Aug 222016
 

Mexico has some of the finest markets in the world. The variety of produce and other items sold in markets is staggering. But not all Mexican markets are the same. The two major groups are the permanent markets (mercados), usually housed in a purpose-built structure and open for business every day, and the street market or tianguis, usually held once a week.

Earlier this month, Mexico City passed legislation that gave the city’s 329 public markets Intangible Cultural Heritage status, and provided additional funding to ensure that their traditional activities are maintained for future generations.

Some of the markets are traditional, mixed markets, others are specialized. Between them, they are used on a regular basis by almost half of Mexico City’s residents and provide more than 280,000 jobs. The Mexico City commission established to preserve these traditional spaces and their practices has been allocated a budget in 2017 of $200,000,000 pesos (about $11 million).

Abelardo L. Rodriguez Market. Credit: Wikimedia. Creative Commons.

Abelardo L. Rodriguez Market. Credit: Wikimedia. Creative Commons.

Beyond their regular role as a trading place, many of the markets in Mexico City have additional claims to fame. For example the La Paz market in Tlalpan in the southern part of the city occupies an architecturally impressive building, while the Abelardo L. Rodríguez market in the downtown area has fine decorative murals painted by students of Diego Rivera.

Related posts:

The origins of street markets (tianguis) in Oaxaca, Mexico

 Other  Comments Off on The origins of street markets (tianguis) in Oaxaca, Mexico
Oct 152012
 

In an earlier post, we looked at the benefits brought by Mexico’s street markets (tianguis) to both vendors and consumers, and mentioned their long history.

But where, when and why did the first street markets emerge in Mexico?

While there is ample evidence of long-distance trade at least as far back as the Olmec (1500 BC to 200 BC), and we know that there was regular long-distance trade during Aztec times, this trade did not necessarily involve market places and market activity.

Richard Blanton and his co-authors in Ancient Mesoamerica: a comparison of change in three regions offer some insights into how markets may have developed in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.

They point out that relatively little archaeological work has been done on finding the origins of market systems. The major reason for this is because of the paucity of direct archaeological evidence of market activities. Finding “exotic” items (those originating from outside the area) is a clear indication of barter or trade, but does not prove that there was a regular market.There is little or no evidence of the former market stalls and activities for archaeologists to work with.

Ceramic items in a Oaxaca street market. Photo: Tony Burton

Ceramic items in a Oaxaca street market. Photo: Tony Burton

However, several million ceramic pieces found in the Oaxaca area have been collected, and systematically cataloged by complexity of form, and hence, difficulty of manufacture and likely “value”. Blanton and his colleagues explore the idea that the distribution of these ceramics can be used to map ceramic production sites and provide a “faint image of the structure of the region’s marketing system”.

In their words, “Presumably, producers would have  distributed themselves in such a way as to maximize their access to potential customers, and to minimize costs. As the clays needed for ceramic making were available virtually everywhere, potters should have therefore tended to locate themselves close to the marketplace or marketplaces where their goods would be sold, to minimize their costs of moving the pottery.” [p 37]

Echoing central place theory, they write that, “A market system and its specialized producers can’t be supported if the producers can’t make a living. They have to be able to supply a sufficiently large number of households that are willing and able to consume a sufficiently large quantity of their goods.” The “demand threshold” is the minimum demand sufficient for a particular product to be worth producing. People will travel further to purchase a higher cost or rarer item (which has a higher demand threshold), which will be produced in only a single or very small number of locations.

According to Blanton and his colleagues, the data for ceramic types in the Valley of Oaxaca confirm that as early as 500 B.C., only one site contained evidence for the most costly (intricate; many steps involved in production) form of ceramics. This site was located in the center of the valley. On the other hand, a larger number of production sites for less costly ceramics were found, scattered around the valley, each site apparently supplying a small local area. While this is not conclusive proof of regular markets, it is certainly strongly suggestive that this is how markets originated in this region.

More than two thousand years later, the Oaxaca Valley still has some of the most colorful and vibrant markets in Mexico. The map shows the market day for major markets in the area around the city of Oaxaca. For more details, see Markets in and near the city of Oaxaca.

Source:

Blanton, Richard E., Stephen A. Kowalewski, Gary Feinmann and Jill Appel. Ancient Mesoamerica: a comparison of change in three regions. Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Related posts:

The geography of Mexico’s street markets (tianguis)

 Other  Comments Off on The geography of Mexico’s street markets (tianguis)
Oct 082012
 

Mexico has some of the finest markets in the world. The variety of produce and other items sold in markets is staggering. But not all Mexican markets are the same. The two major groups are the permanent markets (mercados), usually housed in a purpose-built structure and open for business every day, and the street market or tianguis, usually held once a week.

Street market in Oaxaca. Photo: Tony Burton

Street market in Oaxaca. Photo: Tony Burton

Most tianguis temporarily occupy one or more streets or a public square, though some also use privately-owned land. The origins of the tianguis lie in pre-Columbian times, whereas mercados are a much more recent innovation. In this post, we focus on the tianguis.

