Historic Centre of the Town of Diamantina

A colonial village set like a jewel in a necklace of inhospitable rocky mountains

UNESCO World Heritage

Historic urban area by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

Located in the State of Minas Gerais in Brazil, the town of Diamantina is famous for its historic urban area, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999. As you walk through the streets of the historic centre you will embark on a journey into the past, filled with surprising discoveries.

Diamantina, a colonial village set like a jewel in a necklace of inhospitable rocky mountains, recalls the exploits of diamond prospectors in the 18th century and testifies to the triumph of human cultural and artistic endeavour over the environment.

Portuguese architectural patterns by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

The formation of the town’s walls and its architecture came about from the mining of gold and diamonds. It started when the Portuguese, Jerônimo Gouveia, followed the Jequitinhonha river and found an abundance of gold at the confluences of the Piruruca and Rio Grande rivers. Then a village began on the shores of these rivers and expanded around them. 

Diamantina by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

Through the expansion of small villages along the watercourses, the urban complex of Diamantina was formed. The first streets were the Rua do Burgalhau, Rua Espírito Santo and Beco das Beatas.

Diamond prospection by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

It is estimated that almost two million carats of precious stones left Diamantina. They were destined for the Portuguese court. This left its mark on the city's charming colonial architecture.

Well preserved Historic Centre by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

In Diamantina, townhouses and mansions from the 18th and 19th centuries are still very common, restored and maintained as if they were new. 

The streets have conserved their original soapstone pavements, inset with strips of longitudinal blocks, precisely where the carts travelled and the ladies walked. In fact, the Historic Centre of Diamantina looks like the setting for a film with an intriguing story.

Integration into a wild landscape by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

The Historic Centre of Diamantina rises 150m up the side of a steep valley, with winding and uneven streets following the natural topography; it was inspired by medieval Portuguese cities. In its central area, we find a flat landscape formed by greyish stones.

Colonial architecture by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

The colonial architecture of lines and smooth forms is predominant in Diamantina. It is also represented by three works by Oscar Niemeyer, from the 1950s.

Refined façades by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

With so much history echoed in every detail of the city, the Historic Centre of Diamantina is also made up of spectacular houses and churches.

Passadiço da Glória by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

One of these iconic places is the Passadiço da Glória, constructed by Manuel Viana, husband of Josefa Maria de Glory. The building on the right is believed to have been built between 1775 and 1800. 

Nossa Senhora dos Mercês Church by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

The Nossa Senhora dos Mercês Church, exhibits graceful architecture whilst combining delicacy and vigour in its pictorial and carved decorations.

The city’s churches were built based on the same logic applied to the surrounding constructions, reinforcing the architectural complex and a homogeneity characterized by a sober and basic, yet refined, aesthetic of geometric facades. 

São Francisco de Assis Church by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

The São Francisco de Assis Church is located close to the Juscelino Kubitschek Square but at a higher elevation. Inside, the highlight is the gilding work carried out on elements such as the pulpit, cross arch and altarpiece. Additionally, its interior has paintings with illusionist effects that have been influenced by the Rococo style.

 Churches have similar colours and textures as civil buildings, and most have only one tower. The regularly aligned 18th and 19th century semi-detached houses with one or two floors are painted in bright colours on a white ground, and contrast with the grey flagstone paving of the streets.

Nossa Senhora do Rosário Church by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

Among the beautiful churches in the Historic Centre of Diamantina, lies the oldest of them all, the Nossa Senhora do Rosário Church, built between 1728 and 1731.

Its architecture consists of a single tower on the right side of the altar, which is relatively rare in the State of Minas Gerais. Its lateral altars of rococo treatment, in praise of Nossa Senhora da Correia and Santa Luzia, date from the 19th century.

Chica Xavier by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

In addition to the exploration of gold and diamonds by the Portuguese, Diamantina also tells other remarkable stories. One of them, is that of Chica Xavier, a black woman who in the midst of slavery behaved like a queen and differentiated herself from other slaves.

Championed by the Portuguese João Fernandes de Oliveira, she lived with her master and lover, had many children and became a lady of society. In addition, she attended churches for whites only. 

Hometown of President Juscelino Kubitschek by Historic Centre of the Town of DiamantinaUNESCO World Heritage

Diamantina is also the hometown of one of the biggest names in Brazil, former President Juscelino Kubitschek, who was the builder of Brasília in 1960 - today the capital of Brazil.

The humble wooden arches of the Historic Centre of Diamantina inspired the artists and architects in the shapes of the Planalto Palace, in Brasília - DF. In addition, Juscelino also built a hotel and school in Diamantina, a city he never stopped loving. After all, who wouldn't love such an incredible place?

Diamantina shows how explorers of the Brazilian territory, diamond prospectors, and representatives of the Crown were able to adapt European models to an American context in the 18th century, thus creating a culture that was faithful to its roots yet completely original. 
The urban and architectural group of Diamantina, perfectly integrated into a wild landscape, is a fine example of an adventurous spirit combined with a quest for refinement so typical of human nature. 

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Embratur: www.embratur.gov.br
More on the Historic Centre of the Town of Diamantina and World Heritage: whc.unesco.org/en/list/890
Photos: Embratur

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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