Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Hacienda San Juan Grande, a symbol of Lima´s agricultural past

Hidden behind the housing blocks of urban schemes in the south of Surco lie the remains of the casa hacienda San Juan Grande. Once this was – together with San Juan Bautista de Villa – the largest hacienda in Surco. Both were owned by the Jesuits until their expulsion from Peru in 1767. The last owner was a member of the Canevaro family, that had made their fortune in trade, among others of Chinese coolies. Since 1925 the house is slowly falling apart. The church next to it has been restored in 1992, but larger plans never came to be. Now the walls of the house have to be supported, otherwise they will collapse. The owner, the Fundación Canevaro, is trying with the Municipality of Surco and the Instituto Nacional de Cultura to restore the place, but an investment of two million dollars is needed.

The patio is almost like a cloister

The casa hacienda San Juan Grande is supposedly built on pre-Hispanic remains from the times of the curacazgo (lordship) of Sulco, which formed part of the Ichma territory with Pachacamac as capital. In 1570 the native population had to leave its villages and had to relocate to the reducción de los indios Santiago de Surco, nowadays Surco Viejo. The present building dates from the 18th century. In 1767 the house was described as follows: ´Una vivienda alta con su patio, y traspatio la que tiene dos Corredores, que mira a una, y otra parte cubiertos de Madera resibidos sobre columnas de lo mismo sus Barandillas, y quince bancas de firme, quarto escaleras, dos bajas de patio, y dos al dho traspatio, y dha vivienda que se compone de ocho cuartos Corrientes con sus puertas, chapas y llaves, en el patio la Ofizina de Azeite, y seis cuartos vajos pequeños en el Callejon que sale al traspatio, dos Cuartos, y en cada uno un Zepo.´ The house was damaged during the war with and occupation by Chile and must have been restored after that. It has a square floor plan, with the church on the right and a big patio, almost like a cloister, behind the main building of the casa hacienda. The square in front of the house has the service buildings on the other sides. The high pine tree in the patio fell down in 2001.
The dating of the church is 1752, but probably contains much older parts. The church is, logically for a Jesuit hacienda, a very prominent feature with its impressive façade with two bell towers. The church has a single nave, covered by a quincha barrel vault, and adobe walls. The dome was made out of quincha as well and collapsed in the earth quake of 1966, destroying the wooden retablo, the main altarpiece. The church has been restored in 1992.

The hacienda produced mainly sugar

The first owner of lands near the road from Lima to Pachacamac that later became the hacienda San Juan Grande was Diego de Porres Sagrado who obtained them in 1559. He became mayor of Lima in 1572, 1575 and 1580. Diego and his wife Ana de Sandoval supported the Jesuits. They not only donated land and houses in Lima to the order, but ceded in 1581 as well the hacienda in Surco. Diego died in Lima January 10th 1588. In 1595 the Jesuits acquired ´la Valle de Villa´, to become the hacienda San Juan Bautista de Villa near Chorrillos. The Jesuits acquired more land from the caciques of Surco in the following decades. They constructed a water reservoir to supply San Juan Grande, as this area was dry, while Villa had sufficient water. The area of San Juan Grande was in the seventeenth century around 480 hectares. The hacienda produced mainly sugar and honey from sugar cane, but had livestock, olive trees and alfalfa as well. In 1767 there were 482 slaves. The Jesuits must have used the square in front of the church for colorful religious ceremonies, with african musicians. But all of this ended September 9th 1767, when on the orders of King Carlos III the activities of the order where terminated. This in the light of more liberal policies of the Borbon king, who tried to recduce the role and power of the church and the monastic orders. Of course the wealth of the Jesuits must have caused jealousy as well.

