A seven hour drive from Rio de Janeiro, just short of Belo Horizonte, is the small colonial town of Ouro Preto. As an UNESCO World Heritage site, Ouro Preto has kept its size and its architectural heritage intact. There are Churches on each hill as well as lining the main streets, attesting to the wealth and domination of their history. No one seems to know who was first to discover gold in the specific region but many claimed the rights, starting a gold rush and wars between mining interests. Legend has a slave discovering gold and digging a mine right in the heart of the city. The prominently Portuguese architecture; long windows lined with stone and granites, double bell towers, and red tile roofs please the eye and for me the roof tops of the city offer ample photo ops.
Their history began in the late 1600 when gold was discovered in this area. They quickly became the center of the gold trade, becoming the capital of the State of Minas Gerais in 1720. By 1750 they were a city of well over 100,000, at the time being one of the largest cities in the Americas (Surpassing NYC). In 1789, the first uprising for independence from Portugal was in Ouro Preto and stems from anger that the majority of gold mined was being shipped to Portugal. They had the first pharmacy school (1839) and the school of mines (1876) which is now a premier engineering University. By the end of the 1800s the gold was running out, population began to fall and in 1897 the capital was moved to Belo Horizonte. In 1950, the Dictator Getulio Vargas began restoration of some of the sites, and in 1980 the city was accepted as a Heritage site.
This town is hard to get to, but well worth the trip. If driving from Rio, allow at least 3 days. See the official web site link above for more detail, places to stay.