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Artist’s impression of the great market at Tlatelolco

The great market at Tlatelolco

‘We turned to look at the great marketplace and the crowds of people that were in it, some buying and others selling, so that the murmur and hum of their voices and words that they used could be he heard more than a league off. Some of the soldiers among us who had been in many parts of the world, in Constantinople, and all over Italy, and in Rome, said that so large a marketplace and so full of people, and so well regulated and arranged; they had never seen before.’ (Compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: Artist’s impression by Felipe Dávalos
Pic 1: Artist’s impression by Felipe Dávalos (Click on image to enlarge)

Bernal Díaz de Castillo and his compatriots were ‘astounded at the number of people and the quantity of merchandise’ that the great marketplace at Tlatelolco, which they visited within days of arriving in Tenochtitlan, contained. ‘Each kind of merchandise was kept by itself and had its fixed place marked out.’ In trying to describe the market Díaz almost despaired (‘I shall never finish if I tell it all in detail’), suggesting that even a visit of two days wouldn’t be long enough to take it all in. This is a shortened version of his eye-witness account (albeit put on paper a half-century or more ‘after the event’):-

The chieftains who accompanied us acted as guides. Each kind of merchandise was kept by itself and had its fixed place marked out. Let us begin with the dealers in gold, silver, and precious stones, feathers, mantles and embroidered goods. Then there were other wares consisting of Indian slaves both men and women... Next there were other traders who sold great pieces of cloth and cotton, and articles of twisted thread, and there were ‘cacahuateros’ who sold cacao...

Pic 2: Diego Rivera’s mural version
Pic 2: Diego Rivera’s mural version (Click on image to enlarge)

There were those who sold cloths of henequen and ropes and the sandals with which they were shod, which are made from the same plant, and sweet cooked roots, and other tubers which they get from this plant, all were kept in one part of the market in the place assigned to them. In another part there were skins of tigers [jaguars] and lions [pumas], of otters and jackals, deer and other animals and badgers and mountain cats, some tanned and others untanned, and other classes of merchandise.
Let us go on and speak of those who sold beans and sage and other vegetables and herbs in another part, and to those who sold fowls, cocks with wattles, rabbits, hares, deer, mallards, young dogs... and let us also mention the fruiterers, and the women who sold cooked food, dough and tripe in their own part of the market; then every sort of pottery made in a thousand different forms from great water jars to little jugs, these also had a place to themselves;

Pic 3: Some of the products at the market; Florentine Codex Book 8
Pic 3: Some of the products at the market; Florentine Codex Book 8 (Click on image to enlarge)

then those who sold honey and honey paste and other dainties like nut paste, and those who sold lumber, boards, cradles, beams, blocks and benches, each article by itself, and the vendors of ‘ocote’ [pitch pine for torches] firewood, and other things of a similar nature. Paper, which in this country is called ‘ama[t]l’, and reeds scented with liquidambar, and full of tobacco, and yellow ointments and things of that sort are sold by themselves, and much cochineal is sold under the arcades which are in that great marketplace, and there are many vendors of herbs and other sorts of trades. There are also buildings where three magistrates sit in judgment, and there are executive officers... who inspect the merchandise. I am forgetting those who sell salt, and those who make the stone knives, and how they split them off the stone itself; and the fisherwomen and others who sell some small cakes made from a sort of ooze which they get out of the great lake, which curdles, and from this they make a bread having a flavour something like cheese.

Pic 4: Part of a reconstruction of the market in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 4: Part of a reconstruction of the market in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

There are for sale axes of brass and copper and tin, and gourds and gaily painted jars made of wood... Before leaving the marketplace itself, there were many more merchants, who, as I was told, brought gold for sale in grains, just as it is taken from the mines. The gold is placed in the quills of the geese of the country, white quills, so that the gold can be seen through, and according to the length and thickness of the quills they arrange their accounts with one another, how much so many mantles or so many gourds full of cacao were worth, or how many slaves, or whatever other thing they were exchanging...

Others have suggested you could add to Díaz’s list the following:-
jewellery, body ornaments, sea shells, precious stones, coral, obsidian, flint, bells, turkey/quail/pheasant/eagle/quetzal/flamingo/heron feathers; tapestries, blankets, cloaks, blouses and skirts, animal hides, maguey thorns, sharks’ teeth, drums, flutes, rattles, darts and lances; chocolate whisks, hangings, shawls, rubber, charcoal, olives, squashes, roots, cactus leaves, peanuts, chiles, cinnamon, incense, resin, chewing gum - and that’s just for starters!
Most scholars estimate that the number of people using the market daily was between 20,000 and 40,000, with this swelling to anything up to 60,000 once a (5-day) ‘week’ on the special market day. Cortés himself estimated the number of vendors alone to be 60,000!

Pic 5: As pic 4
Pic 5: As pic 4 (Click on image to enlarge)

Picture sources:-
• Main picture: ‘Tlatelolco Marketplace as depicted at Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago’, photo by Joe Ravi (Wikipedia Creative Commons Share-Alike License CC-BY-SA 3.0)
• Pic 1: Illustration by Felipe Dávalos/Mexicolore
• Photo by Sean Sprague/Mexicolore
• Pic 3: Image from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994
• Pix 4 & 5: Photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

Ideas for an AZTEC MARKET...

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