During our stay in Rio, to take a break from the carnival with our friends Joaquin and Monica we decided to get a rental car and visit Petropolis. The visit interested me because I read that the aviation pioneer Santos Dumont was from there. Petropolis is just a few hours from Rio, it was going to be just a day trip.
Little did we know… that was just the beginning of a more interesting and longer trip. Well, I kind of realized that Joaquin had something in mind when he asked me to make sure to bring our passports with us…
We arrived in Petropolis early in the morning, and we spent a nice day visiting the Royal Palace, learning about some of the history of this great country.
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Then we visited Santos Dumont’s house, very interesting under an architectural point of view. At first, it looks like an alpine style chalet, but when you look at the details you will find a lot of interesting inventions, like the stairs: each step only has room for one foot. Thus, on the outside staircase one can only begin to go up with the right leg and on the inside, one climbs first with the left leg. The alcohol heating hot shower was also an interesting feature. Interestingly, the house has no kitchen. It means Dumont perhaps never ate home…
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During lunch we discussed a change of plan: What about going all the way to Ouro Preto? Why not! That was like five hours drive on a road full of pot holes, made more for an off road motorcycle rather than a car… but since we could take turn at the wheel, it didn’t look too bad.
Ouro Preto is a jewell! It reminds me a lot about Noto in Sicily. Countless churches! If only there was a granita shop like the famous Cafe Sicilia, it would have been a great twin town!
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The town is very fascinating and full of history. You can tell the wealth coming from gold mining.
In 1789, just when in France the revolution started, in Ouro Preto was formed a separatist movement called Inconfidência Mineira, to gain independence from Portugal. The movement was inspired by the American Revolution. The leading figure of the movement, Tiradentes, unfortunately was hanged in the main square of the town.
The town is in the middle of the Brazilian Gold Rush that started in the 1690s. There are gold mines all over the place that can be visited.
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Officially, 800 tons of gold were sent to Portugal in the eighteenth century. Gold was mined by African slaves. Brazil was the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery. By the time it was abolished after years of campaigning by Emperor Pedro II, in 1888, an estimated four million slaves had been imported from Africa to Brazil, 40% of the total number of slaves brought to the Americas.
That’s the dark side of Ouro Preto. The village was originally called Vila Rica (Rich village) and then at some point the name was changed in Ouro Preto (Black Gold). Not sure when the name change happened, but I guess the reference is to the black slaves that worked in the mines.
Together with Paraty, Ouro Preto is the best well preserved town in Brazil that I’m aware of. Definitely worth visiting.