Saturday, January 11, 2014

A visit to Hacienda El Plan de Corona, Part 2: The 2nd story, the capilla, & the back veranda.

View of the hacienda's casa grande, including the window of the 2nd story master bedroom. Most of the hacienda is built on one level, but the hacendado's bedroom is on the 2nd floor, along with an interior balcony that overlooks the central courtyard. Last week, in Part 1 of this 2-part series, we saw the exterior of the casa grande, and various ground floor rooms. This week we'll take a look at the 2nd floor, the capilla (chapel) and the back veranda, along with various period paintings and photographs. This historic old building dates back at least to the middle of the 19th Century, and was the site where, in 1866, one of the heroes of the Franco-Mexican War died of his wounds after a nearby battle. Hacienda El Plan de Corona has belonged to the Corona family for all of that time, and its current owner was our host and guide. You met him if you have viewed Part 1.

The Second Floor Staircase and Balcony

After passing through the entrance zaguán, you turn left up the grand staircase to the 2nd floor.  On the way up, the walls are decorated with old religious paintings and 19th Century scenes of Guadalajara.

A painting of the Archangel Michael hangs at the top of the first set of stairs. Because of the rather delicate features and limbs of this figure, my first guess was a female angel. However, a couple of different people knowledgeable about religious paintings told me they believe it may be the Archangel Michael. The figure, wearing a helmet and carrying a flag in one hand and what may be a sword in  the other, certainly fits the Archangel's role as the leader of God's armies against Satan. Michael was revered by various military-oriented religious orders. He also has the distinction of appearing in Jewish and Islamic teachings as well as those of the Christians. The style of the painting leads me to believe that it is probably from the 17th or early 18th Centuries. It is only one of many religiously themed paintings and objects present in the hacienda.

Old chandelier hangs in the landing of the grand staircase. The light is now provided by incandescent electric bulbs, but in the old days it would have come from flickering candles. By the look of it, the chandelier may have been created on the hacienda by some blacksmith and/or carpenter of an earlier time. When you reach the top of the stairs, you face down a long balcony that overlooks the central courtyard and beyond it, the fields and pastures of the hacienda.

View from far end of the 2nd floor balcony. Hanging from the rafter is an elaborate bird-cage, with nothing wearing feathers in residence at the time we visited. Looking over the roof of the casa grande, you can see a group of palm trees in the near distance. These were imported by one of the previous hacendados. Such palms are typical of those found near casa grandes on many old Mexican haciendas. We have learned to look for them as a sign that we are approaching a site. In the far distance you can seen the range of mountains that borders this valley.

Unlike many we have visited, Hacienda El Plan de Corona still raises crops and livestock. In the foreground, a small herd of cattle grazes. In the background, fields of sugar cane stretch off into the distance. The Tradicion Charro got its start in Jalisco State on haciendas like this one. Charros are Mexican cowboys who have become experts in the riding and roping of horses and cattle. Topped with broad sombreros, charros wear elegant outfits, bordered with silver and embroidery, when they perform in the charreadas (Mexican rodeos). From the 16th through the early 18th Century, vast herds of wild cattle roamed the prairies of Jalisco, descendants of those originally brought over by the Conquistadores. By the middle of the 18th Century, the herds had been decimated by over-harvesting and the cultivation of wheat and corn became the staple of Jalisco's hacienda economy. In the latter half of the 19th Century, cash crops like sugar cane came into vogue, largely because the new railroad system could transport the processed sugar quickly and easily to distant markets. The scene above nicely encapsulates the long economic history of the Guadalajara area's haciendas.

The Corona family brand can be found on the tile floors and in the iron work of the casa grande. Each hacienda had its own brand. A symbol like this would be scorched into the hide of the livestock so that individual animals could be identified by their owners. I found this brand on a tile just outside the hacendado's master bedroom. Most of the basic elements of US and Canadian cowboy culture originated with hacienda cattle workers (vaqueros) of Mexico. The vaqueros conducted big cattle drives, crossing hundreds of miles of Mexico, for 200 years before the first American cowboy strapped on his spurs. North-of-the-border cowboys adopted the techniques, equipment, clothing, and even the terminology that their Mexican counterparts had developed and perfected centuries before.

The Hacendado's Bedroom

Near the top of the staircase, a door leads into the spacious master bedroom. An elaborately carved headboard stands behind the bed, with a religious figure spreading its arms. The throw rug on the tiled floor is a tanned cow hide.

