Lat: -19.889177777778000, Long: -43.804813888889000


Minas Gerais, Brazil

Historical Background and Urbanism

The colonisation of the area around the Rio das Velhas (a tributary of the River São Francisco) began in 1675, when the famous Paulista expedition of Fernão Dias Pais scoured the hinterland around the Serra do Espinhaço in search of the emeralds of the mythical Sabarabuçu (the “resplendent mountain”) and other treasures of which the king of Portugal dreamt. Along the route that the expedition followed, several encampments known as arraiais were set up and some of them became stable settlements. This was the case with Sumidouro and Santo António do Bom Retiro da Roça Grande, founded by Manoel de Borba Gato, the son-in-law of Fernão Dias and one of the first people to find gold in that region. Starting in the late 17th century, several small mining settlements were formed near a bend in the Rio das Velhas where the River Sabará flows into it. Several of these were located on the right bank of this river and gave rise to the main quarters of the town, such as the neighbourhood of Morro da Barra (where the barracks and later the Gold Assaying Office stood) and that of Igreja Grande (the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Conception), as well as Caquende (where the corrals were located) and Rosário. On the left bank was a settlement that is still known nowadays as “Arraial Velho”, where the Chapel of Saint Anne stood. Not far from there was the Chapel of Saint Antony of Mouraria, where, according to historians, the founder Borba Gato was buried. It collapsed in the early 20th century. On the same bank of the River Sabará was the arraial of Cachoeira (or “Fogo Apagou”), as well as the small suburb of Tapanhuacanga, where the beautiful Church of Our Lady of Ó was built. When the Portuguese court decided to take measures to effectively control the mining area in 1709, the Overseas Council stipulated the founding of a town at the end of each of the three main routes leading to the Minas region in order to prevent gold smuggling. In the region of Rio das Velhas, the choice should have fallen on Santo António da Roça Grande, which was placed in a more strategic location in relation to the route of Bahia. After the so-called “War of the Emboabas”, however, the royal representatives had lost trust in the natives of São Paulo (or the Paulistas), who were suddenly seen as violent and unruly people. In 1711, therefore, the governor António de Albuquerque eventually decided to grant town status to the arraial of Nossa Senhora da Conceição do Sabará, since its population was mainly composed of Reinóis (Portuguese), whereas the arraial of Santo António da Roça Grande was dominated by bandeirantes, led by Manuel de Borba Gato. Sabará was also chosen as the seat of one of the three judicial districts (comarcas) created at the same time and soon after this the Gold Assaying Office and the Royal Foundry were set up there. With those changes, the town became the place of residence of important authorities and of many officials from the Portuguese administration. Initially, the town had a common boundary with the vast District of Rio das Velhas. Even after the founding of the towns of Vila Nova da Rainha do Caeté (1714) and Pitangui (1715), the town hall of Sabará continued to control a significant amount of territory, which encompassed the northern part of the left bank of the River São Francisco – including the region of Paracatu, which did not gain independence until 1798. In addition to mining and the important political, fiscal and judicial functions that it had, the town of Sabará became a major trading centre, since it was surrounded by an extremely productive rural area and, above all, because it enjoyed a favourable location in relation to the routes that led to the heart of the cap- taincy, to the corrals of São Francisco and to Bahia. The economy remained stable in the 19th century, due to several factors: the industrial exploitation of gold by foreign companies; the arrival of the railway connecting Sabará to Ouro Preto and to Rio de Janeiro; the increase in agricultural activity and cattle raising; and the devel- opment of the services sector (health and education). The establishment of the iron and steelworks of the Companhia Siderúrgica Belgo-Mineira in 1921 represented a new milestone in the history of Sabará, turning it into a major industrial centre. From then on, the city experienced a process of expansion and “modernisation” that changed the urban landscape inherited from the colonial period. Nonetheless, almost all of the city’s 18th-century churches and some of its old houses were preserved, thus making tourism an activity of growing importance in the municipality.

Religious Architecture

Equipment and Infrastructures