Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
|Governor||Aécio Neves (since 2003)|
Minas Gerais is in the west of the southeastern subdivision of Brazil, which also contains the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo. It borders on Bahia and Goiás (north), Mato Grosso do Sul (west), the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (south) and the state of Espírito Santo (east). This Brazilian state is situated between 14º13'58' ' north latitude and 22º54'00' ' south latitude and between 39º51'32' ' and 51º02'35' ' longitude west of Greenwich.
Minas Gerais was formed mainly by colonists who searched for veins of gold and gems, and later diamonds. (The name literally means general mines, a shortening from Minas dos Matos Gerais, or mines of the general woods, this being originally the hinterland to the incipient colonies of São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga and São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro .) These helped to boost occupation of the inner lands and led to the foundation of several new villages. The first capital and seat of the local see was the city of Mariana; it was later moved to Vila Rica. In the late 18th century, Vila Rica was the biggest city in Brazil and one of the biggest of the Americas in population. As the gold mines were exhausted over the 19th century, the city lost its importance; it was later renamed Ouro Preto and remained the capital until the construction of the all-new, planned city of Belo Horizonte at the turn of the 20th century.
The gold cycle left its mark in cities such as Mariana, Ouro Preto, Diamantina, Sabará , Tiradentes and São João Del Rey. The relative isolation from European influence, added to the huge influx of gold and other valuable minerals, helped the local people to develop their own style art, which became known as Barroco Mineiro . Prime examples of this period are the richly decorated churches at the colonial cities, some of them preserved today as museums. The most important artist of this period was Antônio Lisboa, who became known as Aleijadinho. His statues and paintings are now highly valued by experts as one of the most refined artistic expressions outside Europe at that time.
In addition to art and architecture, there was an explosion of musical activity in Minas Gerais in the 18th century. Printed copies of European music, as well as accomplished musicians, made the journey to the area, and soon a local school of composition and performance was born and achieved considerable sophistication. Several composers worked in Minas Gerais in the 18th century, mainly in Vila Rica (now Ouro Preto), Sabará, Mariana, and other cities. Some of the names which have survived include José Joaquim Emerico Lôbo de Mesquita , Marcos Coelho Netto , Francisco Gomes da Rocha and Ignacio Parreiras Neves ; they cultivated a style related to the classical European style but marked by more a more chordal, homophonic sound, and they usually wrote for mixed groups of voices and instruments.
During the 18th century, mining exploration was strongly controlled by the Portuguese Crown , which imposed heavy taxes on everything extracted (one fifth of all gold would go to the Crown). Several rebellions were attempted by the colonists, always facing strong reaction by the imperial crown. The most notable one was the Inconfidência , started by group of middle-class colonists, mostly intellectuals and young officers. They were inspired by the American and French Revolutions and Illuminist ideals. The conspiracy failed and the rebels were arrested and exiled. The most famous of them, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (known as Tiradentes), was hanged by order of Queen Maria I of Portugal, becoming a local hero and a national martyr of Brazil. The Minas Gerais flag—a red triangle on a white background—is based on the design for the national flag proposed by the "Inconfidentes", as the rebels became known.
Due to the economic importance of the state and the particular traits of the local population—famed for its reserved and balanced character—Minas Gerais has played an important role on national politics. During the 19th century, politicians such as José Bonifácio Andrada were instrumental in the establishment of the Brazilian Empire under the rule of Dom Pedro I and later his son, Dom Pedro II. After the installation of the Brazilian Republic, during the early 20th century, Minas Gerais shared the control of the national political scene with São Paulo in what became known as the "Coffee and Milk" political cycle (coffee being the major product of São Paulo, and milk that of Minas Gerais).
Minas Gerais was also home to two of the most influential Brazilian politicians of the second half of the 20th century. Juscelino Kubitschek was president from 1956 to 1961, and he was responsible for the construction of Brasília as the new capital of Brazil. Tancredo Neves had an extensive political career that culminated with his election in 1984 to be the first civil president after the 1964 military countercoup. However, he died after a series of health complications just as he was about to assume the position.
Minas Gerais may be called the Profound Brazil by analogy with the France profonde. It has a distinctly more native flavour than cosmopolitan São Paulo, a more traditional slant than flashy Rio de Janeiro, and is more Portuguese than the South and São Paulo with their great influx of Italians and other Central Europeans, the North with its native Indians, or the Northeast with Africans and Indians.
The people are considered reserved, prudent, relatively silent to the point of melancholy, but welcoming and family-focused. Legend has them divided between misers and praiseworthy people, mostly misers. It is one of the most religious states, with a big proportion of staunch Roman Catholics and a burgeoning Evangelical and neo-Pentecostal population, with pockets of African magic religions. Kardecist Spiritism is also professed by a significant portion of the population, partly due to the influence of Chico Xavier, the main spiritist icon of Brazil, who lived in Minas Gerais all his life.
