historic colonial architecture estates, cattle ranches
tourist estancias, guest ranches
Estancia tours on horse back
Argentina The Great Estancias
Antiguas Estancias del Uruguay
Varios painters, european and local, were travelling in the LaPlata Area in the 19th century, depicting scenes of estancia life and of the very first settlers making their way through the Pampa.
A traveller's report of the 1890s
The following is an abstract from
THROUGH FIVE REPUBLICS ON HORSEBACK
The entire book, highly recomendable, can be read here
The Pampas, or prairie lands of the Argentine, stretch to the south
and west of Buenos Ayres, and cover some 800,000 square miles. On
this vast level plain, watered by sluggish streams or shallow lakes,
boundless as the ocean, seemingly limitless in extent, there is an
exhilarating air and a rich herbage on which browse countless herds
of cattle, horses, and flocks of sheep. The grass grows tall, and
miles upon miles of rich scarlet, white, or yellow flowers mingle
with or overtop it. ... Wood there is none, with the exception of a
solitary tree here and there at great distances, generally marking
the site of some cattle establishment or estancia. An
cluster of blue gums, is certain to be planted there.
The Gaucho is a strange contradiction. He has blushed at my good but plain-looking saddle, yet courteously asked me to take a skull seat. He may possess five hundred horses, but you search his kitchen in vain for a plate. If you please him he will present you with his best horse, waving away your thanks. If you displease him, his long knife will just as readily find its way to your heart, for he kills his enemies with as little compunction as he kills the ostrich. "The Gaucho, with his proud and dissolute air, is the most unique of all South American characters. He is courageous and cruel, active and tireless. Never more at ease than when on the wildest horse; on the ground, out of his element. His politeness is excessive, his nature fierce." The children do not, like ours, play with toys, but delight the parents' hearts by teasing a cat or dog. ....
To describe the dress of this descendant of Adam I feel myself
incapable. A shirt and a big slouch hat seem to be the only articles
of attire like ours. Coat, trousers or shoes he does not wear.
Instead of the first mentioned, he uses the _poncho_, a long, broad
blanket, with a slit in the centre to admit his head. For trousers he
wears very wide white drawers, richly embroidered with broad
needlework and stiffly starched. Over these he puts a black
_chirip? which really I cannot describe other than as similar to
the napkins the mother provides for her child. Below this black and
white leg covering come the long boots, made from one piece of
seamless hide. These boots are nothing more than the skin from the
hind legs of an animal--generally a full-grown horse. The bend of the
horse's leg makes the boot's heel. Naturally the toes protrude, and
this is not sewn up, for the Gaucho never puts more than his big toe
in the stirrup, which, like the bit in his horse's mouth, must be of
solid silver. A dandy will beautifully scallop these rawhide boots
around the tops and toes, and keep them soft with an occasional
application of grease. No heel is ever attached. Around the man's
waist, holding up his drawers and chiripa, is wound a long colored
belt, with tasseled ends left hanging over his boot, down the right
side; and over that he invariably wears a broad skin belt, clasped at
the front with silver and adorned all around with gold or silver
coins. In this the long knife is carried.
If entertaining a stranger, he will press uncut joint after joint of his _asado_ upon him. This asado is meat roasted over the fire on a spit; if beef, with the skin and hair still attached. Meat cooked in this way is a real delicacy. A favorite dish with them (I held a different opinion) is a half-formed calf, taken before its proper time of birth. The meat is often dipped in the ashes in lieu of salt. I have said the Gaucho has no chair. I might add that neither has he a table, for with his fingers and knife he eats the meat off the fire. Forks he is without, and a horn or shell spoon conveys the soup to his mouth direct from the copper pan. So universal is the use of the shell for this service that the native does not speak of it as _caracol_, the real word for shell, but calls it _cuchara del agua_, or water spoon. Of knives he possesses more than enough, and heavy, long, sharp-pointed ones they are. When his hunger is appeased the knife goes, not to the kitchen, but to his belt, where, when not in his hand, you may always see it. With that weapon he kills a sheep, cuts off the head of a serpent--seemingly, however, not doing it much harm, for it still wriggles--sticks his horse when in anger, and, alas, as I have said, sometimes stabs his fellow-man. Being so far isolated from the coast, he is necessarily entirely uneducated. The forward march of the outer world concerns him not; indeed he imagines that his native prairie stretches away to the end of the world. He will gaze with wonder on your watch, for his only mode of ascertaining the time is by the shadow the sun casts. As that luminary rises and sets, so he sleeps and wakes. His only bed is the sheepskin, which when riding he fastens over his saddle, and the latter article forms his pillow. His coverlet is the firmament of heaven, the Southern Cross and other constellations, unseen by dwellers in the Northern Hemisphere, seeming to keep watch over him; or in the colder season his poncho, which I have already described. Around his couch flit the fireflies, resembling so many stars of earth with their strangely radiant lights. The brightness of one, when held near the face of my watch, made light enough to enable me to ascertain the hour, even on the darkest night. ....
