Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Diamantina - Brazil's Other Baroque Gem

Diamantina at twilight
The baroque goldrush town of Ouro Preto, located in the mountains of Minas Gerais state, is one of the most well-known and visited Brazilian cities of tourism. Ouro Preto is an almost obligatory stop for any tourist visiting Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state and one of Brazil's largest metropolitan areas. Ouro Preto is only about an hour or two from BH (as Belo Horizonte is familiarly nicknamed) and so it's easy to make a day trip from the capital or enjoy a quick overnight visit. Ouro Preto's worth as part of the world's cultural patrimony has been recognized by UNESCO which honored it with World Heritage Site status in 1980.

Less well known, but equally worthy of its World Heritage Site status (granted in 1999) is another small town which owes its origins to the 18th century goldrush in Minas Gerais, Diamantina. Less accessible than Ouro Preto at 300 km. from Belo Horizonte, Diamantina doesn't receive the hordes of tourists that can sometimes lessen the pleasure of a visit to Ouro Preto. For some connaisseurs of baroque city planning and architecture Diamantina is more beautiful than Ouro Preto, but the friendly controversy over which city is lovelier will probably never be settled. Its mineral wealth was not limited to gold - the area around Diamantina was mined as well for diamonds (hence the city's name). The gems and metals of the mountains surrounding Diamantina meant that it was extraordinarily wealthy during its 18th century heyday. The artistic riches that remain are proof of that wealth, and testify to the labor of the millions of slaves who were forcibly brought from Africa to work in the mines of Minas Gerais.

Diamantina is also famous among Brazilians for being the hometown of one of Brazil's most-loved presidents, Juscelino Kubitschek, born in Diamantina in 1902 and the man whose vision was responsible for the creation and construction of Brasília, Brazil's new capital city.

Diamantina is a center for religious observances and pilgrimages in Minas Gerais. Some of the annual religious celebrations bring thousands of devotees to the city, as does the city's very traditional but very popular Carnaval. Tourism, whether during a festival season or not, plays a large role in Diamantina's economy, and the city is full of small inns and pousadas, traditional restaurants and bars and food shops selling traditional local snacks, preserves, pastries and sweets.

In our next post, we'll tell you all about Zenília Rosália da Silva Rocha, a local cook, and explain just why she's so famous in Diamantina.

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