Tag Archives: Minas Gerais

Tiradentes and the Inconfidência Mineira

Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes, was the leader of Brazil’s first rebellion, the Inconfidência Mineira, against Portugal. The rebellion failed but Tiradentes has become recognised as a national hero and martyr to the cause.

He was born into a poor farming family near São João del Rey in 1746.  Our Tiradentes guide told us he was baptised in São José,  current day Tiradentes, although it is possible he was born in São José and baptised in São João as both claim his birth and baptism.

When his parents died in 1757 he moved to Vila Rica to live with his god-father, a Dental Surgeon. Lacking formal education he worked as a cattle driver and miner before studying dentistry. Again, our guide told us he studied his dentistry in Tiradnets, rather than Vila Rica, in a building now housing the Museu Padre Toledo. (Closed for Carnival)    The word Tiradentes means Tooth Puller and was a derogatory term for dentists; Xavier was given this name at his trial.

Museu Padre Toledo
Alferes Joaquim José da Silva Xavier

At twenty one Xavier joined the Minas Gerais Dragoons, being appointed as an Alferes or Second Lieutenant.  He was engaged in patrolling the Estrada Real network supervising the flow of gold and precious minerals to the coast. The Estrada Real was also referred to as the ‘Open Vein’ as the colony haemorrhaged it’s wealth via the road. And as wealth flowed out imports travelled in the other direction.

Of the gold mined in Minas Gerais the Crown took 20% in tax. The Church took a further 10% and most of that was likely removed to Portugal or Rome. The majority of the remaining 70% was necessarily spent on imports.   In order to ensure the colony remained dependent on Portugal the Crown banned manufacturing and much farming.

Additionally, as the gold began to run out and tax revenues dropped the Crown assumed theft and corruption was the cause and continued to demand an annual tax levy of 150 tons of gold. This was to be collected from the populace if the gold revenue was not sufficient.

Xavier, not being of noble or priviledged birth, was never destined to rise through the officer ranks and would seem to have spent some 20 years patrolling the Estrada Real enforcing this system. Visiting the coast he would have become familiar with news from America and Europe and the growing independence movements abroad. America declared it’s Independence in 1776 and the French revolution would follow in 1789.

The causes of the Colony’s  discontent were obvious and with revolution sweeping America and Europe it easy to see how the idea could take root in Brazil. The Inconfidência Mineira, the Miner’s Revolt, was born. Xavier wasn’t alone. His co conspirators were senior members of the army, his own Colonel was amongst them, as were local business men and clerics. The problem for the conspirators appears to have been that they had as many agendas as revolutionaries.

The revolt was planned for the day of the tax collection, or Derrama, in February 1789, figuring support would be better amongst the people.   According to our guide the Museu Padre Toledo building was used to plan the rebellion.   But Xavier was betrayed by one of his group who alerted the Govenor to the insurrection with predictable results. The Derrama was cancelled, the conspirators were arrested and the conspiracy collapsed. The informer was rewarded with an entirely appropriate lifting of his tax obligation.

Our guide told us Xavier was incarcerated in a place called the Island of Snakes during the trial.  This took three years to complete and the testimony and transcripts are preseved in the Museu da Inconfidência in Ouro Preto.  By the end of the trial Xavier had confessed all and stated that he was solely responsible for the rebellion. He and his co – conspirators we sentenced to death, although the others had their sentences commuted to ‘degradation’.

In 21 April 1792 Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, now known as Tiradentes, was hung, drawn an quartered in Rio de Janeiro. His head was mounted outside his house in Ouro Preto until it was demolished and the remaining body parts were sent around the state as a warning. Just for good measure his children and grandchildren were disinherited.

During the Napoleonic Wars the Portuguese Royal family moved to Brazil for their health. Upon Napoleon’s defeat the family returned and the King left his son, Pedro, in charge. That worked well because in 1822 Pedro declared himself Emperor of an independent Brazil.

The Empire lasted until the Republic was founded in 1889 when Tiradentes was finally elevated to the status of national hero. The town of São José was renamed in his honour and 21 April was declared a National Holiday.

In the 1930s a national monument to Tiradentes and the Inconfidência Mineira was established in the Museu da Inconfidência. The remains of the leaders were reinterred in the museum in front of a memorial to Tiradentes himself.
The symbol of the Inconfidência was a green triangle surrounded by the words “Libertas – Quae Será – Tamen”, Latin for ‘Liberty even if late’.   The colour of the triangle is now red but it forms the insignia of the State of Minas Gerais.

Tiradentes, Minas Gerais

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.

Rio Direta
Rio Direta
View from Matriz de Santo Antônio
View from Matriz de Santo Antônio

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.

São João Evangelista
São João Evangelista

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
The Chafariz de São José

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.

