Sabará is strung out over a series of hills, wound around the Rio das Velhas. Many of its cobbled streets are so steep they have to be taken slowly, but ascents are rewarded with gorgeous churches that are austere on the outside and choked with ornamentation inside. Sabará’s proximity to Belo Horizonte makes it a feasible base for seeing the metropolis, but its accommodation is both limited and unexciting. Fortunately, the frequency of the bus link (every 15min from 4am to midnight) makes it an easy day-trip from Belo Horizonte: catch the red #5509 bus on Rua dos Caetés one block up from Avenida Afonso Pena. Start early and avoid visiting on Monday when most sights are closed.
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There are three distinct phases of Baroque church architecture in Minas Gerais. The first, from the beginning of the eighteenth century to about 1730, was very ornate and often involved extravagant carving and gilding, but left exteriors plain; sculpture was formal, with stiff, rather crude statues. The second phase dominated the middle decades of the eighteenth century, with equally extravagant decorations inside, especially around the altar, and the wholesale plastering of everything with gold; the exteriors were now embellished with curlicues and panels in fine Minas soapstone, ceilings were painted and sculpture noticeably more natural, although still highly stylized. The peak was the period from 1760 to 1810, and this third phase of barroco mineiro produced stunning work: the exterior decoration was more elaborate, with fine carving in both wood and stone, but the interiors were less cluttered, with walls often left plain. By now, too, the religious sculpture, with its flowing realism, had broken the stylistic bounds that confine most Baroque art.