I must admit there are many beautiful places in my own country that I’ve never visited. I can’t think of a specific reason other than… well, no reason. Now that my brother and his family moved to the hills of Córdoba I have no excuse for not exploring that beautiful province (we call them provinces in Argentina, not states).
One thing I already knew about Córdoba was that the Jesuits were very active in colonial times there: they founded the country’s first university (which had its 400th anniversary last week) and first printing press, among other things. They also founded a few estancias (ranches) where they performed all manner of agricultural activities as well as preaching the Catholic faith, of course. The Jesuits ran the estancias and the local Indians did the physical work. They had their own living quarters –called ranchería– and were taught useful skills.
We visited the Estancia de Alta Gracia in the eponymous town of Alta Gracia. Nowadays it is a museum as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The estancia was founded in 1643 and was in use until 1767, when the Jesuits were expelled from Spain and her colonies.
The Baroque church was, as luck would have it, under repair and closed to visitors that weekend but the museum was open. Each room displays a different aspect of life in the estancia and the Sierras (hills) of Córdoba between the 17th and 19th centuries through historical objects, photos, dioramas and miniatures.
After the expulsion, the Franciscans took over the Jesuit missions. In 1810, Viceroy Santiago de Liniers bought the Alta Gracia mission and lived there for five months. He made some changes and had a new kitchen built. The furniture on display in the drawing room belonged to her great-granddaughter. I enjoyed the visit but wondered about the comfort of those sofas.
The surviving original structures are the smithy, the communal oven, the mill (albeit in ruins), the sawmill and the tajamar, an man-made water reservoir across the street.
Don Manuel Solares bought the estancia from the Liniers family. In his will, he stipulated that a part of the land should be divided into plots to create a village. That’s why the town of Alta Gracia grew around the estancia, which is now located in the city center. The leafy square across from the mission provides peace and quiet in spades and also a little bit of shopping, as craftsmen and artisans gather to offer their products.
Alta Gracia is a lovely town where to spend a day or two. The childhood home of Che Guevara is now a museum, as is the home of Spanish musician Miguel de Falla.How to get there There are several flights to Córdoba every day from Buenos Aires. Alta Gracia is about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Córdoba ’s international airport. There are many bus companies that do the City of Córdoba – Alta Gracia run every day. Museum hours Tuesdays through Fridays from 9am to 1 pm, 3pm to 7 pm (most shops are closed in the afternoon for siesta) Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays from 9:30 to 12:30 and 3:30 to 6:30. Closed on Mondays. Admission AR$10, free for children under 12.