In the corner, an painted angel cavorts on the door of an elaborately decorated armoire. Notice the blue and red tiles that have been used to border the floor of the room. The exterior of this 2nd story room can be seen in the first photo of this posting, above the main entrance of the casa grande.

The bathroom of the master bedroom is covered with painted tiles. This room has obviously been modernized for the convenience of the current owners. In the 19th Century, indoor plumbing would have been unusual, even in the casa grande of a wealthy family like the Coronas.

French doors open onto a wrought iron balcony overlooking the casa grande's entrance. The broad canopies of a pair of large trees shade the window from the glaring sun. From this balcony, the hacendado could observe the activities of his peones working around the front of his hacienda.  It also provided a dramatic stage from which to address them as a group on special occasions. Notice the old brass bell hanging from the upper right of the balcony.

The date on the balcony bell is 1810, the beginning of the War of Independence. The bell's date is significant, as is the placement of the bell on the balcony. Each September 15, at 11 PM in the evening, important figures emerge onto balconies all over Mexico to repeat the famous grito (cry) of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Castillo. Hidalgo rang the bell in the church at Dolores Hidalgo to signal the start of the revolt against Spain. At Mexico City's Palacio National, the President of Mexico reads the grito and rings the bell. At Hacienda El Plan de Corona, it is the hacendado. Mexico had layer upon layer of such traditions growing out of its 500 year history since Cortez landed. Of course, the indigenous people of Mexico celebrate traditions thousands of years older than that.

La Capilla (the chapel)

Viewed from the 2nd story interior balcony, the blue dome of La Capilla peeks through the trees. Such domes are as common in small hacienda chapels as they are in great Cathedrals. This chapel is entered from one of the covered walkways that surround the inner courtyard of the casa grande. The chapel of a hacienda was often the only church available for a considerable distance. The capilla became the religious focal point not only of the hacienda itself but for the whole area. Even after the Revolution broke up many of the haciendas, leaving the casas grandes and other buildings in ruins, their capillas were often carefully maintained by the local people as their community church. When we are out hunting for haciendas, one of our first stops upon entering a small pueblo will be the local church to see if it is an old hacienda's capilla. 

Altar area of the capilla. The interior of this capilla is quite small, with seating for only a couple of dozen people or so. The cross is bracketed by two of the many manifestations of the Virgin. On the left is the Virgin of Guadalupe, the dark-skinned version who is the patron of Mexico. She is particularly revered by the poor and indigenous people. In the ceiling above the cross you can see part of the interior of the dome.

Cherubs clutching garlands of flowers flutter about the interior of the capilla dome. As you will remember from the previous posting, cherubs were a favorite theme of the 19th Century artists who decorated Mexican haciendas. A set of the chubby little figures also appears on the wall at one end of the grand dining room, and a statue of a cherub sits on its sideboard.

To the right of the crucifix is another statue of the Virgin. I again consulted my experts on religious symbolism, who raised several possibilities about which version of the Virgin this may represent. The most definitive came from Richard Perry, who publishes the website Arts of Colonial Mexico. According to Richard, "this statue may be a devotion to a Virgin that is specific to the hacienda, but the imagery is that of La Purisima, or the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, with a sun like a halo of 12 stars and the half moon beneath her feet (she may also have held the Christ Child at one time). The crown on her head signifies the Queen of Heaven, a common complementary attribute."

The Back Veranda

Beautiful wrought iron grille decorates the gate leading to the back veranda.  The imagery above the gate seems to be a mariposa (butterfly). Notice the hacienda's brand on the upper part of the gate door. This brand also appears on the iron grilles on the windows along the exterior wall on the front of the casa grande. Although this gate appears to be relatively new, blacksmiths worked on haciendas from the earliest days of the colonial period. They passed their skills down and today you can find craftsmen working iron into artistic shapes in little shops all over Mexico.

The current owner uses the back veranda as a party area. Notice the ox yokes hanging from the pillars and the other antique decorations. There are a number of interesting paintings, photos, and other objects on the walls and pillars. The center pillar contains a cow skull, not unlike the one I brought back from hiking one day. Carole's response to my fascinating, if grimy, artifact was "Get that filthy thing out of my house!" Sometimes wives just don't understand.

