24 Nov Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berrio
Inspired in my Grandmother. Cinematography by Pablo Adame. Cape by Jose Yañez. Vintage 1970s dresses originally modeled by my Grandmother, Connie Finkelstein.
If you’ve heard of Jaral de Berrio, likely it’s by way of the eponymous mezcal in the textured glass bottles with wooden tops. That’s what remains of what was once a small empire run by an incredibly powerful Spanish family. Echoes of their past continue today in the dilapidated treasure, the Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berrio, in the state of Guanajuato.
I first learned about Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berrio from a photography club in San Miguel. It sounded intriguing – a place owned by what was once the richest man in Mexico, now all but abandoned, run by a small family operation that can’t afford to renovate the massive estate. It reminded me of the opulence and decay I had seen a few years prior in Cuba. I’m often attracted to locations like these and could imagine getting inspired while discovering the spaces there, and so I planned the first visit to scout locations. It only took once. I was hooked. I’ve since been back many times; in fact, it’s one of my favorite locations in Mexico. While not for everyone, the empty, somewhat spooky energy of the decaying estate is palpable.
Even arriving there was surreal; in the seeming middle-of-nowhere a tower in the distance appeared. We turned down the dusty road to an empty plaza. On one side, the imposing façade of the Ex- Hacienda Jaral de Berrio, on the other, the enormous granaries and the church that once belonged only to the family. Originally inhabited by Guachichil indigenous people, the early Spanish expeditions of Mexico were funded through the first colonizers of this area.
The estate, run by the first Berrio, was so productive that it made the family into the wealthiest men of the time, even garnering their title as Marquis. Miguel de Berrio, for example, was the first to be named a Marquis and acquired 99 haciendas by 1749. He was also said to have had 99 children to whom he bequeathed one of the haciendas.
Ex-hacienda Jaral de Berrio functioned as the capital of the family’s agrarian empire. While they are most famous for fabricating mezcal, the brand Jaral de Berrio, they also prospered from making gunpowder. Years later, during the Mexican War of Independence, it was looted, and even later, fires and threats from rebellions caused the abandonment of the once majestic Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berrio.
Currently, three buildings stand: the first and most elaborate is immediately identifiable by its clock and elegant towers. Inside, large rooms a central courtyard with a fountain, traditional to the time period. Many of the rooms still have French tapestries as wallpaper, murals and painted details. The decay of the space permeates the beauty breathing an unfamiliar life into the rotting beams and dusty gaping holes. The rafters are inhabited by bats and birds, leaving the sour smell of guano in the dark, unexplored corners of the estate. The iconic double staircase overlooked by a heavenly mural and framed by columns lead to the second story. The enormous oil painting in the master bathroom, La Ninfa del Baño, is another famed element of the space.
The second building is made of unadorned cantera and stone. Its large wrap-around veranda overlooks another central patio space with a fountain. There’s a feeling that nature has already started taking these spaces back, making it part of the natural world again. Animals make their homes and tumbleweeds blow through. The juxtaposition to times passed and times present, from grandeur to dust, is an incredible statement about the nature of human existence.
Unfinished walls with odd passageways, doors that lead nowhere, collapsed floors on the second story, partially dug wells and dead, dry trees. Despite the enormity of the grounds (or perhaps because of it), it feels like a ghost town, full of dry grasses, sun and dust. At the back of the property, there stands the building that once housed the mill (or perhaps still does?) – It isn’t clear if these spaces are used anymore, but they seem equally empty.
To reiterate, this isn’t the experience for everyone. If you like a more polished experience, this isn’t for you! It’s over two hours away from anything else and, for me, the magic of the space is the level of its deterioration. It is neither clean nor are there any services available, like access to food. It could even be considered dangerous, because of the holes in the floor on the second level, among other details. But, if you like somewhat dark experiences, dusty or dangerous experiences, than the Ex-Hacienda Jaral de Berrio a must. When I’ve gone, I’ve rarely seen another person on the property, staff included. You pay a small fee to enter, usually 20 pesos which comes with a shot of mescal (we often buy a bottle from them, as well) and are free to let our imaginations run wild as we wander the grounds, exploring.
Coming from San Luis Potosi take the highway to Queretaro, and a few kilometers ahead turn right towards Villa de Reyes, to reach Jaral del Berrio which is only 20 kilometers away.
If you are coming from Guanajuato, take the road to Dolores Hidalgo, and then toward San Felipe.