Town Hall and Prison (Museum of Treason)
Ouro Preto, Vila Rica, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Equipment and Infrastructures
As in several other colonial towns, the “paços do concelho” (town hall) and prison of Vila Rica operated for several decades in temporary premises (such as borrowed or rented houses) and were often unsuitable for their functions. The governor Gomes Freire commissioned two designs from the engineer Alpoim in 1745: one for the Governors’ Palace, which was implemented, and another for the Town Hall and Prison, which remained on the drawing board, although the work had been contracted to Manuel Francisco Lisboa. The project was not re-launched until 1784, the year when the governor Luís da Cunha Menezes came from Portugal with a “Plan of the new Prison of Villa Rica”, designed by C. Manuel Ribeiro Guimarães, which roughly corresponded to the project that was implemented. The work began in 1785, but it was interrupted several times due to a lack of funds, although the tyrannical governor Cunha Menezes had created a specific source of income (lottery) and used free labour (escaped and convicted black men). These acts earned him some of the most beautiful and lively comments in the so-called Cartas Chilenas, attributed to the poet Tomás António Gonzaga. The Town Hall was established there in 1836, but the finishing touches were not added until ten years later. The frontispiece probably drew inspiration from the Capitol in Rome. It is a large block of solid stone, dominated by a central tower with a bell, a triangular pediment and a high fascia with a balustrade concealing the roof. In the four corners of the roof stand soapstone figures depicting the cardinal virtues – Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude – which are attributed to the Portuguese António José da Silva. The construction of the building was carried out concurrently with the regularisation of the present-day existing Praça Tiradentes, and involved the demolition of several houses that were obstructing the view of the building. It was donated to the federal government in 1938 to be converted into the Museum of Treason (Museu da Inconfidência) (inaugurated in 1944). On 21st April 1942, the Pantheon was inaugurated, and the remains of the traitors (those who had taken part in the rebellion of the Inconfidência Mineira) who had died while in exile in Africa were transferred there. Their remains had been repatriated in 1936 at the initiative of the government of Getúlio Vargas.