Haciendas, the Compass to the Past
By Jesús Aguado
The legend of Lucas, the thief who stole 600 mules carrying gold and silver to bury the metal later near the hacienda of Trancas or the story of a woman who decided to set herself on fire because she was so beautiful, her husband would not let her go out—these legends are part of the magic, the mysticism, and the history that surround the hamlets, stables, churches, chapels, farmlands, and haciendas of Guanajuato.
Breathing, smelling, and touching the history of the golden age of those great expanses of construction and land is possible while walking through doors that internally connect dozens of rooms that are the same in shape but not in decoration. Some have hand-painted ceilings with multiple colors; others have murals with angels or false ceilings imported from Europe. Traveling into the past is not impossible in the haciendas if the visitors take a spot in the center of the patios, close their eyes, and allow themselves to be wrapped in the atmosphere of the buildings where even phantoms have been seen. Monthly, the Biblioteca organizes tours to different haciendas. For more information, go to the central pages.
The Royal Road to the Interior Land
History notes that even before the conquest of the land of current Mexico, natives had established well-routed paths for trade. The conquerors took advantage of the paths for the same purpose after the fall of the great Tenochtitlan (1519). According to the expert on haciendas, Santiago González, the Spanish began expeditions in the territory aimed not just to increase their domination, but also to search for riches for the Spanish kingdom. Those journeys led to the discovery of silver and gold mines that they wanted to exploit, but that work also created the necessity of places for workers to stay, as well as the production of goods and products for survival. That is how the haciendas emerged. These places were large pieces of land granted by the Spanish king to the expeditionary groups, who could take advantage of livestock, water, land, and all the goods within their granted land.
Rise and Fall of Haciendas
Sugar, livestock, meat, grains, wine, and precious metals, such as gold and silver, are just some of the products of the haciendas of Mexico, which were like big companies and part of the Mexican economic system initiated by the conquistadors in the 16th century. According to Santiago González, the haciendas were made up of a casco (big house), where the owner of the company lived with his family, and smaller, modest houses for the administrator and foremen who had the owner’s confidence. The great complexes also had a chapel where religious services were held for the inhabitants of the hacienda. The trojes (grain storage facilities) and the eras (milling facilities) were also part of the hacienda complex, as well as wide gardens, pastures, and stables.
There were two kinds of haciendas: those “of benefit,” specializing in mining operations, and those geared toward agriculture and livestock, where most of the essential goods were produced. As time passed by, the haciendas of benefit disappeared due to the lack of production and demands for housing. The land was distributed, and in some cases, developed into entire cities, such as Guanajuato.
The haciendas of Guanajuato had their heyday in the 18th century and were so important that the state was known as the “barn of New Spain.” During that time the current state was the second most populated area in the country after the Valley of Mexico. The golden age of the haciendas lasted until the early 20th century, when they were perceived as centers for the exploitation of the natives. According to the Secretary of International Affairs in 1910, under the leadership of Francisco I. Madero, Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata—whose motto was “Land and Liberty”—and Venustiano Carranza, the Mexican Revolution began. This armed insurrection was waged against large landowners and President Porfirio Diaz’s prolonged dictatorship. Diaz was not only the promoter of Mexico’s large economic growth, but he also fomented the spread of social inequality for more than 30 years. At the end of the Revolution, the Constitution of 1917 was established, and agrarian reform was approved. The land, including the haciendas, was distributed among the dispossessed Mexicans.
The assets of this hacienda include wide paths, a bridge—appointed as a World Heritage site—and its own dam, all in good condition. In its golden age it had up to 50 thousand head of livestock. From the entrance to La Quemada, the journey to the past is visible in its little convenience store called La Norteña, adjacent to the house that in the past was the residence of the duke of the hacienda. In front is the work patio, and on the other side is the casco and the barn of the once-powerful provider of grains. It is surrounded by other living spaces.
The hacienda´s owner commented that the place has been there for centuries (dating from 1600) and it is full of history. It has belonged to the Langenscheidt family for five generations. There are two versions of the name of La Quemada. The first states that the duke was married to a very beautiful woman. He was so jealous that he did not let her go out at any time, so she decided to set herself on fire. The second and the most logical, commented the owner, is that when the Spanish were building the hacienda, the local indigenous people burned the surrounding area, and from there came the name.
In the 1800s, Joaquín Obregón González (then state governor) purchased the hacienda, reactivated it, and turned it into the most well-connected hacienda in the country. It even had its own train station, where the grains and goods produced were loaded on to the wagons and taken to Mexico City.
To construct the dam, Obregón hired a German engineer, Langenscheidt, who fell in love with Obregon’s daughter. They married, and Obregón gave the emporium to the newlyweds. Now the place is owned by a young family who are working on the restoration of the casco. Currently, they are farming the land and providing employment to the men of the area so they can stay with the family instead going to the United States. The family also started a nonprofit organization to provide quality education for students from the area and apportioned a space on the hacienda for a school. www.facebook.com/LaQuemadaProspera/info
This is now a hotel that features 12 rooms, a tennis court, a pool, a spa, and kitchen service. It is a venue for weddings. In the space that in the past was a splendid hacienda is the room where Miguel Hidalgo—who gave the Cry of Independence—used to sleep when he went to the village to organize religious issued. He also used to go through a tunnel to the church for mass. In the same place, now with a Jacuzzi in the basement, Francisco Villa stayed during the revolutionary period.
González commented that in the hacienda the vestiges are most important, and he remarked that the hacienda is part of those constructed on the edges of the Royal Road to the Interior Land, and it was a place for spending the night. González pointed to the barns where the people arrived with the carts full of grain. They left the goods there and used to spend the night in the rooms of the hacienda, carrying the gold and silver with them. That is why the place has a surveillance tower. The place dates from the 1600s and was comprised of 50 thousand hectares.
The legend still preserved by the native tells that a thief called Lucas stole 400 mules carrying silver and 200 carrying gold. He left a map describing a place like the surroundings of Hacienda of Trancas. Since then many people have excavated in search of the treasure, but nothing has been found. www.haciendalastrancas.com
Jaral de Berrio
Over more than 16 hectares in size is the emblematic construction, Jaral de Berrio, witness of the glorious and sumptuous past. The construction—in three phases—has three houses, its own church and chapel, stables, silos for grains storage, and the work field. This hacienda, in its most productive time, was the main supplier of agriculture and livestock products for the territory.
The façade from the third phase holds the sculpture of Marquis Miguel de Berrio, one of the wealthiest men in New Spain. He also owned 99 more haciendas across the country. Marquis de Berrio also owned the current building of the Bank of Mexico, which was his home. On the walls of that building are portraits of him and his wife, as well as a map of the hacienda of Jaral de Berrio. The construction of the hacienda began in the 16th century. In this place the rooms, connected by internal doors, were decorated with tapestries imported from Europe. On the rooftop, the main building has a 100-meter tunnel with holes in the sides. This place was next to the surveillance tower and the soldiers, watching through the holes in the wall, could shut out any enemy approaching the building. In 1820, the hacienda opened a mescal factory, which has been reactivated and today produces one of the most popular mescals in the state. www.jaraldeberrio.com