Spanish customary units

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Castilian system of units
SpanishEnglishLength in piesLength in SI UnitsU.S. Units
punto"point"117280.1613 mm0.00635 in
línea"line"11441.935 mm.0762 in
pulgada"inch"11223.22 mm.9142 in
pie"foot"1278.6 mm10.969 in
vara"yard"30.8359 m32.909 in
paso"pace"51.3932 m54.850 in
milla"mile"5 0001393.2 m4570.9 ft
legua"league"15 0004.1795 km2.597 mi

There are a number of Spanish units of measurement of length or area that are now virtually obsolete (due to metrication). They include the vara, the cordel, the league and the labor. The units of area used to express the area of land are still encountered in some transactions in land today. For example, the 'vara' is still used in Costa Rica when ordering lumber.

Vara (unit of length)[edit]

A vara (meaning "rod" or "pole", abbreviation: var) is an old Spanish unit of length. Varas are a surveying unit that appear in many deeds in the southern United States, and varas were also used in many parts of Latin America. It varied in size at various times and places; the Spanish unit was set at about 835.905 mm (32.91 in) in 1801. In Argentina, the vara measured about 866 mm (34.1 in), and typical urban lots are 8.66 m (28.41 ft) wide (10 Argentine varas). At some time a value of 33 inches (838.2 mm) was adopted in California.

In Texas, a vara was defined as 33 13 inches (846.67 mm), or 1 yard = 1.08 vara. The vara and the corresponding unit of area, the square vara, were introduced in the 19th century to measure Spanish land grants. In Texas, Stephen F. Austin's early surveying contracts required that he use the vara as a standard unit. The vara can be seen in many deeds as late as the mid to late 1900s. 1 acre (0.405 ha) is equivalent to 5,645.376 Texan square varas. A league is equivalent to 5,000 varas squared or 4,428.4 acres (1,792.11 ha).

To convert varas to feet, take the varas and divide by 0.36.

Standardization of measurement in Texas came with the introduction of varas, cordels, and leagues.

A measure of 100 varas by 100 varas (Spanish) is almost 7000 square meters, and is known traditionally throughout Latin America as a manzana (i.e., a "city block"). As well, lumber is still measured in Costa Rica using a system based on 4 vara, or 11 feet, for both round and square wood. With square wood, using inches, the width is multiplied by the depth to get a measurement which they call pulgadas, or inches. The lumber is charged 'per inch', which is a measurement 11/12 of a board foot.

Labor (unit of area)[edit]

A labor (/ləˈbɔr/ in West Texas) is a unit of area, used to express the area of land, that is equal to 1 million square varas. A labor is equivalent to about 177.1 acres (71.67 ha). It was used in the archaic system of old Spanish land grants affecting Texas and parts of adjoining states. The labor is often used as an approximate equivalent to a quarter-section (that is, one quarter of a square mile of land). It is still encountered in modern real estate transactions.

League (unit of area)[edit]

A league can also be a unit of area, used to express the area of land, that is equal to 25 million square varas. A (square) league is equivalent to about 4,428.4 acres (1,792.11 ha). It was used in the archaic system of old Spanish land grants affecting Texas and parts of adjoining states and this use of league is used throughout the Texas Constitution.

A common Texas land grant size, discussed in James Michener's Texas, was a "labor and a league": one labor of good riparian land, and a (square) league of land away from the river.

The (square) league is still encountered in modern real estate transactions.

Palmo and coto (unit of length)[edit]

The palmo ("palm") measured the distance between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the pinky finger with all fingers splayed. Its standardized value is 20.873 cm (8.2177 in). Half of a palmo in Castile was called the coto, described as six fingers and defined as 10.4365 cm (4.10886 in). The ancient Romans had a similar, smaller unit called the palmus, which was 7.3925 cm (2.91043 in).

Local units[edit]

Although some standardisation was achieved with the law of 1801, particularly in defining the league as 6666⅔ varas long, varying measures continued to be used in various cities and regions.[1]

TownVara ("rod")
Libra (pound of 16 ounces)
(Media) Cántara[2] or
Arroba (wine)
Arroba (oil)
Media Fanega
(dry goods)
Legua (of 6666⅔ Vara)
Alava0.8360.460116.13312.56355.501 (Fanega[3])5.5727
("Libra gruesa" à 18 oz.)
("media arroba")
("media arroba")
Balearic Islands0.7820.40735.17
Barcelona1.555 ("cana")0.400
("medicinal:" 0.300)
30.35 ("barrilón")4.15 ("cuartán")34.759
Cáceres0.8360.4561.73 ("cuarto")1.60 ("cuarto")26.88
Canary Islands0.8420.460015.08 (Santa Cruz)
5.34 (Las Palmas)
31.33 (Santa Cruz)
Ciudad Real0.8390.460018.006.2227.296.687
La Coruña0.8430.57515.58 (wine)
16.43 (Aguardiente)
12.4316.15 (flour)5.573
Gerona1.559 ("cana")0.40015.48 ("mallal")---18.083.762
(4500 varas castellanas)
("medida de libra")
("hora de camino")
("medida arroba de vino")
("medida arroba de aceite")
Lugo0.8550.5730.47 ("cuartillo")13.13
Málaga0.8360.460018.33 ("media arroba")---26.975.573
Murcia0.8360.460017.80 ("media arroba")---27.645.573
Navarra0.7850.37211.770.41 ("libra para media aceite")28.135.495
Salamanca0.8360.460017.99 ("medio")27.295.573
Toledo0.8370.460018.12 ("media cantara")6.25 ("media arroba")27.755.573
Zaragoza0.7720.3509.9113.93 (aceite)
13.33 (aguardiente)

Other units[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Detailed tables in: Instituto Geográfico y Estadístico; Equivalencias entre las pesas y medidas usadas antiguamente en las diversas provincias de España y las legales del Sistema Métrico Decimal; Madrid; 1886.
  2. ^ "jug" of 4 Cuartillos. In Eastern Spain Cántaro. In the West Indies = 15.44 l. in Peru 16.17 l.
  3. ^ National standard measure 1801: of 12 celemins à 4 cuartillos. Larger in the colonies.
  4. ^ Exactly: 0.460093 kg. National standard 1801.
  5. ^ Exactly: 0.835905 m. most commonly used vara also in the colonies. Legal standard 1801.
  6. ^ Rose, Joshua (1900). Pattern Makers Assistant (9th ed.). New York: D. van Nostrand Co. p. 264. 

External links[edit]