Belo Horizonte, a Portuguese name meaning "beautiful horizon", is the third largest metropolitan area in Brazil. You'll find this city at about 2/3 of the way from Brasilia to Rio. It is the capital of Minas Gerais state. The name means Beautiful Horizon. The city of Belo Horizonte was completely built on a plan corresponding to that of Washington D.C., with a very long highway circling the whole city. It is considered to be one of the cities with the best quality of life in Latin America. Belo Horizonte was founded in 1897 and is Brazil’s third largest city with a population of some 2.5 million inhabitants and over 5.1 million inhabitants in metropolitan area. The city is also a leading cultural center, with more than three universities, a historical museum, numerous libraries, and sports stadiums.
Belo is built on several hills and completely surrounded by mountains. The constant rising and falling of the streets sometimes makes navigation a bit tricky, but the wide avenues lined with trees are always easy guidelines. Unfortunately, the growth of the population has been bigger than anticipated 100 years ago. So there's a lot of poorly built architecture and slums, but also still some excellent colonial buildings. You should not miss the fin-de siecle buildings around the Praca da Liberdade and the market on Av. Afonso Pena, each sunday.
Located about 100 kms from Belo Horizonte you will find the charming city of Ouro preto (which means "Black Gold"), a colonial city with great churches and impressive pieces of work.
The city is often referred to as BH, which is pronunciated as "Beagá". Created to replace Ouro Preto as the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte is one of the few Brazilian towns that were planned (other major cities which were planned before construction are Brasilia and Palmas). Situated at an altitude of 858.3 metres, its construction began in 1893 and it was inaugurated four years later with the name Cidade de Minas Gerais. In planning it, the engineers, Aarão Reis and Francisco Bicalho, found their inspiration in the town plan of Washington DC (USA).
Because it is a city that was actually planned, and also because of its neoclassical and modern architectural features, Belo Horizonte can be regarded as a landmark for town planning and for architecture in Brazil. Visitors should not miss the Pampulha Center, the site of the first revolutionary works of Oscar Niemeyer, the best known Brazilian architect. The Pampulha also has works by the artist Cândido Portinari, by the world famous landscape architect Burle Marx and by sculptor Ceschiatti, and includes the church of São Francisco de Assis, the Belo Horizonte Museum of Art, the Yacht Club, the Dancing Academy, the House of Juscelino Kubitschek, the Headquarters of the Zoo-Botanical Foundation, the monument to Iemanjá and the Mineirão and Mineirinho stadiums, registered as historic heritage.
Another of the important architectural works of Belo Horizonte is the Palace of Liberty, the seat of the State Government. Constructed in the neoclassical style, it is the result of the influence exercised on Brazilian architecture by a French mission that visited the country at the end of last century. Particularly interesting as places to be visited in the capital are the Mineralogy and Historical Museums and the Palace of the Arts, situated in the Municipal Park, with a modern theatre, cinema, craft shop and space for exhibitions of plastic arts.