0. Introduction, 1. Quetzalcöätl, 2. Toltecs, 3. Market (This Page), 4. Flaying,
5. Lord of the Dead, 6. Poems, 7. Murder, 8. Virgin
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An Aztec Folio

Text 3: Bernal Díaz: The Tlatelolco Market
Tr. by DKJ

Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492-1584) accompanied Cortés on the latter’s expedition to México and appears to have had something close to a photographic memory about it. His book, Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva España, was completed much later, in 1568, when he was 76 years old (with an extra note appended when he was 84). It responded to what he believed were misrepresentations by Cortés’ official chronicler, Francisco López de Gomara, and by Gonzalo de Illescas, both of whom he considered to be ignorant and mendacious.

One of the most famous passages in his book is his memory of a trip to the great market of Tlatelolco, the northern district of Tenochtitlan, to which the company of visiting Spaniards was escorted on the fifth day after their arrival in Tenochtitlan as guests of Emperor Moteuczoma II. Although rambling and disorganized, it is the only detailed description we have of a pre-Conquest Mexican market. (The Spanish word plaza ambiguously means either town square or market. I have used the word “plaza” in the English version.).

The Spanish text here is extracted from chapter 39 of the full on-line version provided by the Biblioteca Virtual Antorcha. Aside from correcting an occasional obvious scanning error, this has been left unmodified. However, additional paragraph breaks have been inserted and paragraphs have been numbered to facilitate class use.

Linguistic Note: Following the Latinate stylistic conventions of the period, potentially separate sentences are strung together in the Spanish version to appear as much longer units, often beginning with “and” or “who.” I have felt free to allow paragraph breaks to fall inside such “sentences.” I have also followed English verb tense conventions, sometimes overriding the original. For an English translation of the entire book, see J. M. Cohen, The Conquest of New Spain (1963 & 1974, London: The Folio Society.).


