Cortijos may have their origins in ancient
Roman villas, for the word is derived from the
Latincohorticulum, a diminutive of cohors, meaning '
courtyard' or inner enclosure. They are often isolated structures associated with a large family farming or
livestock operation in the vast and empty adjoining lands.
A cortijo would usually include a large house, together with accessory buildings such as workers' quarters, sheds to house livestock, granaries,
oil mills, barns and often a wall limiting the enclosure where there were no buildings surrounding it. It was also common for isolated cortijos to include a small
In mountain areas, rough
stone was often used for wall construction and
ashlar for corners, doorways, windows and arches. In ancient cortijos,
slaked lime were used as
mortar. However, the traditional materials were replaced by
cement and brick construction in more recent ones. In places where stone was hard to come by, adobe was more common as a construction material. Usually cortijos were
Roofs were built with wooden
beam structures and covered with red ceramic
The master of the cortijo or "señorito" would usually live with his family in a two-story building when visiting, while the accessory structures were for the labourers and their families —also known as "cortijeros". The latter buildings were usually of more simple construction.
The cortijo as a habitat is surrounded by cultivated lands, such as
olive trees or other kind of agricultural exploitation. In certain desolate areas of the southern
Sierra Morena, a cortijo would be the only inhabited center for many miles around. Thus, most of them were self-sufficient units, as far as that was possible.
Many cortijos became deserted following
General Franco's Plan de Estabilización and the abandonment of traditional agricultural practices by the local youth, including the lifestyle changes that swept over rural Spain during the second half of the 20th century.