A Journey to Enjoy the Past

By Jesús Aguado

It is possible to breathe, smell, and touch the history of the golden age of great haciendas that were the basis of the economy in the New Spain for more than 300 years. A compass is not needed, nor a magic window: a specialized guide is all it takes to get straight to the history that lies there to be recounted, admired, and remembered.

The Tour to Chichimequillas

Eight years ago, the Biblioteca Pública de San Miguel had a hacienda tour. After several years it was given new life by Magdalena Copado (Director of the House and Garden Tour). Since then, visitors have discovered more than 80 buildings that have had a special attraction because they bring history alive with their enormous windows, arcades, spacious rooms, and even paintings from the age of glory. These structures also have legends and stories of phantoms and thieves to disclose.

Copado has teamed up with an expert in these old constructions, Sanmiguelense Santiago González, an adventurer and history lover. González’s skills with public relations and his ability to identify the haciendas, thanks to his studies and preparation, have been able to open the often majestic doors of these estates to those who want to taste a little bit of the past and the future of the grand old houses.

The tours take place every last Tuesday of the month (in October on the 31st), and a free talk is given on the previous Tuesday, when those interested can learn more about previous trips and what to expect in the tour to come. This talk will take place on October 24 at 4pm at Sala Quetzal. For the first time, the tour will go beyond the state of Guanajuato, to Querétaro and its old hacienda of Chichimequillas.

Construction of this landed estate could have started in 1690 in that location because it was rich in water and acres of trees. The buildings feature a meson or inn from the18th century, as well as the Casa del Molina (millhouse), which holds the first mill in Latin America. Today this house is a hotel. Chichimequillas still continues its main agricultural activity. On its dozens of acres, it is easy to see the land planted with carrots and alfalfa. The old chapel is still in service.

The tickets for this tour are available at the Tesoros shop at the entrance of the Biblioteca on Insurgentes 25. The cost of the visit is 1500 pesos, including transportation, breakfast, the visit, and a typical Mexican meal.

What You Need to Know

History informs that even before the conquest of the land of current Mexico, natives had established well-worn, direct paths for trade. The conquerors took advantage of the paths for the same purpose after the fall of the great Tenochtitlan (1519). According to Santiago González, the Spanish began expeditions in the territory aimed not just at increasing 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. That work required places for workers to stay and the production of goods and products for survival. That is how the haciendas emerged. These places were great extensions of land that were 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.

Why Did the Haciendas Collapse?

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 big companies and part of the Mexican economic system initiated by the conquistadors in the 16th century. Santiago González tells us that 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. By then 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 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.

 

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