1. Iban muchos caciques que Montezuma envió para que nos acompañasen; y desde que llegamos a la gran plaza, que se dice el Tatelulco, como no habíamos visto tal cosa, quedamos admirados de la multitud de gente y mercaderías que en ella había y del gran concierto y regimiento que en todo tenían. Y los principales que iban con nosotros nos lo iban mostrando; cada género de mercaderías estaba por sí, y tenían situados y señalados sus asientos. Many leaders arrived, whom Moteuczoma sent to accompany us. When we arrived at the great plaza they call Tlatelolco, the like of which we had never seen, we were amazed at the number of people and the amounts of merchandise to be found there, and at the good order and control that everything had. The leaders who accompanied us pointed things out. Every kind of merchandise was to be found here, and they had laid out a place for each.
2. Comencemos por los mercaderes de oro y plata y piedras ricas y plumas y mantas y cosas labradas, y otras mercaderías de indios esclavos y esclavas; digo que traían tantos de ellos a vender (a) aquella gran plaza como traen los portugueses los negros de Guinea, y traíanlos atados en unas varas largas con colleras a los pescuezos, porque no se les huyesen, y otros dejaban sueltos. To start with, there were vendors of gold and silver and precious stones and feathers and cloaks and carved things. And I’d say that they brought as many slaves to that market to sell as the Portuguese bring Negros from Guinea. They brought some of them tied to long poles by means of collars around their necks so they would not escape. And others were left loose.
3. Luego estaban otros mercaderes que vendían ropa más basta y algodón y cosas de hilo torcido, y cacahuateros que vendían cacao, Then there were other merchants who sold coarser clothing, as well as cotton and cloth made of twisted thread. And there were chocolate vendors with their cacao.
4. y de esta manera estaban cuantos géneros de mercaderías hay en toda la Nueva España, puesto por su concierto de la manera que hay en mi tierra, que es Medina del Campo, donde se hacen las ferias, que en cada calle están sus mercaderías por sí; así estaban en esta gran plaza, This way one could see whatever kind of merchandise was to be had in all of New Spain, laid out the same way it is at home in Medina del Campo, where they have fairs where each lane has its own kind of merchandise, only here it was in the great plaza.
5. y los que vendían mantas de henequén y sogas y cotaras, que son los zapatos que calzan y hacen del mismo árbol, y raíces muy dulces cocidas, y otras rebusterías, que sacan del mismo árbol, todo estaba en una parte de la plaza en su lugar señalado; And there were people selling cloth made of maguey fiber, as well as ropes and sandals made from the same plant, and sweet cooked roots and [snacks?], all taken from the same tree. All this was in one part of the plaza, with its place marked.
6. y cueros de tigres, de leones y de nutrias, y de adives y de venados y de otras alimañas, tejones y gatos monteses, de ellos adobados, y otros sin adobar, estaban en otra parte, y otros géneros de cosas y de mercaderías. And there were jaguar and mountain lion skins, and skins of otters and jackals and stags, and other wild animals, like badgers and mountain cats, some of them tanned, others untanned. These were in a different part. And there were other kinds of things, other merchandise.
7. Pasemos adelante y digamos de los que vendían frijoles y chía y otras legumbres y yerbas a otra parte. Vamos a los que vendían gallinas, gallos de papada, conejos, liebres, venados y anadones, perrillos y otras cosas de este arte, a su parte de la plaza. We can move on and talk of those in another place selling kidney beans and chía [salvia, a common grain crop] and other vegetables and herbs. And in still another we come to those selling hens and turkeys, rabbits and hares, deer, ducklings, little dogs, and other things like this in their own part of the plaza.
8. Digamos de las fruteras, de las que vendían cosas cocidas, mazamorreras y malcocinado, también a su parte. Pues todo género de loza, hecha de mil maneras, desde tinajas grandes y jarrillos chicos, que estaban por sí aparte: y también los que vendían miel y melcochas y otras golosinas que hacían como nuégados. And let me mention the fruit vendors, and the people selling cooked things, like maize porridge and tripe, all in their own places. Then there was every kind of crockery, made a thousand ways, from great basins to little juglets, in their own sections. And also the vendors of honey and molasses and other confections that they made like nougat.
9. Pues los que vendían madera, tablas, cunas y vigas y tajos y bancos, todo por sí. And then those who sold wood: tables, cradles, beams and blocks, and benches, each in their own section.
10. Vamos a los que vendían leña, ocote, y otras cosas de esta manera. Qué quieren más que diga que, hablando con acato, también vendían muchas canoas llenas de yenda de hombres, que tenían en los esteros cerca de la plaza, y esto era para hacer salo para curtir cueros, que sin ella dicen que no se hacía buena. We go on to those who sold firewood and torches and other such things. And I should also say, with regret, that they sold many canoe-loads of human dung, which they kept in the canals around the plaza, and which was used to produce a salt for tanning leather, which they said could not be done properly without it.
