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I have to be honest, this is my biggest weakness in Mexico, my passion for Haciendas. I thought about this project prior to the creation of this blog and decided to dig further to learn more about these amazing properties, their history and the people that made them what they are.
I mention history because haciendas as you see them now have not been built from scratch, on the contrary, their origin goes back to the ancient Maya and their cities.
When the Spaniards arrived, they assaulted and destroyed the magnificent Mayan cities (some of which we are still able to admire), and used the material they found to build their own housing, the same solid, now prestigious, white stone that today’s haciendas are made of.
I will explain more about this later on.I have decided to visit each and every one of them, or at least the most impressive ones, and bring them to you, as I know that you will fall in love with them as well.
In fact, they have now been transformed into amazing properties, usually located far from the sea, but deeply immersed in the thick jungle or in small towns in the middle of nowhere, scattered throughout the state of Yucatan, in southeast Mexico; the majority however, are located in the outskirts of Merida.
The new owners have an ambitious goal, to offer a unique experience, to pamper their guest and touch their heart and soul. Best of all, they normally achieve it.
The heavenly atmosphere and the strong positive energy you will feel is overwhelming and regenerating.
They are also usually located close to refreshing cenotes or other places of interest where guests can get in touch with local culture and explore the surroundings, if they wish.
And of course, the concierge can arrange it all. Every single detail is looked after and delivers peace and tranquility.
But what is behind this luxury façade of Egyptian cotton linen and warm service?
If only those walls could speak…
Haciendas were actually old agricultural, village-like organizations, with huge lots of cultivated land dedicated to the cultivation and processing of Green Henequen (not the beer), also called Sisal, a thick green plant from whose leaves a natural fiber was extracted.
The farmers would harvest the plant and take it to machines where they would begin to process it and transform it into cords of many different sizes, until it was ready for exportation to Europe.
At its apogee in the mid-19th century, Henequen was known as the best natural source of rope in the world, as it grew naturally in the wild, and only around Merida. The owners of such lands therefore had an absolute monopoly on this precious plant, which didn’t require a specific kind of soil to grow, or water.
On top of that, the huge, cheap, labor force and further exploitation from the owners, together with the introduction of the steam engine, made the Henequen business flourish, so much so that it was named GREEN GOLD. The huge demand for the natural rope they created made prices skyrocket.
In this way, Merida earned the title of ‘richest city per capita in the world’ for 50 years, and it was all down to rope.
The owners became the nouveau rich, building exotic houses with tiles from France and other precious, decorative objects from Spain and Italy; some remain untouched, others got lost during expropriation. You can observe that one of the main characteristics of a new hacienda is the peculiar floor, which is often made using the original tiles, which have been polished.
Such a detail conveys a sense of antiquity and charm to the entire place.
But what were the reasons for the downfall of such a lucky and prosperous time?
As usual, wealth feeds greed and vice versa, which is what happened here as well. To respond to the increased demand, the owners asked for more and more production at the expense of the workers who were exploited to the last breath, treated as slaves (literally) and had no possibility of leaving because they were being paid with coins that had no value outside the hacienda and were insufficient to pay for food and rent anyway, meaning that they were in constant “debt”.
This is what caused the collapse. They reacted and rebelled against the oppression and the government took their side.
The debt system was abolished, debts were cancelled, and the minimum wage was established. Besides, land was expropriated and given to the workers, while the owners kept the buildings. The problem then was that the owners who had the equipment and the farmers who had the land and raw material didn’t speak to each other.
Thus the business automatically died.
At the same time, with introduction of the synthetic fiber, the demand for natural rope had an abrupt downfall, and that was the end.
Some haciendas have been totally destroyed, others are now functioning as restaurants or have been turned into beautiful hotels.
One hacienda I would particularly recommend visiting is Yaxcopoil, which offers very interesting guided tours on its history.
- During one of my visit among the haciendas, I had a brilliant conversation with Mr Richard Nichols, the owner of Hacienda Dzibikak, a very knowledgeable gentlemen who kindly explained to me all the nuances of the history of the haciendas
- Browsing the web I have found this simple and yet explanatory pdf file which you might find interesting enough to amplify the above information.