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Brazilian Gold & Precious Gems

Minas Gerais is in the west of the south-eastern subdivision of Brazil, which also contains the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo. Minas Gerais was formed mainly by colonists who searched for veins of gold (discovered 1693) and gems, and later diamonds which come from the naturally occurring itacolumite rock that can be found in great numbers in the region. These helped to boost occupation of the inner lands and led to the foundation of several new villages.

In the colonial period, the Portuguese’s opened the rail way, were they transported the gold and diamonds of Vila Rica ( atualy Ouro Preto) and Diamantina. The most important thing to know about Ouro Preto history is its enduring legacy as the epicenter of the Brazilian gold rush. Ouro Preto, which was founded in the seventeenth century, literally means “Black Gold” in Portuguese. The importance of the gold rush to Ouro Preto’s founding cannot be stressed enough. Historians estimate that during the gold rush, Ouro Preto was larger in size and importance than New York City.

It all began when the first stones were found in a river adjacent to the Ouro Preto. The river was called the Tripui, the stones found there were actually nuggets of gold coated in a black compound called Iron Oxid. The discovery of these stones triggered great interest in Ouro Preto as a gold source and lead to the establishment of the city as the first ever capital of the State of Minas Gerais.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the immense quantity of gold in Ouro Preto made it a powerhouse, an unstoppable force in the international community. An incontestable fact of Ouro Preto history is that it was the single richest city in Brazil during its heyday. All signs pointed to decades of Ouro Preto dominance when the motherland, Portugal, decided that it was time to tax this newfound windfall of gold. This led to a high spirited attempt by the Inconfidencia Mineira to secede from Portugal and declare Ouro Preto’s independence. Unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful and Portuguese leaders humiliated and killed the movement’s leader as an example to anyone with similar aspirations. As time went by, Ouro Preto’s gold mines were emptied by speculators until the town’s wealth and power vanished from existence.

While many viewed Ouro Preto’s fall from grace as a devastating blow, there is increasing sentiment that this lack of wealth was actually a good thing. The argument goes that the lack of wealth and power kept any drastic changes from being made to historic Ouro Preto architecture, leaving an enduring legacy for all future generations to behold.

Ouro Preto history is indeed rich in well preserved old architecture from the gold rush era. Famous artist Aleijadinho decorated churches and buildings in gold sculptures, which have since turned Ouro Preto into an increasingly desirable vacation spot for historians and curious travelers.

A major step forward for Ouro Preto came in 1980, when it earned the proud distinction of being the first Brazilian town listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. The state also has huge reserves of iron and sizeable reserves of gold and gemstones, including emerald, topaz and aquamarine mines.

Another mine in Minas Gerais is The Passagem Mine witch is the biggest underground mine in the world open to visitation. There you can see part of the geological history of the gold.

Imperial Topaz crystals
from Ouro Preto

Searching for gems at Ouro Preto