11. Bien tengo entendido que algunos señores se reirán de esto; pues digo que es así; y más digo que tenían por costumbres que en todos los caminos tenían hechos de cañas o pajas o yerba, porque no lo viesen los que pasan por ellos; allí se metían si tenían ganas de purgar los vientres, porque no se les perdiese aquella suciedad. (I am aware that some gentlemen will laugh at this, but I insist it is true. It was their custom, furthermore, that along all roads they had shelters made of reeds, straw, or grass so that no one passing could see them, and there they went to empty their bowels when they felt the urge, so as [to collect and] not to lose this filth.)
12. Para qué gasto yo tantas palabras de lo que vendían en aquella gran plaza, porque es para no acabar tan presto de contar por menudo todas las cosas, But why do I waste so many words describing what was sold in the great plaza, for I shall not soon finish if I recount everything in detail!
13. sino que papel, que en esta tierra llaman amal, y unos cañutos de olores con liquiámbar, llenos de tabaco y otros ungüentos amarillos y cosas de este arte vendían por sí; There was paper, which is here called amal, and some reeds with the scent of liquid amber [a resin from the monkeyball (sweetgum) tree] filled with tobacco, and other yellow ointments, and other things like this, sold in their section.
14. y vendían mucha grana debajo los portales que estaban en aquella gran plaza. Había muchos herbolarios y mercaderías de otra manera; y tenían allí sus casas, adonde juzgaban, tres jueces y otros como alguaciles ejecutores que miraban las mercaderías. They sold a great deal of cochineal under the arcade of the plaza, and there were herbalists and other kinds of merchants. They had buildings there where three judges adjudicated, as well as others, like bailiffs and notaries, who inspected the merchandise.
15. Olvidado se me había la sal y los que hacían navajas de pedernal, y de cómo las sacaban de la misma piedra. Pues pescadores y otros que vendían unos panecillos que hacen de una como lama que cogen de aquella gran laguna, que se cuaja y hacen panes de ello que tienen un sabor a manera de queso: y vendían hachas de latón y cobre y estaño, y jícaras y unos jarros muy pintados, de madera hechos. I have left out the salt, and those who made flint knives, and how they chipped [many of] them from the same stone. And then there were the fishermen and others who sold little breads, which they made from a kind of scum that they collected in the great lake, and which congeals so they make loaves of it, which have a cheese-like flavor. And they sold axes too, made of brass and copper and tin. And gourds. And brightly painted jugs made of wood.
16. Ya quema haber acabado de decir todas las cosas que allí se vendían, porque eran tantas de diversas calidades, que para que lo acabáramos de ver e inquirir, que como la gran plaza estaba llena de tanta gente y toda cercada de portales, en dos días no se viera todo. It is tiresome trying to mention all the things that were sold there, for they were of so many different kinds to see and ask about, that, given how huge the plaza was and how full it was of people and of stalls, in two whole days it could not all be seen.
17. Y fuimos al gran cú, y ya que íbamos cerca de sus grandes patios, y antes de salir de la misma plaza estaban otros muchos mercaderes, que, según dijeron, eran de los que traían a vender oro en granos como lo sacan de las minas, metido el oro en unos canutillos delgados de los de ansarones de la tierra, y así blancos porque se pareciese el oro por de fuera; y por el largor y gordor de los canutillos tenían entre ellos su cuenta qué tantas mantas o qué xiquipiles de cacao valía, o qué esclavos u otra cualesquiera cosas a que lo trocaban. [From the market] we went on to the great cú [temple], and as we went near its broad patios, but before we left the plaza itself, there were many merchants who, we were told, were the ones who brought gold to sell in grains, as it came from the mines, packaging it in the quills of local geese, which are so transparent that from a distance they seem to be of gold themselves. And by the length or thickness of these quills they would settle accounts about how much so many cloaks or units of cacao were worth or what slaves or anything else were worth that they were exchanging.
18. Y así dejamos la gran plaza sin más verla y llegamos a los grandes patios y cercas donde está el gran cú; tenía antes de llegar a él un gran circuito de patios, que me parece que eran más que la plaza que hay en Salamanca, y con dos cercas alrededor, de calicanto, y el mismo patio y sitio todo empedrado de piedras grandes, de losas blancas y muy lisas, y adonde no había de aquellas piedras estaba encalado y bruñido y todo muy limpio, que no hallaran una paja ni polvo en todo él. And so we left the great plaza without further ado and reached the great patios and enclosed places where the great cú stood. Before arriving at it, it was necessary to go through a series of patios, which seemed to me each to be larger than the plaza in Salamanca, and with two stone walls around them covered with large, white, very smooth flagstones. Every part where there were not such stones had been whitewashed and polished, and everything was very clean, with not a trace of straw or dust anywhere.


Proceed to: 0. Introduction, 1. Quetzalcöätl, 2. Toltecs, 3. Market, 4. Flaying,
5. Lord of the Dead, 6. Poems, 7. Murder, 8. Virgin

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