Minas Gerais is also known nationally for its cuisine. The cultural basis of its cuisine is the small farmhouses, and many of the dishes are prepared using locally produced vegetables and meats, especially chicken and pork. Traditional cooking is done using coal- or wood-fired ovens and cast iron pans, making for a particularly tasty flavor; some restaurant chains have adopted these techniques and made this type of food popular in other parts of the country.
Many of the appetizers of the local cuisine use corn or cassava (known there as mandioca) flour instead of wheat, as the latter didn't adapt well to the local weather. Corn flour is the basis for a wide variety of cakes and appetizers. But the best-known dish from Minas Gerais is "pão de queijo", recently introduced internationally as "Brazilian cheese rolls"; it's a small baked roll made with cheese and cassava flour that can be served hot as an appetizer or for breakfast.
Minas Gerais is the source of some of the biggest rivers in Brazil, most notably the São Francisco, the Paraná and to a lesser extent, the Rio Doce . The state also holds many hydroelectric power plants, including Furnas. Some of the highest peaks in Brazil are in the mountain ranges that mark the borders between Minas Gerais and its neighbours São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The most notable one is the Pico da Bandeira , the third highest mountain in Brazil at 2890 m. The state also has huge reserves of iron and sizeable reserves of gold and gemstones, including emerald, topaz and aquamarine mines.
Each region of the state has a distinct character, geographically and to a certain extent culturally.
- The central and eastern area of the state is hilly and rocky, with little vegetation on the mountains. Around Lagoa Santa and Sete Lagoas a typical Karst topography with caves and lakes is found. Some of the mountains are almost entirely iron ore, which led to extensive mining (in some places at the expense of the environment). Recent advances in environmental policy helped to put limits to mining. To the east of the state capital Belo Horizonte, there is a region known as Vale do Aço (steel valley), which holds a great number of iron and steel processing companies along the course of the Rio Doce .
- The South of Minas Gerais is hilly and green, with coffee and milk production. This region is much colder than the rest of the state and at some locations is subject to temperatures just above the freezing point during the winter. The region is also famed for its mineral-water resorts, including the cities of Poços de Caldas, São Lourenço and Caxambu. Many industries are located at Varginha and Pouso Alegre.
- The southeast of the state was the richest region untill the mid 20th century but nowadays only the biggest city, Juiz de Fora, remains an important industrial center, the second largest in the state.
- The West of Minas Gerais, also known as "Triângulo Mineiro" (which means "the Minas Triangle", due to the geographic shape of this region), is composed of a particular type of savanna, known as cerrado by the Brazilian people. This region was initially occupied by great free-wheeling beef ranches, which are still important for the economy of the region. Over the 1990s, extensive soy and corn farms occupied most of the farming land available. The main cities of this region are Uberlândia and Uberaba .
- The North of Minas Gerais is arid, being subject to frequent droughts. Recent irrigation projects use the water from the São Francisco river for agriculture; the river crosses the northern region carrying water from its basin at the central area of the state, which is subject to a regular rainfall pattern. The diamond mines of this region attracted miners but are now exhausted, and the remaining population lives in poor conditions, especially in the valley of the Jequitinhonha River . The main cities of this region are Montes Claros, Governador Valadares and Teófilo Otoni.
Minas Gerais (or simply Minas, as it is commonly called) is a major producer of milk, coffee and other agricultural commodities, as well as minerals. Electronics are also produced in Minas. The automakers Fiat and Mercedes have factories there.
The state has marked economic divisions. The southern part of the state (close to the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro state borders) has several mid-sized cities with solid industrial bases such as Juiz de Fora, Varginha, Pouso Alegre, and Poços de Caldas. The northeastern region is marked by poverty, but Governador Valadares and Teófilo Otoni attract foreign traders for the semi-precious gems such as topaz and sapphire. The central region of the state (where the capital is located) has big reserves of iron (and to a lesser extent, gold) still being actively mined. The western part, the "Triângulo Mineiro", is less densely populated than the rest of the state, and it is now a focus of biotechnology investment, particularly on the cities of Uberlândia and Uberaba , which includes leading research on cattle, soy and corn culture.
The flag of the state of Minas Gerais is the oldest one adopted in Brazil that was devised by Brazilians. It was remembered by the Republican Party, which opposed the Brazilian Imperial Government, and adopted unofficially as the flag of the state. Since 1946 it has been the official flag and is probably the most cherished Brazilian state flag.
The sentence "Libertas quæ sera tamen", seen in the flag, is a motto in Latin which translates in Portuguese as Liberdade ainda que tardia and in English as "Freedom, even delayed". The triangle was said to represent the Trinity and the three ideals of the French Revolution: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
The colors were chosen for their revolutionary meaning: white represented the desire to form a peaceful new nation, discarding all colonial institutions, and red symbolised the flame of liberty.
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