Ouro Preto - or ‘Black Gold' - was named after the darkened nuggets of gold mined nearby during the 18th century gold rush. Fine colonial buildings were constructed on the back of the gold boom, with artists and craftsmen such as the ecclesiastical painter Mestre Athayde and the master sculptor Aleijadinho producing some of their most impressive works here. The elaborate Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis, which showcases the talents of both men, remains a notable landmark in Ouro Preto, and is well worth seeing.
Ouro Preto's hilly, cobbled streets are lined with whitewashed and red-roofed town houses, Baroque churches, pretty plazas and fountains. In the central plaza is a statue of Tiradentes, the leader of the rebel Inconfidentes, who struggled against the Portuguese colonisers and is something of a cult figure in Brazil to this day. This is a good starting point from which to explore the beautiful old quarter of this culturally important Minas Gerais city, before continuing your travels in South Eastern Brazil.