Nossa Senhora de Rosário
Nossa Senhora de Rosário
Interior of Nossa Senhora de Rosário
Interior of Nossa Senhora de Rosário

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.

Martiz de Santo Antonio
Martiz de Santo Antonio

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!

Estrada Real or The Royal Road

Our drive from Ouro Preto to Tiradentes took us along a section of the Estrada Real. On the way we stopped off at Congonhas, another colonial era mining town and religious centre.

Poster of the Estrada Real network found in a petrol station

The Estrada Real forms an integral part of the history of Minas Gerais and Brazilian independence. Construction of the road began at the very end of the 17th century and it ran from the coast at Paraty, north of São Paulo to a place called Diamantina in the north of Minas.  It passed through a number of mining centres, including Tiradentes and Ouro Preto. This section of the road is also known as the Caminho Velho, or Old Road, as a newer section was subsequently built between Ouro Preto and Rio de Janeiro, which was shorter.
These roads were heavily controlled by the Crown and patrolled by the military to prevent smuggling and ensure taxes were paid. As minerals travelled to the coast, imported goods travelled in the opposite direction, all transported by mules. In order to ensure the colonies in Brazil remained entirely dependent on Portugal the authorities forbade manufacturing and the growing of crops. This situation, together with taxation was the background to the Inconfidência Minera.


One of the towns on the Estrada Real was Congonhas, or Congonhas do Campo. This is the home to the Santuário do Bom Jesus do Matosinhos which was a centre for mining and for pilgrimage.   Every

Santuário do Bom Jesus do Matosinhos
View between the 6 chapels leading up to the church
One of Aleijadinho’s statues of the disciples

September since 1770 a festival has been held in celebration of Bom Jesus do Matosinhos.

Unfortunately the town was mostly closed when we visited, the church included. From the information boards it is apparent that the church was built between 1799 and 1875 and was designed by Aleijadinho.  The statues of the 12 Apostles at the entrance are supposed to be some of his finest works.

The other building of significance is the Romaria. This was built to house pilgrims in 1922 and was in use until 1966. It has recently been extensively renovated.

Views of the Romaria

Leaving Congonhas it was lunch time, and rather than eat at a dubious looking place in town we stopped at a petrol station with a restaurant on site. And what a choice. The Restaurante Profetas was great, for a transport cafe! The food was all being cooked an a traditional Fogão a Lenha with the meat being cooked on a separate grill. We didn’t want much to eat unfortunately so ordered pork and sausage sandwiches. The problem with these was our mouths only open 2 inches; these sandwiches were enormous. We have to pass this way again on our way back to Belo Horizonte ……..

After lunch we set off again and were soon passing Entre Rios. The important thing about Entre Rios is that Tom and Monica have a house there and part of Monica’s family live there. We sent her a photo of the sign to Entre Rios and she sent us a video of their collapsed barn and snow in Torcy! We would have dropped in and said ‘Hi’ but Brazilian hospitality being what it is we would probably have seen us staying there rather than getting to Tiradentes!

We arrived in Tiradentes at 2.30 pm, found the Pousada Laurito, dropped off our bags and set off to have a look around town.

Rua Direita, Tiradentes

Ouro Preto

We have had two, unfortunately wet, days in Ouro Preto which boasts the largest number of original Colonial style buildings in Brazil.

Ouro Preto

Ouro Preto, which translates to Black Gold, dates back to the 17th century when gold was discovered in the area, lots and lots of gold; so much so that the town was originally called Vila Rica, or Rich Town.  The gold from the area supported both Brasil and Portugal, and paid off Portugal’s Napoleonic War debt to Great Britain.

Mine passage

The mountain sides were literally a warren of mines. These were worked by slaves whose working and living conditions were grim; apparently few survived past the age of 30. Not all slaves worked the mines, others were luckier in that they worked as ‘domestic slaves’ and slaves could earn their freedom.  They also had their own separate churches although freed slaves had different ones and it must have been a great relief to them to know their souls were in such safe hands and in such opulent surroundings!

Santa Efigenia. Church for household slaves
Nossa Senhora Rosário. Church for freed slaves.
Church of Nossa Senhora das Mercês e Misericórdia
Nossa Senhora do Pilar

You can’t take photographs inside the churches but they are beautifully decorated with tons, literally, of gold leaf adorning the carvings and sculptures.  The ceiling murals were painted with pigments made locally.   The sides of most were decorated with magnificent altars to various saints, and once that Saint’s following increased sufficiently they would go and build a chuch for the Saint.    The quantities of gold consumed by the churches, there are 22 in Ouro Preto, were huge; 10% of the gold from the mines went to the Church,

This 10% was in addition to the 20% tax levied by the Portuguese crown, and the much of the remaining 70% seems to have been shipped off to Portugal, little remaining locally to benefit the people.   It was this state of affairs which sowed the seeds of rebellion which I cover later in the post on Tiradentes.

