Oaxaca’s Saturday Market and Camino Real – Oaxaca, Mexico

A Cultural Field Day – and Not Just for Shopping

With the mother lode of attractive crafts shops and galleries in this lovely colonial city, any day is a shopper’s field day. Oaxaca has been called the most Mexican city in the republic, but on Saturday – as hundreds of Indian merchants stream in from the surrounding villages in their tradi­tional dress, hawking food and handmade and painted crafts – it becomes Mexico’s largest and most intriguing Indian experience. (Oaxaca has the country’s largest Indian population: Two out of three citizens are Indians, representing six­teen ethnic groups who speak nine languages and fifty-two dialects.)

The Central de Abastos (Supply Center) is the market for handicrafts, with hand-painted pottery’ and forests of polka-dotted wooden cats and comical fantasy animals that must be bargained for, as well as embroi­dered huipiles (blouses) and rebozos (shawls), whose designs vary with their village of origin.

Oaxaca’s remarkable blend of old-world Spanish affluence (exemplified by the magnifi­cent Baroque Church of Santo Domingo and its gold-ornamented Rosario Chapel) and deep-rooted native tradition are gloriously at play in the 16th-century Convent of Santa Catarina de Siena. One of Mexico’s colonial treasures, with various incarnations as a school, the mayor’s office, and even a city jail, it has recently been converted into Camino Real, one of Mexico’s most attractive hotels. The former convent can be found within an area officially declared a District of National Monuments, comprising twenty-six colonial-era churches – within the historic hotel’s thick, cool walls, guests can enjoy a host of ancient frescoes, hushed flag­stone loggias, jasmine-scented patios, and Los Lavaderos, a cupola-covered water fountain surrounded by twelve stone laundry basins. The former refectory has become the hotel’s acclaimed restaurant, El Refectorio; sample the distinctive mole sauce, a local specialty found here in numerous interpretations.

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