National Geographic : 1948 Oct
Brazil's Land of Minerals BY W. ROBERT MOORE With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author CLOUDS of April autumn hung in thick clusters over the crumpled landscape when I flew from Rio de Janeiro 200 miles north to the city of Beautiful Horizon Belo Horizonte. The rainy season was nearing its end. Cooler dry months were just ahead. Belo Horizonte lay in open sunshine. Its tall business district and wide circle of white walled, red-roofed homes gleamed in precise pattern below us. Hills gird the city; on the south an iron range rears like a majestic wall. But the city is sufficiently level so that residents can walk, not climb up and down precipitous streets as people have to do in old Ouro Preto, early capital of the State of Minas Gerais. Coming into the city from the airport, we sped over a new road that threaded raw red cuts in the hills. Red splashes of excavated earth and unfinished buildings attest the capi tal's rapid expansion. For sheer youth and exuberant growth this State capital has few equals. And it is com pletely tailor-made. Little more than 50 years ago it was only a diagram on a draftsman's table, its site an open space on the plateau. Where bold planners staked out rectangular blocks, wide diagonal avenues, parks, circles, and squares now stands a metropolis of more than 200,000 people. Its business blocks climb skyward; one is 26 stories high. Its residential and industrial districts expand day by day. Its growth seems not to slacken. The State of "General Mines" Interesting, too, is the State that gave it birth. Minas Gerais means "General Mines." A wealth of minerals is crowded into this moun tain-rumpled region, roughly four fifths the size of Texas (map, page 481). Embedded in its earth are gold, diamonds, an array of semiprecious stones (page 506), and vast quantities of pure quartz crystals. Here also are rich resources of manganese, mica, bauxite, beryls, and fabulous deposits of iron ore-whole mountains of it-one of the biggest and richest reserves of high-grade ore in the world! To the "hard" minerals can be added the liquid assets of several spas with radioactive and mineral-laden waters. From the melodramatic days of gold and diamond discovery until World War II, when Minas contributed richly in crystals, mica, manganese, and other strategic materials, min ing has helped foster the State's rise. Yet many of these mining resources have been only scantily developed. Agriculture and stock raising dominate its plateau lands. Despite its contrasts, Brazilian roots reach deep into the State's red earth. From the 16th to 18th centuries bold, rugged, Paulista Bandeirantes,or Flag-bearers, roamed this interior region. Struggling over rough mountains and probing deep-cut valleys, they won new territory for Portugal. But they wanted gold. And when they found it, in the early 1690's, here began a frenzied rush, such as was to come much later in California, Australia, and the Klondike. There was one important difference. Many men herded slaves into the region to pan the streams and sluice the hillsides. Hundreds of officials were sent from Portugal to guard the gold taking. For the king claimed a "royal fifth," plus heavy taxes, imposts, and "volun tary gifts." Some of the rough mining camps grew into villages and permanent towns. Nestled within the folds of the steep green hills are such old mining centers as Ouro Preto, Mariana, Sio Joao del Rei, and Sabara. Time-mellowed museum towns they are now, rich in Portu guese colonial architecture and boasting some of the finest churches in the country. Among the medley of peoples who came with the flush of gold, many stayed to build homes and continue more settled pursuits. Although not so highly developed or indus trialized as Sao Paulo or the coastal districts about Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais has a population of about 7,500,000 persons. Key centers of Belo are the Praca da Liber dade, about which are located the Governor's Palace and State Buildings, and wide, tree lined Avenida Afonso Pena. Along this avenue are select shops, towering office buildings, Post Office, and trim City Hall. It is also the con course for all Belo Horizonte (pp. 491, 502-5). "Taking Their Footing" on the Avenue I had arrived in Belo late on a Saturday afternoon. That evening when I went for a walk with an acquaintance I found the avenue surging with thousands of people.