Tianguis---traditional and modern open market

By Dongfang Li


Tianguis is a temporary open market, which is very common to see in both urban and rural areas in Mexico and Central America. It is always held on certain market days and will sell something special on the holidays such as Christmas. The key center of Tianguis is in Mexico City, from which people push away the air market to other regions. What's more, Tianguis contain both traditional cultures and modern elements, which are not only popular among folks, but also strong features of Mexican culture.[1]

The origin of term "Tianguis":

Tianguis, reads as tee-an-geese, comes from"tianquiztli", the Nahuatl word which Aztec people speak. It means harvest or day market. It also has a special meaning—— "informal economy", because of their business model is different from the formal and modern one.[2]

Nat Pal DR tianguis.jpg

Set up History:

During pre-Hispanic period, Tianguis was the most common and vital way for commerce and a lot of towns were chosen to be the original regional markets. It used to hold on certain market days per week. Specifically, in Tenochitlan(Mexico city), this air markets would held on everyday and served about one-fifth of population of citizens. Surprisingly, during the period of Aztec Empire, there was a initial governing system for the managers to administrate Tianguis, which included a panel of twelve judges to resolve disputes. After the Spanish conquest in 1520, Aztec Empire was collapsed, many things changed; however, European people were kept Tianguis intact. Because of the tradition Tianguis are protected and maintained, we can still find one oldest Tianguis in Mexico City nowadays operate every Tuesday for more than 500 years, which is still in the same place as before.

New operations today:

From the Spanish conquest to present, Tianguis still maintain the traditions. Specifically, the organization is almost the same as their ancestors did; that is, merchants set up their stalls near the streets, then use the plastic tarps to cover their stalls in case their goods are exposed under the sun or rain. However, Tianguis have developed during these years as well. Basically, in urban and rural regions, Tianguis show a lot of differences.[3]

  • Tianguis in countryside:

The products and manners of Tianguis in rural areas at present are much similar to those in the past; for example, rural street markets sell agriculture products, livestock, handcrafts and traditional clothing, etc. These things are traditional, fresh and uncommon to see in today's shopping centers and malls.[4]
Interestingly, in today's rural tianguis, you can still hear the conversations in dialects between employers and customers. For Instance, in the Sunday Market of Cuezalan Puebla, people use Nahuatl, their indigenous language to negotiate prices of products.

  • Tianguis in cities:

There are a lot of changes of urban Tianguis contrasted to that in countryside, which actually show the developments of customers' needs. Also, Tianguis in cities always choose the areas where there is no big shopping centers or supermarkets nearby because they will compete with each other and Tianguis may has some disadvantages. Compared to traditional products like crafts and agriculture items in rural Tianguis; in city Tianguis, employers pay more attention to modern and manufactured wares, namely electronics, fashion clothing, handbags, cosmetics, coffee and so on.[5] In addition, In urban Tianguis, shopkeepers may also find some employees to help them run their stalls, which is another big difference from rural Tianguis that shopkeepers usually sell products by themselves.

San Felipe de Jesus is the biggest Tianguis in Mexico City, which has been in service for more than 40 years. This Tianguis is really popluar among citizens since it contains over 1700 merchants and you need to walk about 17 kilometers if you want to visit all the shops there.

Characteristics of Tianguis:t5.JPG

In spite of the ordinary workdays and common products, Tianguis also have some specialty and events which appeals to all tastes of customers. Firstly, it has two different forms of markets: one is the markets that sell all variety of merchandise, the other is those that only serve one certain good like shoes, hair clips, T-shirts. Secondly, several semi-permanent street markets are opened only in a specific season. The most important events in these seasons' events are Christmas holiday events, which will last from the end of November to the first or second week of January. During these days, public officers usually close off a certain street that prohibit any vehicle to enter to make sure Tianguis can set up safely. Tianguis always sell the Christmas things such as Christmas trees, decorations, candies; some particular types of items, which are not usually seen will be sold too. Last but not least, some of the Tianguis in Mexico City are so famous that they become the places of interest; every year, hundreds of folks come to visit Tianguis and even to native Mexicans, more than one third of them buy some of their clothes and shoes in Tianguis per month. Consequently, these Tianguis markets are known as the major vacation places in Mexico.

Problems and improvements:

Besides the popularity of Tianguis, one problem happened in Zocalo, the main plaza of Mexico City. The government made effort to clear the areas of day-merchants instead of setting up permanent markets to revitalize the historic center of Mexico City. As a result, much of the Tianguis employers moved their stalls to the other places; besides, each Tianguis has their own administrators to manage them, who usually coordinate their problems about spaces and stalls between their neighborhoods, request them to pay the rental fees and so on. However, Tianguis traditions and popularity have not been eliminated by the regulations and inspections by government. Reversely, the amounts of Tianguis have been sharply increasing during these years.

The origin of term "Tianguis"

Set up History

New operations today

Tianguis in countryside;

Tianguis in cities

Characteristics of Tianguis

Problems and improvements


1.Tianguis - What is a tianguis - Definition of Tianguis <http://gomexico.about.com/od/glossary/g/tianguis.htm>.
2.Rios, Adalberto (May 14, 2006). "Ecos de Viaje / De tianguis y mercados [Travel echos/Of tianguis and markets]" (in Spanish). Reforma (Mexico City): p. 14.
3.EI tianguis stool-christianvivanco <www.christianvivanco.com/El-tianguis-stool>.
4.Tianguis Market in La Penita <www.jaltembabaylife.com/tianguis-market-la-penita>
5.Tianguis-Tioga George Blog<blog.vagabonders-supreme.net/2012/12/tianguis.html>