Things That Matter

Love Tianguis? They Actually Come From a Long Tradition of Indigenous ‘Tianquiztli’ Marketplaces

If you’ve ever been to a tianguis before, you know they are epic markets filled to the brim with everything from fresh fruit, to homewares, to jewelry, to tacos, conchas and aguas frescas. That being said, you might not know that tianguis actually comes from the Nahuatl word “tianquiztli,” and is rooted in epic marketplaces from before the Spanish conquest.

A common tradition both in Mexico and throughout Central America, it’s easy to get lost in a weekly tianguis — and get wrapped up in the aromas, flavors and the buzz of it all. While today’s tianguis have tons of modern products like electronics, the original tianquiztli extend far back into the days of the Aztec Empire.

As TikToker @_arturoleal explained in a recent video, the biggest tianquiztli took place in Tlatelolco, which is located in today’s Mexico City. These huge open-air markets attracted more than 30,000 people, and was the perfect place to trade products, or buy them using currency like cacao or powdered gold.

So what could you find in an Indigenous tianquiztli? Pretty much everything under the sun (and then some). Leal explains that just like today, the markets offered tons of produce including beans, corn, chiles, tomatoes, avocados, plus other goods like tobacco, salt and even exotic feathers.

Walking through a tianquiztli, you could buy tamales, tortillas or even some candied fruit for dessert. Another sweet option? Mounds of real snow brought over from the Popocatépetl volcano, made into a kind of ice cream using honey, fruit and cacao. 

They also traded slaves in the market — known as tlacotin — while vendors called pochtecas were in charge of everything, from bringing over the goods to selling them.

As per Masa America, tianguis are different from traditional mercados, because just like the O.G. tianquiztli, they only occur about once a week. For this reason, tianguis are known as “mercados sobre ruedas,” making them all the more magical when they spring back up.

As we can see with tianguis, a version of tianquiztli survived the Spanish conquest, and remained crucial in making sure cities had proper sustenance. 

Comments on Leal’s TikTok post show that this information isn’t just interesting — it is needed. One user wrote, “Bro this is the stuff I love learning about!!” while another agreed, “Ooo Never got to learn much history of mexico even tho i’m mexican lmao thank you for this.” 

Another was excited to “learn something new about the place” they are from, while yet another commented, “With a lot of pride, those are my ancestors.” 

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