Who doesn’t love an amazing, colorful, sense-pulsing, belly-filling food market, a.k.a. bazaar? Throughout human civilization we’re familiar with examples of uniquely rich, delicious gathering places where food, wine, goods, and camaraderie can be found with flair, style and abundance.
Speaking of history, tradition, and what we imbibe, it piqued our interest to know what the oldest market in the world might be. So, we did some wine-fueled digging.
Is it Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, touted as the ‘world’s oldest and biggest’ market, commissioned by Sultan Mehmet II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire in the mid 1400’s? Construction is noted to have started in 1461 and is now a ‘maze of 56 interconnecting vaulted passages housing over 4000 shops!’
Perhaps it’s Egypt’s famed Khan El-Khalili which is claimed to have been built in 970AD, the same year as the founding of Cairo itself. The discrepancy here is that some type of bazaar with the same name is documented to have been built in 970 but most articles peg the ‘actual’ start sometime in the late 1300’s, spurred by a later leader, a Mamluk prince and well-known merchant (Jerksy al Khalili) during the Mamluky period.
The Khan is still Egypt’s oldest bazaar as well as one of the region’s most majestic and sublime attractions. That is if you’re into food, culture, unique artifacts, artisanal handicrafts, and rich history.
Is it Barcelona’s delightful La Boqueria, with documents confirming the presence of open-air (meat) stalls on Pla de la Boqueria as early as 1217? The temporary stalls were set up by farmers from the villages in the region to sell their wares. After many centuries it was moved a time or two and eventually landed a permanent home in about 1836 just off Rambla de Sant Joseph (a.k.a. Las Ramblas, a beautiful walking street down the center of Barcelona). It’s now home to more than 200 amazing food-and-wine lovers stalls overwhelming the senses with vibrant sights and smells.
Maybe it’s London’s Borough Market, rumored to have started way back in the 11th Century (and possibly as early as the 10th). As THIS article notes, “there are records of a market located near London Bridge in 1276.” However due to London’s population growth over the centuries, it’s been moved a time or two. In 1756, it settled in its current location in Southwark (still only a few blocks from London Bridge).
As far as the oldest in the US? Well, as we know, the official United States wasn’t even a twinkle in our Founding Father’s eyes when these others were established (okay, so, the Founding Fathers were themselves many generations from even being born). You might guess it’s Boston’s Haymarket, established in 1820.
But the ‘award’ appears to go to the Lancaster Central Market in Lancaster, PA, noted to have been in continuous operation since 1730. Yes, that’s even older than anything in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and other prime East Coast seaboard cities. But the designation here is “oldest continuously running public farmers market” so you’re free to split hairs (or a dozen eggs) on whether you want to talk handicrafts, foodstuffs, or something else. And to be fair, Haymarket claims it is both “one of” America’s oldest open-air markets while also touting that they have a “tradition of selling fresh, affordable produce” dating back “almost 300 years” which would mathematically put its origin right around the same time as the one in Lancaster.
While not vying for the title of ‘the oldest,’ one uniquely notable addition to this list is the Ima Keithel market in the city of Manipur, India. Translated as “Mother’s Market” (or ‘women’s market’) it’s a centuries-old market run exclusively by women. Dating to around 1533, this market arose from a labour system that forced the men in the area to work or fight in faraway places, leaving the city’s women to fend for themselves.
No matter what is really the oldest, Wikipedia provides a delightfully, mouthwateringly in-depth rundown of scores of grand and delightful Marketplaces worldwide.
Ultimately, we’re just in awe of the unique tradition of public markets worldwide where folks come together to share culture, ideas, food, drink, and camaraderie. Cheers!