What is a “Hacienda”?

Hacienda del Desierto front gate

Hacienda del Desierto front gate

The term ‘Hacienda’ refers to a parcel of land, or an estate, and may be well compared to American Plantations, where ‘tied’ laborers worked the land in return for basic provisions.

Haciendas were a European concept, introduced by the Spaniards during the 16th Century as part of an economic model that aimed to create efficient industrialized ‘centers’, overseen by powerful land-owners and their estate managers. They reached their peak during the 18th Century; however, as the political and economic landscapes changed, the era of the Mexican Haciendas came to an end.

Originally, a Hacienda was a complex of buildings which housed the family and workers and included a chapel, blacksmith shop, and food storage areas.  The main family house was built around a square courtyard where there was a well and cooking ovens.  It was large enough so that if there was an attack, all the farm animals and workers and their families could come for safety and help defend the house.  There would have been one large entrance into the courtyard with large heavy wooden gates which could be barricaded when necessary.  The roof would have been a parapet where men could fire weapons.  No windows would have been located on the outside of the building which was constructed of two-foot thick walls with a stuccoed coating.

Hacienda del Desierto Bed & Breakfast in Tucson Arizona has patterned its house design after the Mexican hacienda in that the building wings enclose an inner courtyard which has not an oven or animals but a Mexican fountain, flowers, and patio furniture.  It is built of adobe bricks from Mexico in the territorial style with a parapet roof but no stuccoed walls.  The only ‘tied’ laborers at the hacienda are its innkeepers, David and Rosemary Brown.

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