When the Gaucho cannot obtain a better meal, the tail of the lizard is not considered such a despicable dish by him, for he is no epicure. When he has nothing he is also contented. His philosophy is: _"Nunca tenga hambre cuando no hay que comer"_ (Never be hungry when no food is to be had).
The estancia, or cattle ranch, is a feature of the Argentine prairie. Some of these establishments are very large, even up to one hundred square miles in extent. On them hundreds of thousands of cattle, sheep and horses are herded. "It is not improbable that there are more cattle in the pampas and llanos of South America than in all the rest of the world." [Footnote: Dr. Hartwig in "Argentina," 1910] An estancia is almost invariably called by the name of some saint, as are the different fields belonging to it. "Holy Mary field" and "Saint Joseph field" are common names. Notwithstanding the fact that there may be thousands of cows on a ranch, the visitor may be unable to get a drop of milk to drink. "Cows are not made to milk, but to eat," they say. Life on these establishments is rough and the fare generally very coarse. Even among the wealthy people I have visited you may sit down to dinner with nothing but meat put before you, without a bite of bread or any vegetables. All drink water out of an earthenware pitcher of peculiar shape, which is the centrepiece of the table.
One cool gaucho : Douglas Fairbanks as The Gaucho in 1927
The following is an abstract from US newspaper Startrebune about a horse riding tour in Uruguay
My favorite day on the trip was the longest: We spent more than eight hours in the saddle and rode more than 30 miles. We never saw another human being; we never saw a building. Just the sea, the sky and the sand of the endless beach.
By this time, I'd grown to like my horse and understand his quirks. Joselo had told me he didn't have a name, so I called him Pokey. He nudged me with his head each morning when I scratched his ears, and it might have been my imagination, but he seemed to raise his eyebrows in agreement with whatever was on my mind. It was a joy to be on the same, reliable horse for several days running. For the first time in my irregular career as a rider, I felt comfortable and balanced cantering and galloping.
I came up alongside Valeria Ariza, who herself looked very blissed out in the sun and solitude of the day. I said that this was amazing. I didn't think there were places like this left in the world.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century farming income hardly paid to maintain a historic stately casco de estancia
In 2009 and 2010 I took a few photos of abandoned cascos close to our farm in Uruguay, southern department of Florida.
A brief overview of Estancia Architecture in Uruguay
The Early Estancias - before 1880
These early times were more often than not quite insecure in the country side.
Estancias from that period are massive and simple structures, with thick walls made of field stone. Typically spanish colonial , they have heavy iron, sometimes wrought iron windows grills, at times even the gallery protected, floor to ceiling, by wrought iron. Tipical as well is the Mirador, the ("watch") tower room, meant to give the building a stately impression.
Usually the buildings form a court yard, with a cistern (aljibe) in the center.
The times of prosperity, Fin de Siecle - 1880-1920
During this period Uruguay, together with Argentina, becomes one of the richest countries in the world.
The advance of world trade by steam ships and by railway lines in the interior, together with modern agriculture, the introduction of European sheep and cattle races, makes it possible that Uruguayan agro products like beef, wool , grain are being exported all over the world.
The mediterranian- or spanish-colonial style
is still determined by the traditional pattern of inner court yard, heavy iron window grills, a gallery resting on massive stone pillars, etc.
It is a style quite similiar to the mansions which the rural upperclass of Southern Italy and Southern Spain are building at that time.
Everything else is sometimes refered to as "Estilo Ingles" (english style), or "Europeo" or "Tipo Chalet". It is often influenced by rural english or french Normandy or Basque Country architecture, reflecting the North West European origin it's owners
The quintessential estancia Estilo Ingles would be the huge Estancia Presidencial Anchorena, where the President of Uruguay resides over weekend or when receiving guests.
P. Voss, Cerro Cora 1124, CP1544 Asuncion, Paraguay, email