyday at the end of the eighteenth century the largest city in Brazil, with 100,000 inhabitants. The Casa dos Contos is an imposing building, with some unusual features. The large set of chimneys visible at the rear was installed to drive the fires required for high-temperature gold smelting. Zoom in on the image and you see between the third and fourth windows from the left two large holes made in the wall for ventilation.

Wide enough for a dozen armed mounted men

Wide enough for a dozen armed mounted men

Security was of course tight. One reason for the gold to be smelted and exported under government control was to discourage theft, but it also meant that the Crown could claim its 20% before the smelted hallmarked bars were escorted under armed guard to the coast.

View from the balcony

View from the balcony

It’s an impressive building inside too – wide stone stairs with beautifully carved jacaranda balustrades, and large airy rooms on the first floor overlooking the street, complete with period furniture, decorated ceilings, and bookcases for the Museum archive.

Gracious living on the piano nobile

Gracious living on the piano nobile

But the most remarkable part of the Museum’s collection is in the cellar. The Casa is built, like other Ouro Preto baroque residences, to withstand sudden heavy rainfall on the cobbled hills. Massive freestone pillars support the level upper stories, and the cellar floor is finished likewise in hard local freestone, roughly set edgeways. It was hard going even with trainers on. It slopes away markedly towards the watercourse alongside.

Displayed in the niches of the freestone walls and between the pillars is a collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century household goods – kitchen implements, building tools, farm and workshop repair and maintenance contraptions. The collection was made by a local man who worked as a shoe repairer, developing over years his interest in Baroque daily life. Displayed casually among the household items are branding irons, manacles, wooden stocks, and a large evil-looking mantrap for runaway slaves. In the quietest, most effective way, these objects make clear how Brazil’s wealth was built on slavery, why in this cellar where they lived and worked in the kitchen they also washed their clothes in a crude stone-built laundry, why the ventilation holes in the first floor foundry are narrower than a man. And why a young Ouro Pretan on the street greets his fellow African Brazilian with the words “O, escravo!”

On holiday in Ouro Preto in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, walking its cobbled streets in the early evening, I heard the ragged syncopation of an amateur band coming from a basement room, and went down the neon-lit stairs to hear more. A large, bare, half empty room greeted me, and at a set of orchestra benches, a score of musicians playing the wind instruments of a brass band – clarinet, flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and Sousaphone, plus drums – with earnest and admirable concentration.

Sociedade Musical Senhor Bom Jesus de Matosinhos

Sociedade Musical Senhor Bom Jesus de Matosinhos

Not wanting to intrude on their efforts, I listened while I looked at the posters and photographs displayed on the walls of the band rehearsal room. This musical society’s history goes back many decades, in an honourable tradition of going on excursions and taking part in competitions in the four corners of Brazil.

Celebration concert

Celebration concert

Formed in 1932, the musical society looks back to Portugal – Matsinhos is a city on the edge of Porto in the old country – but it has the glory of its New World in its sights.

In the arms of its patron

In the arms of its patron

Its efforts are declared “all for the greatness and tradition of Ouro Preto”. Its supporters were in evidence, keeping an appreciative eye on the work. A unique and impressive piece of local musical culture in this most musical of countries.

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