Condors & Jesuits

Hosting family visiting from the States have given us ample excuse to tour the region around Cordoba and play the tour guide.  With my Dad visiting this month we  managed to visit some of Cordoba’s most historic sites and stunning scenery prior to heading out to Salta and Mendoza.

Jesuit estancia of Santa Catalina, north of Cordoba

Jesuit estancia of Santa Catalina, north of Cordoba

The city of Cordoba is ringed by a number of estancias built by Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century.  Many of these sites are Unesco World Heritage sites, as is the Manzana Jesuitica in central Cordoba.

Museo Jesuitico Nacional de Jesus Maria, built in 1618 in the pueblo of Jesus Maria north of Cordoba.

Despite eventually being expelled from the continent by the Spanish, the Jesuits left an enduring legacy in the Cordoba area.  Most of their settlements and institutions remain today.  Founded by the Jesuits, the National University of Cordoba is one of the oldest universities in South America.

Museo Historico Nacional del Virrey Liniers, in Alta Gracia south of Cordoba

Museo Historico Nacional del Virrey Liniers, in Alta Gracia south of Cordoba

The Jesuits utilized a number of large farm facilities in the surrounding valleys to generate income for their mission.  Sad to say the kids have seemed most interested in the old bathroom facilities used by the Jesuits.  The wine making equipment and workshops where slave craftsmen built everything from nails to ornate works of art for use in the church are fascinating.  Each estancia was centered around an iglesia.  We found the displays and overall state of the Jesuit Estancia in Alta Gracia to be the best we’ve visited so far.

Jesuit Estancia, Alta Gracia

Jesuit Estancia, Alta Gracia

In addition to the amazing history left behind by the Jesuits, the surrounding mountains are a wonderful way to experience the Cordoba area.  Just over an hour drive to the southwest of Cordoba lie the Sierras Grandes.

Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito

Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito

Rather than the low, rolling hills covered in scrub brush that define the Sierras Chicas nearby, the Sierras Grandes rise sharply out of the valley and are vast.  The summit of this range is an open, rocky grassland called the Pampa de Achala rising to about 5,000 ft.

The quebrada (gorge) where condors nest and learn to fly.

The quebrada (gorge) where condors nest and learn to fly.

Halfway between Cordoba and Mina Clavero is Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito.  Despite a blustery day, Dad and I had a great hike to a clifftop viewpoint above a stunning gorge.  Although we saw only a few condors soaring high above, we had a great view of giant white streaks of condor poop against the cliffs.

Balcon Norte, near La Pampilla in Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito.

Balcon Norte, near La Pampilla in Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito.

The highway to the park is in great condition and provides amazing views of the rugged terrain.  We rented a car for the weekend to a few estancias and in particular for the trip up to La Pampilla.  Although I’ve read it’s possible by bus to access the park, I wouldn’t want to try it.

Next up, Salta and Mendoza!

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