views updated


Bajío, an area recognized since colonial times as the "Granary of Mexico" because of its fertile soils and production of corn, beans, and wheat. Formed by the basins of Guanajuato and Jalisco, it covers parts of the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Querétaro, and Michoacán. The Bajío lies at an altitude of about 6,500 feet, and its surface is covered by thick lacustrine sediments enriched with volcanic ash. It receives about 25 inches of rainfall a year, almost all of which falls during the summer months.

During the pre-Columbian era, the Bajío was on the northern frontier of Mesoamerica and was occupied largely by nomadic Chichimecs. Opened to Spanish colonization after the Mixtón War of 1541, the area drew Otomí and Tarascan farmers from the south and east, followed by Spanish missionaries, who began producing wheat, and by ranchers, who introduced herds of livestock. The discovery of silver at Zacatecas in 1546, at Guanajuato in 1563, and later at sites to the north and east, created markets for agricultural products, and garrison towns such as Celaya (1571) were established to protect the silver route from Zacatecas to Mexico City from hostile Indians.

By the mid-seventeenth century, the Bajío was Mexico's major wheat-producing area. With this success came the expansion of cultivated land, the decline of livestock, the development of large estates, and the rapid growth of population, especially during the eighteenth century. Irrigation also became important; Spanish hacendados used springs but also irrigated with water from the Lerma River and its tributaries. The earliest of these works, dating from 1648, was the dam on the Laguna de Yuriria. For the most part, wheat was grown on irrigated land, and maize was raised on nonirrigated plots. During the colonial period a textile industry based on wool, and later cotton, grew up in the cities of the Bajío, especially Querétaro, Celaya, and Salamanca.

The Bajío remained Mexico's most productive agricultural region until the 1950s, when new lands were opened in the irrigated valleys of the northwest. Even though much of the Bajío was broken up into ejidos during the 1930s, the region remains important for farming, growing wheat, truck crops (especially strawberries), alfalfa, corn, and beans. New irrigation complexes such as the Solís dam on the Lerma River (1949) have replaced the old systems, whose relict features are still visible in the landscape today.

See alsoAgriculture .


D. A. Brading, Haciendas and Ranchos in the Mexican Bajío: León, 1700–1860 (1978).

Michael E. Murphy, Irrigation in the Bajío Region of Colonial Mexico (1986).

Robert Cooper West and John P. Augelli, Middle America: Its Lands and Peoples, 3d ed. (1989), pp. 258-260, 304-305.

Additional Bibliography

Cárdenas García, Efraín. El Bajío en el clásico: Análisis regional y organización política. Zamora, Michoacán: El Colegio de Michoacán, 1999.

                                        John J. Winberry