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Birthplace of Brazil independence near WCup city

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 7, 2014 at 9:15 am •  Published: July 7, 2014

OURO PRETO, Brazil (AP) — Removed from the bustling World Cup host city of Belo Horizonte lies a charming colonial town that gave birth to Brazil's independence.

Ouro Preto, a UNESCO world heritage site whose name means "Black Gold," is a former mining village a two-hour drive away from the metropolis of Belo Horizonte, where thousands of soccer fans will gather Tuesday to see Brazil face Germany in the tournament's semi-final match.

Following a road that climbs southeast through mist-shrouded hills and valleys, visitors approaching Ouro Preto first see the red-tiled roofs of its whitewashed colonial buildings before reaching the town's cobblestoned streets and its astonishing 18th century Baroque church, a tribute to the riches of gold and gems extracted for the country's former colonial masters.

The tremendous wealth of the town made it a cultural focal point of the era. Remarked British tourist Steve Tanner, "the biggest connection for us would be the gold rush" in California.

By the late 1700s, the fervor for independence from Portugal was ripe in Ouro Preto. Demands for a new 20-percent tax by Portugal's royals sparked a Boston Tea Party-styled revolt in Brazil's first uprising for independence.

"They wanted a republic, because they considered the crown very oppressive, very abusive," said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. "There was a large tax for gold production."

Known as the "Inconfidencia," or "conspiracy," the 1789 revolt was inspired by the revolutions in the United States and France. Some participants had contact with Thomas Jefferson and one was thought to have met with him in Paris to seek support. But the plot fell apart after one of the conspirators betrayed the group to get out of paying a huge debt to Portugal.

Ouro Preto became the execution site of one of the leaders of the uprising, a soldier named Joaquin Jose da Silva Xavier who today is remembered in history lessons by his nickname "Tiradentes."

Known as the "Tooth-puller" because he also worked as a dentist, Tiradentes was hung, following a three-year trial in Rio de Janeiro. His head was put on a stake in Ouro Preto's main square and other body parts were displayed across Brazil. Other conspirators escaped brutal deaths but were exiled to Portugal's former African colonies of Angola and Mozambique.

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