The 34,658 site, between the foothills of the Tequila Volcano and the deep valley of the Rio Grande, is part of an expansive landscape of blue agave, shaped by the culture of the plant used since the 16th century to produce tequila spirit and for at least 2,000 years to make fermented drinks and cloth. Within the landscape are working distilleries reflecting the growth in the international consumption of tequila in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, the agave culture is seen as part of national identity. The area encloses a living, working landscape of blue agave fields and the urban settlements of Tequila, Arenal, and Amatitan with large distilleries where the agave ‘pineapple' is fermented and distilled. The property is also a testimony to the Teuchitlan cultures which shaped the Tequila area from AD 200-900, notably through the creation of terraces for agriculture, housing, temples, ceremonial mounds and ball courts.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Agave Region, in the Valles Region of the Jalisco State, is one of the most important cultural landscapes in Mexico, not only for the importance of the natural landscape that offers, but for the cultural tradition that has kept for several centuries and from which has arisen one of the main icons that identify this country: the tequila.
The 35,019 ha site, between the foothills of the Tequila Volcano and the deep valley of the Rio Grande River, is part of an expansive landscape of blue agave, shaped by the culture of the plant used since the 16th century to produce tequila spirit and for at least 2,000 years to make fermented drinks and cloth. Within the landscape are working distilleries reflecting the growth in the international consumption of tequila in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, the agave culture is seen as part of national identity. The area encloses a living, working landscape of blue agave fields and the urban settlements of Tequila, Arenal, and Amatitan with large distilleries where the agave ‘pineapple' is fermented and distilled. The property is also a testimony to the Teuchitlan cultures which shaped the Tequila area from AD 200-900, notably through the creation of terraces for agriculture, housing, temples, ceremonial mounds and ball courts.
Criterion (ii): The cultivation of agave and its distillation have produced a distinctive landscape within which are a collection of fine haciendas and distilleries that reflect both the fusion of pre-Hispanic traditions of fermenting mescal juice with the European distillation processes and of local and imported technologies, both European and American.
Criterion (iv): The collection of haciendas and distilleries, in many cases complete with their equipment and reflecting the growth of tequila distillation over the past two hundred and fifty years, are together an outstanding example of distinct architectural complexes which illustrate the fusion of technologies and cultures.
Criterion (v): The agave landscape exemplified the continuous link between ancient Mesoamerican culture of the agave and today, as well as the contours process of cultivation since the 17th century when large scale plantations were created and distilleries first started production of tequila. The overall landscape of fields, distilleries, haciendas and towns is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement and land-use which is representative of a specific culture that developed in Tequila.
Criterion (vi): The Tequila landscape has generated literary works, films, music, art and dance, all celebrating the links between Mexico and tequila and its heartland in Jalisco. The Tequila landscape is thus strongly associated with perceptions of cultural significances far beyond its boundaries.
The World Heritage property is large and encompasses the whole of the core of tequila growing landscape and most of the related elements and interdependent that characterizes the agave region. The area also includes all aspects of the tequila growing and distillation process, and the haciendas and factories and associated towns, thus encompassing an economic and cultural area.
In the municipalities of Magdalena, Tequila, Amatitán and El Arenal concentrate the tangible and intangible testimonies of different historical periods that favour the comprehension and appreciation as a whole coherent and vital. The inscribed property is the region of origin of the cultural process and therefore the one that better exemplifies its historical development.
The extension deployed on the municipalities of El Arenal, Amatitán, Tequila and Magdalena embraces a valley with geographical and agricultural continuity where most of the tangible elements of the occupation of the territory are located, represented by the archaeological vestiges, plantations and industrial facilities as well as the intangible ones, represented by practices and customs of the community that inhabits the region. They have been the support of the cultural process of the production of Tequila. These same elements can propitiate their long term conservation and their sustainable development. To the date, significant problems produced by the human activity that could commit the integrity of the site have not occurred.
In terms of the cultivated landscape, haciendas, distilleries and the centres of the urban settlements, there is no doubt of their authenticity as reflecting the way the landscape has been used and still is to grow and process the agave plant and distil tequila. The methods of cultivation and processing both retain their authenticity and there is still a defined link between where the agave plants grow and the distilleries to which they are sent: only tequila processed from agave pineapples grown in the inscribed property is eligible for a Declaration of Origin. The work in the agricultural field attests the survival of essential elements that have shaped the agave landscape from its creation and the continuity of an ancient cultural process.
The extensive cultivations and the old distilleries of the region of Tequila have a strong character of syncretism since in them fuse ancestral knowledge of the American and European traditions. The hefty character of the landscape is the result of the cultivation and domestication of the Agave Azul Tequilana Weber native plant of the region, through a long journey along the time. From it comes the genus loci that impregnates the site in a single way. It is characterized by countless undulant lines of agave that adapt to the irregular topography of the region. The outskirts of the urban areas have been subject to recent development and change and there is less well defined local building traditions and authenticity. In these areas positive programmes will be needed to manage change in a beneficial way. The Management Plan addresses this need.
Protection and management requirements
About 22% of the nominated area is owned privately; 44% is common land; the remainder, 34% is what is called mixed productive associations which are private investment on common land. Most of the factories still in production are in urban areas. Those in rural areas belong to private owners. Altogether there are 60 factories in the inscribed property.