The boy hero Julio César Escobar

The hacienda San Juan Grande was first administered by several government officials and sold in 1784 to Nicolás Coronel y Unzueta. At that time it comprised of 727 hectares, but was cut off from its water supply, that now belonged to the hacienda Villa. In 1790 Coronel sold his property to Joseph Rudecindo Casanova. And in 1809 José Alzamora Ursino y Mendoza bought the hacienda, which was now in a bad state. He died in 1837. The hacienda was a shadow of what it had been during the Jesuit period, with only 60 slaves.
During the war of the Pacific with Chile the hacienda was used by general Cáceres to house his troops. The boy hero Julio César Escobar climbed the pine tree to look out for the Chilean troops. After they had conquered the area, they executed Julio César at the base of the tree.

The Fundación Canevaro became owner of the hacienda

After the war the hacienda became property of general César Canevaro Valega. His father Giuseppe Canevaro was born in Zoagli near Genova in 1803. Having made a fortune in Ecuador, he moved to Peru around 1830, became rich in lending to the state and founded trading house José Canevaro e Hijos. His son José Canevero Valega transported Chinese culíes. After the abolition of slavery in 1854 the Chinese became a popular cheap source of agricultural labour. Importing Chinese workers was suspended in 1856, when 18,000 Chinese had been brought to Peru. But the haciendados pushed the government to allow it again in 1861. In the period till 1870 39,000 Chinese were imported and from 1871 till 1874, when this trade was put to an end, 40,000. It is estimated that a third of the Chinese laborers were brought by Canevaro ships in the period 1863-1874. The Italian state made José in 1883 Duca di Castelvari e Zoagli. In 1878 he became second vice president of Peru and later ambassador in Europe. He was married to Maria Luisa Soyer Lavalle, a greatgranddaughter of José Lavalle, Conde de Premio Real, who bought the hacienda San Juan Bautista de Villa. He died without children in an accident in France in 1900.
Hs brother César Canevaro was mayor of the Provincial Council of Lima in 1881 and 1886-1888, senator for Lima 1886-1894 and for Huancavelíca 1911-1916 and ambassador to the United States 1893-1894. He died in 1922, childless. His widow Ignacia Rodulfo designated in her will that the income from the properties should be used for charity. She died in Paris in 1925. The Fundación Ignacia R. de Canevaro was formed, which became owner of the hacienda and the other real estate. The fund finances projects for orphans, old people and invalids.

The remains of the casa hacienda and the church are waiting already a very long time for a new future. The place is magnificent and could easily be used for various functions; touristic, religious, festive, gastronomic.

Selected literature:
Flores-Zúñiga, Fernando; Haciendas y Pueblos de Lima, Historia del valle del Rímac, Valle de Sullco y Lati, Lima 2009
Lértora Carrera, Aldo; Restauración de la Iglesia y Casa-hacienda de San Juan Grande de Surco, in Arkinka, Lima, February 1996
Mücke, Ulrich; Political culture in nineteenth century Peru, Pittsburgh 2004
Rodríguez-Camilloni, Humberto; The Jesuit Rural Churches on the Southern Peruvian Coast, In The Jesuits II, Cultures, Sciences and The Arts 1540-1773, Toronto 2006


  1. Goed gedaan Holandes!
    Muchas gracias por tu interés en nuestras valiosas estructuras arquitectonicas y su increible contenido historico. Increible que tenga que ser un holandesito el que lo haga de interes publico.

    Well done Dutchman!
    Thank you so much for your article showing such interest for our unbelieveable valuable buildings and their historical content.
    Ironical enough, it takes a dutchie to raise it to public interest.
    Please keep it coming!

    AM Juch-Calero

  2. Thanks Dutchman for the article, I remember that I used to go for walking with my mother and sister from Surco Viejo town to this place in the mid 80s! Wow It's been so long!

    My grandmother told me when I was a child about a tunnel that connect the church of main squared to this church in San Juan Grande. Have you ever heard about it?.

    Thanks anyway,

  3. Hi Ronald. Felcito the work you've done really is very detailed and complete. I write because I like me ease some of the literature you used the article to do my job. I'd appreciate it very much.
    Email: cilvvia@hotmail.com