The Art of Conversation: Making History Come to Life in Ouro Preto

Ouro Preto is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Minas Gerais, Brazil.  In the last two decades, according to locals, the monuments in the city have been better taken care of. Residents cannot change the exteriors of the buildings. Since my last visit there is much more commercial business–more stores, banks and more TRAFFIC.  One Ouro Preto resident declares that a plan is needed to ha(ndle the number of vehicles on busy Rua Direita (formerly known as Rua do Conde de Bobadela).  One can spend days exploring the many decorative churches, original art by crippled sculptor, Aleijadinho, eating in local restaurants and learning in unique museums.


Conversing with Ouro Preto residents is a fundamental part of the cultural experience. Unlike my current city of Philadelphia, there are no professional storytellers or costumed historical interpreters wandering the streets, eagerly waiting to ´enhance the visitor experience.´ (Part of Historic Philadelphia, Inc.´s mission statement). So before heading out I wrote out a list of questions in Portuguese that I would ask locals in order to enhance my own experience!

The houses, churches–all of the buildings, the cobbled streets, the stone slabbed sidewalks–are all examples of great art and architecture.  Some of them are unique to the region (such as the Portuguese blue tiles in the Church of our Lady of Carmo) and historical testimonies. They nd the people tell the story of this early mining town, once known as Vila Rica–Rich Village.  An actual conversation with the residents here is an inspiring manifestation of love and pride for their city and its treasures.  Visiting Ouro Preto is to experience its history, the living art of centuries, by way of its architecture, its people and its stories:

–Ouro Preto is where many historical events happened in Brazil.  It influenced the entire country and the world.  The Industrial Revolution in England could not have occurred without Ouro Preto.

–I love living here.

–Yes, people still make oratories (portable altars with a saint inside). These are still special but often now they are much smaller.

— The most important person from Ouro Preto, in my opinion, is Tomas Antonio Gonzaga because…

— This is the oldest opera house still used for shows in South America. I wanted to be a musician myself. (Shows us a photo of himself at the piano in the empty opera house). I studied for 4 years at the university but then changed my major since it is hard to make a living as a musician.


My first night on this trip to Ouro Preto, I fell into bed after 24 hours straight of traveling from the USA–Philly, Miami, Belo Horizonte, Ouro Preto–then a walk around the city and tea at the Pousada across the street. I awoke with a start due to the loud ramblings  of a drunken man in the street–or so I thought. His words were as if amplified but they were unintelligible.  They made no sense in Portuguese or in any language that I was familiar with.  His verbal performance was repeated at least 10 times with an interval between each.  How long was this monologue going to continue? First verse was the incomprehensible yelling, the second was a short pause–then he would howl! This squeal did not sound human at all! Bizarre. What was it?  Following a few moments of silence, he would start again. The howl was animal like at best, at worst OTHERWORLDLY. I don´t know for sure if he finally stopped or if I´d fallen back asleep.  While awake, I wondered why the military police didn´t come get him off the street.Why didn´t anybody say anything to stop him in his tracks? Why didn´t anybody complain? Was this for real?

The next morning I awoke and had an epiphany! Perhaps it was not a drunk after all but a a ghost! Ouro Preto is 4 centuries old and there must be some haunted places and spirits with unfinished business roaming about.  Surely there are many ghost stories in its oral tradition.  I decided to ask at the hotel reception after breakfast.

— Yesterday I heard some weird noises. At first I thought it was a drunk but then I wondered. (I described the sounds). I don know quite how to ask this in Portuguese, but is this place haunted? Do you think that was Curupira ou Saci, or an Ouro Preto ghost?? (The manager and bellhop burst out laughing! )

–Here there are no ghosts, Miss. Don´t worry…Just drunks!!


2 thoughts on “The Art of Conversation: Making History Come to Life in Ouro Preto

  1. Pingback: Chiquinha Gonzaga Itinerary! (PHOTOS) | deslumbrar

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