Five hours’ ride down the BR-242, LENÇÓIS is another ex-mining town and the main tourist centre in the Chapada Diamantina region. The name of the town, meaning “sheets”, derives from the camp that grew up around a diamond strike in 1844. The miners, too poor to afford tents, made do with sheets draped over branches. Lençóis is a pretty little town, set in the midst of the spectacular Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina. Most of its fine old buildings date back to the second half of the nineteenth century, when the town was a prosperous mining community, attracting diamond buyers from as far afield as Europe. The Mercado Municipal, next to the bridge over the Rio Lençóis that runs through the centre, is where most of the diamonds were sold – it has Italian- and French-style trimmings tacked on to make the buyers feel at home. The centre of the town, between two lovely squares, Praça Otaviano Alves and Praça Horácio de Matos, is made up of cobbled streets, lined with well-proportioned two-storey nineteenth-century houses with high, arched windows. On Praça Horácio, the Subconsulado Francês, once the French consulate, was built with the money of the European diamond-buyers, who wanted an office to take care of export certificates.

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