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Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (Tiradentes)
Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, known as Tiradentes, being hanged.
Alternate name(s): Tiradentes
Date of birth: August 16, 1746(1746-08-16)
Place of birth: Fazenda do Pombal (Tiradentes), Minas Gerais, Brazil
Date of death: April 21, 1792 (aged 45)
Place of death: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Movement: Inconfidência Mineira

Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, known as Tiradentes (August 16, 1746–-April 21, 1792), was a leading member of the Brazilian revolutionary movement known as the Inconfidência Mineira whose aim was full independence from the Portuguese colonial power and to create a Brazilian republic. When the plan was discovered, Tiradentes was arrested, tried and publicly hanged. Since the 19th century he has been considered a national hero of Brazil.


Family and early occupation

Born to a poor family in a farm in Pombal, close to the settlement of Santa Rita do Rio Abaixo, near to São João del Rey, Minas Gerais, Tiradentes was adopted by his godfather and moved to Vila Rica (now Ouro Preto) after the deaths of his parents (mother in 1755; father in 1757).

Tiradentes was raised by a tutor, who was a surgeon. His lack of formal education didn't stop him from working in several fields, including dental medicine; Tiradentes means "tooth puller", a pejorative denomination adopted during the trial against him. He practiced several professions — cattle driver, miner, dentist — and was a member of the Regimento dos Dragões de Minas Gerais militia. As Tiradentes was not a member of the local aristocracy, he was systematically overlooked for promotion and never rose above the rank of alferes (2nd lieutenant).

Political ideas

Living in a State rich in gold, Tiradentes used the knowledge he acquired about minerals to enter the public service (he achieved the ranks of alferes, low in the hierarchy of the epoch), and he was sent to missions in cities along the road between Vila Rica (the capital of Minas Gerais) and Rio de Janeiro; this road was the "open vein" used to export most of the gold to Portugal.

Tiradentes soon noticed the exploitation to which Brazilians were subjected; he saw how much gold, and other valuable resources were being pillaged for export to Portugal.

Tiradentes on the reverse of the 5 cents of Real coin.

His trips to Rio put him in contact with people who had lived in Europe and brought from there the libertarian ideas (the American colonies had become independent in 1776, and French Revolution would be in 1789). In 1788, Tiradentes met José Alvares Maciel, son of the governor of Vila Rica, who had just returned from England; they could compare the British industrial progress with the Brazilian colonial poverty. They created a group of freedom aspirers, led by clerics and other Brazilians with some social presence, like Cláudio Manuel da Costa (staff of government and important writer), Tomás Antônio Gonzaga (staff of government) and Alvarenga Peixoto (eminent businessman); the group propagated their ideas among Brazilians.

Proposed flag, which is now the state flag of Minas Gerais

At that time, Portugal was hungry for gold; however, the production of Brazilian mines was declining. The Brazilians were not meeting the yearly quota of gold that was requested by the crown, and there was pressure from Portugal to ensure all the due taxes were paid. The days of payment of taxes were called derrama.

Influenced by the writings of Rousseau, and by the American Revolution Tiradentes joined with a number of like-minded citizens in the Inconfidência Mineira. They wanted to found a republic with its capital at São João del Rei and to create a university. The proposed flag for the new republic bore the Latin motto "Libertas quae sera tamen" (Freedom, even if it be late.)

Discovery, trial and execution

The plan of Tiradentes was, in a day of derrama (when the sentiment of revolt of Brazilians would be stronger), to take the streets of Vila Rica and proclaim the Brazilian Republic. The movement, however, was denounced to the governor, who canceled the derrama scheduled for February of 1789 and ordered the imprisonment of the rebels. The person who denounced the movement was Joaquim Silverio dos Reis; he was a participant of the movement, and betrayed the group in exchange for waiving of his due taxes.

Tiradentes quartered. Painting by Pedro Américo, 1893

Tiradentes fled to Rio, where he tried to reorganize the movement. Not knowing who had denounced the group, he went to meet Joaquim Silverio dos Reis in Rio; Tiradentes was arrested on May 10, 1789.

The trial lasted almost three years. Tiradentes assumed the entire responsibility for the movement. Ten members of the group were sentenced to death; all of them - except Tiradentes - had their sentences, by mercy of the Queen, commuted from death to degradation.

