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Ouro Preto - City of Black Gold, Brazil

Ouro Preto - black gold - is both the city’s name and its history. The first Europeans came here in search of gold in the 17th century. The natural deposits promised more wealth than any other discovered in Brazil up to that time. The gold field lay several days’ journey inland from the coast, but it was so rich that the Portuguese colonial power imported tens of thousands of slaves from Africa to work it. This report by Roland May seeks other treasures left behind by the prospectors: the architecture of one of history’s most prominent gold-rush towns and the biography of its foremost architect, Antonio Francisco Lisboa. His work and tragic life story are closely bound to the fate of his town. Lisboa was nicknamed "O Aleijadinho" (the Little Cripple), because of the incurable disease - probably leprosy - that gradually ate away his body. The sculptures, reliefs and buildings he left behind in Ouro Preto possess a singular power and beauty. In his final years, O Aleijadinho must have endured intense suffering while he worked, but he tirelessly created new variations on the style that would later come to be known as Baroco Mineiro. In the end, having lost the use of his hands, he had his sculpting tools bound to his arms, pitting a thirst for beauty against the terrible debilitation of his own body. It was a life between the extremes of heaven and hell.