A painting on the wall shows a dramatic charge by a squadron of Mexican lancers. Following on the road (upper left) is another mounted group which appears to be pulling artillery caissons. The long aqueduct in the upper left (still in existence today) shows that this scene was played out near El Plan de Corona, and was part of the Battle of Coronilla in December of 1866. The battle was fought against a mixture of French army troops and Mexican turncoats who supported Maximilian, the Austrian Archduke whom the French had imposed as Emperor over Mexico. The forces of Gen. Ramon Corona, owner of this hacienda at the time, won the battle.

A horse hitched to an elegant coach waits patiently for its passengers. The location appears to be a street in Guadalajara. The date in the lower right corner shows that the photo was taken in 1886. Gen. Corona probably owned this coach, or one very much like it. This would have been a standard form of transportation for wealthy hacendados of that era.

A giant pair of bull horns hangs near the ceiling of the veranda. This bull must have been immense. We all stood transfixed as we viewed the horns, measuring at least 1.5 m (5 ft) from tip to tip.

General Francisco (Pancho) Villa holds an earnest conversation with a young officer. This photo hangs behind the bar, along with several others of Villa and of General Emiliano Zapata along with other scenes from the Revolution. It is hard to tell what this interaction is about. The officer may be listening intently to Villa's battle instructions. On the other hand, Villa may be giving him a severe reprimand. Villa could be harsh and unpredictable. The candid and unposed photo is one I had never before seen. Although Sr. Corona had decorated his bar with photos of Villa and Zapata, he expressed a strong opinion that both were bandits and thieves. Sr. Corona's family still displays a photo of Porfirio Diaz in the casa grande's living room. Diaz was Mexico's dictator for 35 years before he was overthrown by Zapata, Villa, and the other revolutionaries. Of course, both of the Generals firmly believed in the redistribution of hacienda lands illegally seized from poor campesinos and the indigenous villages. As it is sometimes said, "where you stand depends upon where you sit."

Another unposed photo of Villa. He is draped, head down, over the fender of his car, following his 1923 assassination in Parral, Chichihuahua. After losing the battle of Celaya to General Álvaro Obregón in April, 1915, Villa steadily lost support. He finally made a deal with his enemies allowing him to retire to a 25,000 acre hacienda. In 1923, while riding through Parral in his open Dodge car, Villa and his bodyguards and companions were killed by a hail of bullets from seven assassins. Various theories have been proposed about who was responsible, but it was probably done on the orders of Plutarco Elías Calles, then a candidate for President of Mexico. Calles had heard reports that Villa was planning to run against him in the upcoming election. The Mexican President at the time was Álvaro Obregón, Villa's old opponent at Celaya. It is unlikely that Calles would have launched such a plot unless Obregón, his sponsor, assented.

Burning cane and whirlwinds

As we were leaving the hacienda, we unexpectedly witnessed part of the sugar cane process. We had noticed ash drifting through the air while we were on the 2nd floor balcony, but couldn't figure out what was causing it. After we piled into the tourist office van to return to Acatlán, I looked out the window and saw the cane fields in flames. After the cane ripens and dries on the stalk, the fields are set alight to burn off the dry leaves, making the crop easier to harvest. The fire spread with amazing rapidity and, in the process, the billowing heat created a windstorm.

The wild wind currents formed small tornado funnels. The funnels were full of smoke, dust, and cane debris. I asked the driver to stop so we could observe and photograph the phenomenon. The funnel grew bigger and bigger as it violently twisted. We also noticed that it was starting to approach our vehicle. The driver backed up several times to get out of the way, but it kept coming.

The twister actually brushed the front of the car before it moved off across the dirt road. You can see the violence of the wind and the mass of debris it carried. I'm not sure how dangerous it really was, but I wouldn't have wanted to walk through the middle of it. I was reminded of the Revolution, which started as a series of political brush fires, and rapidly grew together into a major conflagration. The long firestorm of violence spewed out all sorts of unexpected gales which eventually swept away the old world of the great haciendas.

This completes my two part series on Hacienda El Plan de Corona. I hope you have found it enjoyable and interesting. If so you may want to leave a comment or ask a question. To do so, please either email me directly, or use the Comments section below. If no one has left a comment before you, just click on "No Comments" and it will take you to the screen where you can leave yours.

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Hasta luego, Jim


  1. What a great monuments and historical architecture shared , good place for planning a trip there

  2. great this is the first one I have read and want to read more. I went on a google search and found a home for rent for $300 us? What kind of condition do you think it would be in? Thanks

  3. Enjoyed reading your article. Always looking for different trip ideas as the playa does become a bit dull after a month or so and a road trip is needed.

    Try our travel blog. You might enjoy a dew of the articles.


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim