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The Jesuit estancias in and around Córdoba City aren't just atmospheric relics of a bygone era; they're UNESCO-listed monuments and museums that keep alive the region's history as a center of learning and production.
In Córdoba, Jesuit estancias went beyond the self-contained centers of agriculture and crafts found elsewhere in Argentina, Paraguay, and Brasil. Beginning with Estancia Caroya's sale in 1661 to the founder of the Collegio Montserrat in the Manzana de Jesuitica, the estancias here became satellite farms, wineries, mule-breeding facilities, and summer boarding houses for the learned elite in town.
Whereas Jesuit missions in other places fell into disrepair when the Jesuits were ordered out of South America in 1767 (due to King Carlos III's nervousness about the Jesuits' increasing control over the culture and economy region), Córdoba's Jesuit estancias have gone on to have second, third, and fouth lives—as bayonet factories, repatriation stopovers, and even private homes.
Rent a car or hire a guide to explore what some call the Jesuit Trail: north from Cordoba on RA9, west into the hills on RN17, and then south on RA38. This 200 km (100 mi) loop passes the Caroya, Jesus Maria, and Santa Catalina estancias; head west from La Cumbre on a dirt road to get to La Candelaria, and drive a half hour south of the city to get to Alta Gracia.
The first estancia built (1616) and one of the first to shift from Jesuit control, Caroya has worn many hats. In 1661, after the Jesuits sold it to Collegio Montserrat, the estancia became a summer retreat for students. During Argentina's war for independence, this was a bayonet factory (don't miss the display). In the mid-1800s, Italian immigrants lived here; their community blossomed into the town of Colonia Caroya.
Just a few miles from Caroya on the edge of the Sierras Chicas is Estancia Jesús María. The Jesuits produced a light table wine here, quaffing thirsts as far-flung as the King of Spain's. Head to on-site Museo Jesuitico Nacional to learn about their methods and have a taste.
Gleaming white bell towers set against dramatic trees are impressive, but the real feat was what the Jesuits built underground. In 1622, Jesuits began a subterranean irrigation system that brought water from the hills in Ongamira to the cattle, sheep, and mills here; it's still a farming center.
The Jesuits turned a donation of land south of Córdoba into the nucleus of a small city. They bred mules for transporting goods to Alto Peru, and built Tajamar, a lake kept full by dams. After the Jesuits, former Viceroy of the River Plate Santiago de Liniers lived here. The Casa del Virrey Liniers museum runs frequent concerts in this atmospheric setting.
La Candelaria is a cross between a spiritual retreat and protected stronghold with only two small doorways and few windows. They reared cattle and mules—and provided safe haven from attacks from native Argentines. The original locals and the Jesuits are long gone, but the haunting solitude remains the same.
Hours of operation. Opening dates and hours are liable to change, and estancias generally close for lunch and a siesta. Santa Catalina is still owned by the same family that took it over in 1767; full access to the estancia is dependent on whether they are at home or not.
Day Tripping. It's possible to see all of the estancias mentioned here in a single day. Jesús María and Caroya are in the same urban zone, and Santa Catalina is a further 20km drive away along scenic minor roads; head here if you have only half a day. La Candelaria is located on a dirt road roughly 70 k (45 mi) from the town of Jesús María (where three estancias are clustered), and can take longer to get to than expected if it's been raining.
Overnight. For an extended journey into estancia country and a more leisurely time covering the Jesuit Trail, consider staying overnight at (non-Jesuit) uber-luxurious Estancia La Paz in the town of Jesús María.
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