Information about the Haciendas


History of the Haciendas in the Mayan World

On the Yucatan Peninsula, surrounded by the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, flourished the great Mayan culture, whose traces are still present in the middle of the jungle and in each small town of this region. Only 35, 45 and 55 minutes, respectively, from the Merida International Airport, in the capital of Yucatan State, are the haciendas of Temozon, San Jose and Santa Rosa, operated and administrated by Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

What is a hacienda?

As an award for merit during the conquest, some Spaniards received small plots of land to use primarily as farms or ranches, particularly for raising horses. This first properties were called "estancias" and, together with horses, they raised mules and cows, whose horns and salted meat they sold as food to the crews on board the ships that cruised the Atlantic. At the same time, they planted corn as much to feed the workers as to sell.

In the last years of the colonial period, when trade was liberalized, Yucatan had few products to export. This created a greater demand for land in order to cultivate commercial products like tobacco, sugar cane – used to produce alcohol – hardwoods, dye woods, cotton and henequen, the last to this day, if in greatly reduced volumes.

This new situation not only increased the number and size of the estancias, then called "fincas", but it diversified their production. The invention of a machine called a "desfibradora" during the second half of the 19th century, permitted processing of a much greater number of henequen leaves, which then required more land and more production and better machines. And so it was that the modest fincas became grand haciendas where around the stately Casa Principal, or main house, were grouped quarters for the desfibradoras, the presses to produce grain, store houses, drying fields, and corrals for the mules that pulled the carts that carried the henequen leaves around the plantations on small rails called Decauville. These connected all the haciendas with the city of Merida. Characteristic of the Yucatan countryside are the tall chimneys that still recall the age when steam powered all the machines that gave life to the haciendas.

But if the hacienda was generally wealthy, it was human labor that truly gave it life and permitted it to produce the legendary "green gold". Near the haciendas were also grouped the houses of the workers, as well as their school, infirmary, stores, and still in use today, their chapel. So the haciendas made up a vast area of land and joined together the facilities of production with the villages and housing of the workers.