The geography of a street market or tianguis

The merchants selling goods in a street market generally visit several markets each week, on a regular rotation (see map for an example of a weekly cycle of markets around the city of Oaxaca). In terms of economic geography, weekly markets allow merchants to maximize their “sphere of influence” and exceed the sales “threshold”, the minimum sales required for them to make a profit, even if they are selling items that may not cost very much, and for which individual consumers are not prepared to travel very far. By visiting, say, four markets a week, these merchants effectively quadruple their potential customers. In terms of social and human geography, these weekly markets are a valuable means of communication, and news from one community quickly travels, via the merchants, to another.

At the same time, these markets give consumers access to a much wider range of goods than would otherwise be possible.

The map shows the market day for major markets, and the major weekly marketing cycles, in the area around the city of Oaxaca. With the exception of Oaxaca city (population 480,000) and Miahuatlán (33,000), all the other towns have populations between 13,000 and 20,000. The merchants at such markets generally carry their wares from village to village on the days of their respective markets. Some local farmers also sell their produce at such markets. For more details, see Markets in and near the city of Oaxaca.

The weekly cycle of markets in and around the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Map: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

Mexico has a very long history of street markets, certainly dating back more than two thousand years. The Spanish conquistadors saw, first hand, the very large market of Tlatelolco, in what is now Mexico City, which attracted between 40,000 and 45,000 people on “market day”, which was held every five days.

Markets enabled people living in one region to trade goods produced in another region. In the case of food items this allowed residents of the “hot lands” (tierra caliente) to gain access to food items coming from the “temperate lands” (tierra templada). Some ancient settlements in Mexico are located close to the division between either tierra caliente and tierra templada [usual elevation about 750 meters above sea level] or tierra templada and “cold lands” (tierra fria), at an elevation of about 1800 meters a.s.l. These locations clearly favored the trading and exchanging of items from one major climate zone to another.

Food was by no means the only item traded in markets. Many plants with medicinal value were traded, as were others used for construction materials. It was also common to trade textiles, minerals and household items such as baskets, ceramics and grinding stones, as well as salt, prized feathers and animals.

Even today, most Mexican markets have a distinctive spatial pattern of stalls, with vendors of similar items setting up side-by-side, allowing for comparison shopping. It is a relatively easy and revealing fieldwork exercise to map a Mexican market and then analyze the distribution of different kinds of goods.

We looked in a previous post at how the same basic principle applies to the distribution of shops in many towns and cities.

While most markets traded a variety of items, a handful of specialist markets emerged, especially in the Mexico City area. For example, there were specialist markets for salt in Atenantitlan, dogs (as a source of food) in Acolman, and for slaves in Azcapotzalco and Iztocan.

In a future post, we will look at the origins of the tianguis in the Oaxaca region, a region that is still one of the most fascinating areas in Mexico for markets of all kinds.

Further reading:

Related posts:

Mexico City’s wholesale food market, Central de Abasto

 Books and resources, Other  Comments Off on Mexico City’s wholesale food market, Central de Abasto
Jul 072010
 

Have you ever wondered how food supplies are organized in a metropolitan area the size of Mexico City (population 20 million) so that all its inhabitants have regular access to fresh produce? Like most major world cities, Mexico City has a specialized wholesale market for food, Central de Abasto. It is located in Iztapalapa, south-east of the city center.

Nicola Twilley, a freelance writer currently based in Montreal, has written a wonderfully informative description of what a visit to the Central de Abasto is like on her fascinating blog edible geography

Map of Central de Abasto, Mexico City

Map of Central de Abasto, Mexico City. Click to enlarge.

The map is the “official” map of the Central de Abasto in all its glory. While I often organized market surveys for school groups in Mexico, I have to admit that I never dared take on the challenge of surveying the Central de Abasto. This map, and Twilley’s fun account of the market reminds me why I never had the courage!

Mexican markets, in all their guises, from the massive Central de Abasto down to a humble tianguis (street market) in a small village, are a fascinating aspect of Mexico’s geography, and well worth a book in their own right.

Enjoy!

Notes:

Markets in and near the city of Oaxaca

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Markets in and near the city of Oaxaca
May 102010
 

The southern state of Oaxaca is famous for its lively and colorful markets. Many villages have a weekly market, and it is possible to travel from one market to the next during a week in Oaxaca without ever visiting the same market twice.

The weekly cycle of markets in and around the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Map: Tony Burton. All rights reserved.

This is not a coincidence, since it is precisely what many of the market vendors do every week in order to maximize the number of people exposed to their salesmanship and wares. This is related to an important concept in central place theory, that of the threshold population required to support a particular good or service.

Visiting even a single weekly market in Oaxaca is a fascinating way of experiencing first-hand some of the amazing cultural diversity of this  extraordinary state.

Click here for an interactive version of the map of markets in central Oaxaca. The geography of Mexico’s markets is discussed in chapter 24 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico

Related article:

Oaxaca is the most culturally diverse state in Mexico