Legal protection applies at Federal, State and Municipal levels. At the Federal level, there are different legal tools that pertain to the Tequila product itself, while heritage protection is granted through the 1972 Federal Law Regarding Artistic, Historical and Archaeological Monuments and Sites, the General Law in Human Settlements and the General Law of National Properties, the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection. With these tools, federal protection applies to historical monuments before the 20th century, designated towns and villages, archaeological and industrial sites and the relationship between natural sites and cultural ones. This covers the core of the towns and nominated factories and haciendas. At the State Level, the Law of the Cultural Patrimony of the State of Jalisco and Municipalities, the Regulations for the Cultural Patrimony of the State of Jalisco and Municipalities, the Law of Urban Development of the State of Jalisco, the Decrees of Natural Protection Areas, are tools to ensure the preservation of both cultural and natural patrimony and people’s culture. The State has responsibility for the preservation and restoration of historical, architectural and archaeological sites, urban and territorial development and the delineation of settlements. In particular it is responsible for the protected Tequila landscape through the Tequila Master Plan. Finally, at the Municipal level, the Regulations for the Protection and Improvement of the Urban Image of Tequila, Jalisco, the Partial Plan of Urban Development on the Historical Centre of Tequila, Jalisco, the Partial Plan of Urban Development for the Conservation of the Urban and Architectural Patrimony of the Historical Centre of Amatitán, Jalisco, the Plan of Urban Development of the El Arenal, Jalisco, the Model of Territorial Ecological Classification of the State of Jalisco, Region Valles, provide control over 20th and 21st century heritage building at the property.
The Management Plan for the Agave Landscape and the Ancient Facilities of Tequila is the main management and planning tool. Its implantation is centred on improving the quality of life of the inhabitant communities and to act as factor of integration of the diverse effective legal instruments and competent instances in the region. It also seeks to ensure that the conditions of authenticity and integrity of each one of the components of the Agave Landscape are maintained through its conservation, restoration and appropriate use. Likewise, it strives to stimulate a sustainable regional growth supported by the local cultural values. The implementation of the management plan sets out the provisions for the conservation and sustainable use of the ensemble of attributes of the property: the natural landscape, the agave landscape, the archaeological vestiges, the ancient industrial facilities and the traditional towns. It is also a tool to promote that the social sectors of less economic income are contemplated as high-priority groups for the benefits derived from the rescue and conservation of the Cultural Agave Landscape. As part of the strategy followed by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and State Government of Jalisco to ensure the conservation and protection of the property through the sustainable regional development of the entity, the “Agave Landscape of Tequila” has been incorporated as a “Strategic Project for the development of Jalisco”.
The domestication of wild agave seems to have begun around 3,500 years ago. The wild plant may have originated in the Rio Grande canyon. The agave plant is ideally suited to the poor soil and rough terrain of the Tequila area.
Agave was extensively cultivated by the Teuchitlans and served to provide many basis necessities: its fibres were used for fabric, rope and paper, the flower stem provided wood for construction, the fleshy leaves were used as roof tiles and fuel, the spines for needles and arrow heads, the sap produced a type of honey and its juices were used for medicinal balm and fermented to produce an alcoholic drink. The leaders of the complex, stratified, Teuchitlan society created wealth from their apparent monopoly of the agave resources.
To transform the starches in the plant to sugar, for eating and fermenting into alcohol, the pineapples need cooking. There is archaeological evidence from nearby Lake Sayula (outside the nominated area) that the practice of cooking agave pineapples in open, conical ovens, made of volcanic stone, existed around 400 BC. These ovens were preheated with wood and the pineapples covered with branches and clay.
The Spanish priest, Friar Francisco Ximenez, wrote in 1615 how juice from the cooked plant was fermented to make wine flavoured with orange and melon rinds.
In the 16th century the area was conquered by the Spanish who established the town of Santiago de Tequila. The Caxcanes who were living in the areas gradually assimilated with the Spanish. In order to mitigate shortages of spirits from Europe, the Spanish experimented with local beverages and begun to distil the agave fermented juice to make vino de mezcal. At the same time rum was being developed in the Antilles and so the necessary equipment for the new agave spirit was introduced from the rum making areas.
The taxes levied on the new spirit produced a significant income for the Spanish government of Guadalajara. It funded a water supply and the government palace of Jalisco in Guadalajara.
At the end of the 17th century the first formal distilleries were established and the first intensive agave plantations created. During the course of the 18th century industrial facilities begun to be established within haciendas, and gradually agave cultivation spread out across the plain.
As the liquor became better known in the 18th century, so demand increased. Its growth was greatly helped by the creation in 1758 of the commercial route known as the Camino Real connecting Tequila to the port of San Blas on the Pacific Ocean, to Guadalajara and to Mexico City. The wine was transported by mule teams and donkeys along the new road and became the first export product from the region. The significant increase in production and consumption of this drink contributed to the development of a clear regional identity.
Overuse of the spirit became at times a cause for concern amongst the civil and religious authorities, and there were periodic, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempts to ban the drink, in spite of the loss of revenue, but these merely resulted in clandestine activity developing in remote areas. In 1795, after almost three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, a regional producer, José Maria Guadalupe Cuervo received the first licence permitting the legal establishment of a mescal distillery.
In the mid 19th century, with the growth of the export trade, large distilleries were established in the towns, separating the production of liquor from the growth of the raw materials. This led to the decline of some rural distilleries and their haciendas begun to concentrate instead on producing raw materials for the urban distilleries, resulting in a rapid increase in land under agave cultivation.
The second half of the 19th century saw consolidation amongst the urban distilleries and the introduction of more efficient machinery, such as enclosed steam heated ovens and mechanical mills.
The Mexican Revolution in the third decade of the 20th century led to a temporary decline of the tequila production process as land attached to haciendas was reallocated to workers on a communal basis or became private property.
Today measures have been put in place, such as the renting of land, and the advance purchasing of the agave plants, to try and ensure continuity in production to meet the continuing high demands.
Agave Landscape Gallery