Tiradentes is a small town and Historic Monument on the Estrada Real in Minas Gerais. It occupies an important place in the history of Brasil.
The town began life in 1702 as a mining camp called Santo Antônio do Rio das Mortes. Later it become known as Arraial Velho to differentiate it from the nearby mining camp Arraial Novo do Rio das Mortes, now the town of São João del Rey. In 1718 when the camp became established as a village it adopted the name of São José in honour of the future King of Portugal. At the end of the 19th century it was given the name of Tiradentes to honour Joaquim José da Silva Xavier.
The town is only small, the old town, a Heritage Site, is clustered around only a half dozen streets and you can walk around it in under 2 hours, if the museums were open it would take somewhat longer, or all day for me! Every building is in fine shape and the effect is similar to Mucuge but with narrower streets and people! It is a lovely town and during Carneval most traffic is banned from the old streets so during the day they are pedestrianised and you could imagine being in the town in its heyday.
Tiradentes is also very tourist orientated but not in an ‘in your face’ manner. Most of the shops in and around the main street are souvenir type places, bars or restaurants. Prices tended to be ‘tourist orientated’ too but we still picked up some fantastic gifts.
After a brief wander on Monday we took a guided tour around town in a horse drawn buggy, very touristy but that was what they had.
The church of São João Evangelista was built between 1760 and 1800 as the gold began to run out and, by comparison to other gold town churches, is rather poor. This church is right next door to the Museu Padre Toledo and over looks the statue of Tiradentes.
The Chafariz de São José was the main water supply for the town and the fountain had three cisterns. Water entered into the main cistern at the front for drinking water, before overflowing into the drinking trough for animals which then overflowed into the final cistern for washing. These last two cisterns were at the back of the main one and a wall was built between them to keep the animals out of the laundry.
The church of Nossa Senhora de Rosário was the slaves church. As the congregation was at work during the day they built it at night. The gold for ornamentation was smuggled in by the slaves in their hair and mixed with mud and clay caked on their mules, washed off and recovered later. Opposite this church is the town prison, with separate accommodation for slaves, located so that the inmates could hear Mass.
The Matriz de Santo Antônio is the church with the 4th largest amount of gold within it in Brazil. Built between 1710 and 1810 it was built of clay bricks, wattle and daub on stone foundations. The magnificent gold decorations were made by coating cedar wood carvings with clay and whale oil which acted as a glue for the gold dust ornamentation. Cedar was chosen as it is resistant to woodworm. Apparently many of the craftsmen were from the Portuguese colony in Macau and the decorative influences are wide including pagan, Greek and Arabic. The result is spectacular but again, no photos allowed.
Carneval was in full swing during our stay, the last night being Tuesday. Arriving on Monday we watched a couple of the Bloco parades which although not overly impressive were very lively. Each procession had a group of drummers pounding out what I am assured was a Samba beat and progressed very slowly, probably due to the cobbles, to the main ‘square’ where there was a large sound stage.
Monday night was far busier than Tuesday because everyone was heading home on Tuesday, a Public Holiday, ready for work on Wednesday. For us Tuesday was the better night as it was not quite so packed in town and one of the parades passed along the Rua Direta, right outside the door to our Pousada, which coincidentally had a bar right next door! The parade had a generally ‘Roman’ theme, which was very liberally interpreted, so much so that He Man was there, and I can report that Elvis is alive and well and living in Tiradentes.
Much smaller than the events in Ouro Preto the entire atmosphere was far more family orientated. On Monday I only saw one police car, and a shop keeper told us that there hasn’t been a crime to investigate, or a serious injury for the hospital to treat in over a year. Bit of a difference to the other end of the Estrada Real, where in Rio they haven’t had a crime free day, ever!
Tiradentes was great. History at every turn, friendly people, fantastic food and more Cachaça than you can shake an off licence at!