On April 21, 1792 (today the date of a national holiday in Brazil), Tiradentes was hanged in Rio de Janeiro, in the plaza today named Praça Tiradentes. His body was quartered into several pieces. With his blood, a document was written declaring his memory infamous. His head was publicly displayed in Vila Rica and pieces of his body were exhibited in the cities between Vila Rica and Rio to terrorize the populace and those who had empathized with Tiradentes' ideas of independence.

National hero

He began to be considered a national hero by the republicans in the late 19th century, and after the republic was proclaimed in Brazil in 1889 the anniversary of his death (April 21) became a national holiday.

As of now there is a city in the state of Minas Gerais bearing his name and major avenues and streets in countries like the Dominican Republic.

External links

Further reading

  • Cheney, Glenn Alan, Journey on the Estrada Real: Encounters in the Mountains of Brazil, (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 2004) ISBN 0-89733-530-9

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel


Tiradentes is one of the smallest yet best preserved colonial towns in the Brazilian State of Minas Gerais. It has a population of about 6000 and boasts some fine examples of 300-year old buildings, like the impressive gold-filled Matriz church. It is also well-known amongst food lovers for its food festival in August and its many good regional and modern restaurants.

Get in

Tiradentes is located 14 km from São João del Rei, 215 km from Belo Horizonte, 325 km from Rio de Janeiro and 483 from São Paulo.

There are about 10 buses a day from (and to) São João del Rei (8 on weekends). The bus station (Rodoviária) is located near the São Francisco de Paula church at Praça Silva Jardim. Tel: (32) 3355-1100. There are no ticket booths, pay onboard.

On weekends, the maria-fumaça (steam train) leaves the neighbouring city of São João del Rei twice a day (10 am and 3 pm). The 35-minute trip is a nice way to get into town in full "vintage" style.

Get around

Cars are allowed to circulate, but given the compact size of the old town, slowly walking around is by far the best way to see and feel the place. The irregular ancient pavement may not be quite friendly to those with locomotion disabilities, though.


Buildings from times long gone and the cobblestone streets give Tiradentes a very special feeling. Its main attractions include:

  • The beautiful Church of Saint Anthony (Igreja de Santo Antônio) (1732).
  • Rosário dos Pretos
  • São Francisco de Paula - the nicest views of Tiradentes, from a hilltop
  • Chafariz - A fountain dating back to the 1700s
  • Stone Bridge
  • Casa da Câmara
  • Padre Toledo
  • Casa da Cultura
  • Yves Alves Cultural Center
  • Small Carriage tours leave the Largo das Forras square and the train station to visit the main attractions in the old town. The 1-hour ride costs R$ 15 and carries up to 4 persons.
  • Trekking in the nearby mountains of Serra de São José.
  • Cultural and gastronomic festival in August


There are many sweets and crafts shops around town. Most of the crafts are actually made by people living at the Bichinho district, separated from town by a narrow 7 km long dust road. Go there if you want to get cheaper prices buy from the artists directly, but be prepared to gold-dig a little bit.

  • Viradas do Largo - Rua do Moinho, 11. (32) 3355-1111. Also known as restaurante da Beth (Beth's restaurant) this place is slightly off the tourist trail but well worth a visit for fine examples of typical mineiro regional food such as the tropeiro beans. The dishes are expensive for local standards (R$ 50-55 for two) but well prepared and well-served: a plate for two may well fill up three people.
  • Pasta & cia - Rua Frederico Ozanan, 327. Fone: (32) 3355-1478. Home-made pasta, nice for when you want to take a break from those all-Brazilian dishes.


There are several bars in and around the Largo das Forras square.

Bottles of fine Brazilian cachaça can be bought in many shops scattered around town.


There are several choices of pousadas in Tiradentes, ranging from simple, basic pensions to nice comfortable inns housed in historic buildings. Many hotels can also be found outside the old town and in nearby rural areas. The city is a very popular weekend and holiday destination, so it's advisable to book in advance during those peak periods. New Year, Carnival and Holy Week are particularly busy. Check the calendar of Brazilian holidays for precise dates. The food festival in August is also considered high season. Many people choose to sleep at nearby São João del Rei, a larger and less touristy city.

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