The following information was translated from “A Vila, o Rio, as Pedras e as Ruas: Uma Viagem por São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras – Projeto Cidadania Ambiental”, Escola Estadual Mestre Virgínia Reis.
The town of São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras sprang up in the beginning of the 18 th century when the Portuguese Crown intensified its gold prospecting in the region of Serro Frio, known today as Serro. In 1732, when diamonds were discovered in the area, a report submitted in February to the Crown by its regional representative (“the King's Ears”) referred to numerous people already living here in townhouses, on farms, and on sugar plantations. Interestingly, with the discovery of these new riches, the town, rather than growing, entered a period of decline.
The stiff royal laws controlling diamond mining discouraged not only the influx of new inhabitants, but also the prospects of many of those already living and mining for gold in the area. However, the mining of gold and diamonds would continue as one of the basic vocations of the inhabitants well into the 19 th century and was mentioned as such in reports of the provincial president in both 1846 and 1853.
São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras was declared a district of the city of Serro in 1871. By then, the scarcity of gold and diamonds in the area made earning a living from mining difficult and caused an exodus from the center of town. Small rural settlements like the hamlets of Angu Duro, Engenho, Córrego do Feijão, Santa Cruz , and Vau cropped up on the outskirts of town, where more fertile soil and access to plenty of water enabled better farming.
Early in the 20 th century, São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras would become important as a stopover for numerous tropeiros transporting foodstuffs from Mata de Peçanha, Guanhães, and Serro to the busy markets of Diamantina. Around 1918, a wine company was formed, but all that really grew out of the efforts were a series of small, independent producers making wine for local consumption only.
This old mining town enjoys one of the most beautiful geographic settings of the region, and its houses and churches still retain their antique charm, making it one of the best-preserved examples of the small, colonial villages in the interior of Minas Gerais.
Location: São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras, a district of Serro, is located in the Serra do Espinhaço ( Backbone Range ) in the Diamantina-Vale do Jequitinhonha mining region. It is situated 30 km from Serro on MG 080, which connects Serro and Diamantina .
Area: Approximately 270 square kilometers, including the hamlets of Capivari, Angu Duro, and Engenho
Geographic Features: The sources of both the Jequitinhonha and Capivari Rivers are found here. The Jequitinhonha forms a natural boundary between the municipalities of Serro and Diamantina. The Córrego da Pedra Míuda (Rio das Pedras) springs from the Serra do Raio and forms the Comércio Falls in the center of São Gonçalo. Other creeks include the Córrego do Mel and the Córrego da Cruz. Mountain ridges in the town include the Serra do Fura Olho, the Serra do Raio, the Serra do Pacu, the Serra do Ouro, and the Serra do Boqueirão.
Soil and Vegetation: Pre-Cambrian metamorphic and quartzite geological formations punctuate the landscape. The soil makeup is sand and gravel, very acidic and erosion-prone, supporting cerrado vegetation. Small pockets of better soil enable the limited cultivation of sugarcane, corn, beans, and mandioca.
Rainfall: Median annual precipitation is 1.2 meters, falling mainly between October and March.
Climate: The temperature varies between 3 and 35 degrees centigrade at an altitude of 1,100 meters.
The Legend of São Gonçalo
The old folk say that the locale was given its name because a statue of São Gonçalo appeared on a rock on the very site where now sits the Church of São Gonçalo . Since at the time there was no church, the statue was carried in procession to the church in Milho Verde. The next day, the statue had disappeared and footprints were discovered on the road that connects the two towns. The statue was found perched on the very same rock in São Gonçalo – or so says the legend.