Ouro Preto as a town can best be described as ‘steep’. The only flat bits are between the change from up to down hill, or vice versa.  Some streets have inclines of perhaps 40 degrees!

The city was originally the state capital from 1720 to 1879 when government functions moved to the new town of Belo Horizonte.  In its prime Ouro Preto and was the biggest city in the Americas; in 1750 there were 80,000 residents when New York only had 40,000.    And with wealth came art and culture and the city even developed it’s own building style, Barroco Mineiro, as practiced by the local sculptor and architect Aleijadinho, this is a nick name referring to his hunch-back.  The best example of his work is apparently the Church of Francis of Assissi. Apparently Aleijadinho took inspiration from the military in his architecture, giving the facade watch towers, huge representations of grenades each side of the sword like cross and cannon barrels for water spouts.

Praça de Tiradentes, with the Museum of the Inconfidência is the background
Praça de Tiradentes

All the buildings in the old town are original and quite substantially built; there was no shortage of stone to build with.   The Colonial style was fairly familiar but the paint work was far more standardised!  The two museums we visited were really excellent, the Inconfidência Museum was only let down by the English translations on the displays, the Portugese was easier to follow! The other, in the crypt to the Nossa Senhora do Pilar, held some beautiful church paraphernailia, again really well presented.

The weather didn’t help showing off the town to its best and, for me, I could have done without Carnaval; the presence of the banners, sound stages, crowds and food stalls meant you couldn’t appreciate the architecture! Bah humbug.  The town has a population of 70,000 which easily doubles for Carnaval and it is also a University town. Students plus Street Parties multiplied by massive quantities of beer to the power of cachaça equals very large Police presence.  It was all very good natured but then the Police did have some of the biggest batons I have ever seen.

A bit more history. This year is the 150th anniversary of Carneval in Ouro Preto. The first one was held in 1876 and Bloco ‘Ze Pereira do Clib dos Lacaios’ claims to be the first Bloco,  or suburb to hold a procession.  The original processions were mounted by Africans, and were satirical in nature.  Whether these Africans were slaves or free is not clear, there still being 12 years to go before Brasil abolished slavery.  Compared to the spectaculars in Rio and elsewhere these events are much less impressive but are far more authentic.

The processions were all lively with each team trying to out do the drums of the other.   Many were themed, although the satirical element wasn’t obvious, so  Bloco de Mato (‘Mato’ being ‘Woods’) carried tree branches, but why Bloco de Bandalheiras had chamber pots on their heads and loo roll on their belts we have no idea – other than that their name means ‘unruliness‘.

Ouro Preto is an impressive city, steeped in the history of Brasil’s Independence.   Despite the rain was  well worth the visit. Tomorrow we are off to Tiradentes, the birth place of the leader of that first rebellion.


Off to Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais

Our time in Brasil is drawing to a close and our last excursion is to Ouro Preto and Tiradentes, both in the state of Minas Gerais.

We set off on Friday morning, the 24th, on the now well used bus route to Garulhas Airport, bound for Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais.  We landed at 4, had picked up the hire car by 5 and  Google Maps told us it was about 120 km and just under 2 hours to get to Ouro Preto.

Leaving the airport we hit heavy traffic immediately which didn’t really improve for the whole journey.  At one point, about half way there we ran into a tail back of traffic and crawled along in it for about 5km and 30 minutes,.   We wondered if this was perhaps  the tail back for Ouro Preto – it is a popular destination after all! However, mercifully it wasn’t!

We figured it was more likely to be a massive pile up in the bends up ahead – road works would be unlikely!    The road was littered with Police sponsored road signs warning drivers not to overtake, reinforcing the central double yellow lines.  However, the drivers actually doing the overtaking couldn’t see the warning signs for all the cars in the tail back.  In nose to tail traffic they had to just hope they cold push in before the oncoming traffic arrived!     The probability of a collision looked increasingly likely.

However, it turned out to be the Policia Federal Rodoviária manning a road check at one of their road side posts.   Ironic in view of all the dangerous driving in the queue to get there!   Normally you have to slow to 40 kph and negotiate two massive speed humps as you pass an empty site, or one full of police cars and the odd policeman wandering around.   So it was good to see these guys actually doing some road policing, because boy it is seriously needed!

Once past the bottle neck, normal chaos resumed, but our hopes of arriving in day light were now well passed and it was about 8pm when we got to the Flats Ouro Preto where we’d booked to stay.  We dropped our bags and got a cab into the ‘old town’ and found a restaurant close to the church of St Francis of Assisi.