Founded at the end of the 17th century, Ouro Preto (meaning Black Gold) was the focal point of the gold rush and Brazil’s golden age in the 18th century under Portuguese rule.
The city contains well preserved Portuguese colonial architecture, with few signs of modern urban life. Modern construction must adhere to historical standards maintained by the city. 18th- and 19th-century churches decorated with gold and the sculptured works of Aleijadinho make Ouro Preto a prime tourist destination.
The tremendous wealth from gold mining in the 18th century created a city which attracted the intelligentsia of Europe. Philosophy and art flourished, and evidence of a baroque revival called the “Barroco Mineiro” is illustrated in architecture as well as by sculptors such as Aleijadinho, painters such as Mestre Athayde, composers such as Lobo de Mesquita, and poets such as Thomas Gonzaga.
In 1789, Ouro Preto became the birthplace of the Inconfidência Mineira, a failed attempt to gain independence from Portugal. The leading figure, Tiradentes, was hanged as a threat to any future revolutionaries.
In 1876, the Escola de Minas (Minas School) was created. This school established the technological foundation for several of the mineral discoveries in Brazil.
Ouro Preto was capital of Minas Gerais from 1822 until 1897, when the needs of government outgrew this town in the valley. The state government was moved to the new, planned city of Belo Horizonte.