dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hacienda de Santa Mónica

When I was in Mexico City last November, Alejandro and I visited a colonial mansion known as "La Casa de Bola".  In the twentieth century the house had been acquired by a wealthy and eccentric fellow by the name of Antonio Hagenbeck.  Hagenbeck restored the house and filled it with his huge collection of antiques.  Prior to his death, he had set up a foundation to administer the house as a private museum.

Hagenbeck owned two other historic properties which today are also museums operated by the Hagenbeck Foundation.  On Sunday we visited one of them, the former Hacienda de Santa Mónica.  The hacienda is located in Tlalnepantla, a city of over 600,000 people which is today a part of metropolitan Mexico City.  (It's a bit hard to imagine a city of 600,000 as a suburb, but in this megalopolis of over 20 million people, one municipality runs into another.)

The hacienda was founded in 1573, in an era in which this was a largely rural, agricultural area.  The estate was for a portion of its history owned by the Augustinian order of monks, and it was named Santa Mónica in honor of the mother of St. Augustine.  It was one of the largest and most important haciendas in the region, and it produced much of the wheat used by Mexico City.  Attached to the main house, there was a mill which used the water power of the river flowing next to it.  By the nineteenth century, the hacienda had fallen into decline.  In the 1940s, Hagenbeck bought the decaying hacienda house which was now surrounded by the growing city of Tlalnepantla.  He restored the house, filled it with yet more antiques, and made it one of his residences.

It would seem that Hagenbeck lived in the wrong century.  He surrounded himself with furnishings from earlier eras, and his political inclinations seem unbelievable for a person of the twentieth century.  He firmly believed that monarchy was the best form of government.  He sympathized with the ill fated monarchs Louis XVi and Marie Antoinette of France, and Maximilian and Carlota of Mexico.  Their portraits hang in his houses. 

Although he was an eccentric who lived in a fantasy world, we can thank Señor Hagenbeck for saving some historic properties from likely destruction.

 The exterior of the hacienda house

The large courtyard of the house
(Unfortunately, photography is not permitted in the rooms of the house.)

 Behind the house are gardens which were laid out by Hagenbeck in the "romantic style".  Today they are rather sad and overgrown.

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