Friday, May 8, 2015


One of the highlights of visiting Oaxaca, both the city and the state, is a chance to visit one or more of the weekly traditional indigenous markets (mercados) in the outlying pueblos which surround the city of Oaxaca. Our favorite weekly mercado is located in the town of Ocotlán de Morelos. “Ocotlan” is approximately 22 miles south of the city of Oaxaca and is easily reached by either second class buses or collectivo taxis from Oaxaca City. In addition to the main attraction which is the huge Friday Mercado, Ocotlan has a beautifully restored church and monastery on an attractive main plaza and opportunities to view and purchase some of the best native art and crafts in the region. It is this combination of wonderful offerings which makes Ocotlan the town we returned to again and again while living in Oaxaca City.

But before getting lost in the lively Friday market, I would like to share some background information on the pueblo of Ocotlan de Morelos which I believe makes a visit to a new place more interesting and meaningful.

Ocotlán de Morelos is a town and municipality in the state of Oaxaca about 22 miles (35 km) south of the center of the city of Oaxaca. The area was a significant population center at the time of the Spanish Conquest and for that reason an important Dominican monastery was established here in the 16th century. The complex still exists with the church, the Temple of Santo Domingo, still being used for worship and the cloister area used as a museum.

If you must take a peak at the photograph album for this posting here is the link:


The city's main attraction is the Temple and Ex-convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The complex was constructed in various stages between the 16th and 19th centuries. The construction of the monastery was halted on several occasions due the lack of manpower, due to the discovery of mines nearby such as Santa Catarina. The main vault, apse, choir and sacristy of the church were not finished until 1669. The pillars of the cloister were begun at this time as well, but were never finished.

The name Ocotlan is from the indigenous Nahuatl language which means "among the ocote trees” (the ocote tree is commonly known as the Montezuma pine and is a species of conifer which is native to Mexico and Central America). The appendage "de Morelos" is added in honor of José María Morelos y Pavón (José María Teclo Morelos y Pavón was a Mexican Roman Catholic priest and revolutionary rebel leader who led the Mexican War of Independence movement). During the colonial period the area was known as Santo Domingo Ocotlán due to the Dominican friars who built a monastery here dedicated to Saint Dominic (Spanish: Santo Domingo). The Zapotec name for the area is "Lachiroo" which means "large valley. Got it? Hold on as there’s more!

The municipal palace has a traditional Neo-Classic facade built with pink stone with columns and pediments. The main feature are the arches which rest on columns with rectangular bases forming portals. It was designed to be a focus point for social interaction and is directly on the plaza of Ocotlan.

One of the incredible murals at the Municipal Hall in Ocotlan was painted by Rodolfo Morales, a native-born resident of the city and generous benefactor to his hometown.

The town is intimately linked with the life of the well known artist Rodolfo Morales. Rodolfo Morales was a native of Ocotlan whose paintings are largely devoted to images from his hometown, including local churches, indigenous women, and religious processions. During his lifetime Rodolfo Morales worked to save many of the historic and architectural treasures of Ocotlan. In 1992 he established the Rodolfo Morales Foundation dedicated to the preservation and encouragement of the culture of Oaxaca and support for the youth of Ocotlan.

The highlight of a visit to Ocotlan on Friday is the amazing outdoor Mercado (market) which spreads out from the main plaza for blocks and blocks. The indigenous word for this type of outdoor mercado is TIANGUIS.  Beneath a riot of colorful tarps, massive amounts of merchandise, much of it modern stuff, but also plenty of old-fashioned goodies, cover a multitude of tables and street-laid mats. How about a handmade saddle for your burro or a wooden yoke for your oxen? If not that, perhaps four or five turkeys (live), a goat, or perhaps a dozen bags of locally grown chilies, herbs, fruits, or vegetables. The selection is endless and the colors are brilliant! Also to be found: pottery, baskets, cutlery, leather goods, hats, wood carvings, and beverages such as mezcal and tejate. There are plenty of outdoor stands serving hot just-off-the-grill dishes for your tasting. And of course, the municipal indoor market is filled with permanent food stands where you can sit and be served some local dishes for your enjoyment.

The most important tradition in Ocotlan is the weekly Friday market day which is known in the indigenous language as the TIANGUIS. The Ocotlan tianguis is one of the oldest and largest in the Central Valleys region of Oaxaca and a wonderful experience when visiting Oaxaca.

Produce and products from surrounding towns are available as well as manufactured products. Market day is not just buying and selling for rural and indigenous communities. It is a festive ritual which has been held regularly for thousands of years, attracting both locals and families from small outlying villages to both buy and sell.

Tejate is a drink made of corn and cacao that is traditional in the state of Oaxaca and comes from the pre-Hispanic era where it is believed that it was used for ceremonial purposes. These ladies are certainly enjoying their tejate at the weekly tianguis!

Nowhere else in Mexico will you find more kinds of chilies and Oaxacan cuisine shows them off in dish after dish. The most famous chili is the smoky pasilla Oaxaqueno, grown only in the Mixe region, but ubiquitous in Oaxacan salsas. Other dishes rely on more obscure varieties, like chihuacle, which comes in three colors: amarillo (yellow), negro (black), and rojo (red). The selection is astounding.

Resourcefulness and regionalism are hallmarks of Oaxacan cuisine, but cooks here also display the distinctively Mexican taste for fruit of all sorts—not just tomatoes and chilies—in savory dishes. Try guaje, an indigenous tree with an edible pod fruit that Oaxacans love. The garlicky, grassy, bitter seeds are consumed as a snack and essential to the Mixteca dish huaxmole, a traditional dish from the Mixteca-Puebla cuisine in southern Mexico, usually prepared with goat meat, chiles and a kind of special local string bean, called the huaje or guaje.

The tianguis which is held each Friday is an opportunity for many to socialize with distant neighbors. Market day begins very early for both residents and those who travel to the town to sell. Please note the senora's long hair braids which are intertwined with colorful ribbon.

Prepared regional specialties are offered on the plaza and in the adjacent permanent municipal market. Some of the traditional foods here include several types of mole "sauce" (negro, rojo, amarillo, coloradito and more), chichilo (another mole oaxaqueño), tasajo (a cut of beef usually smoked over a wood fire), tamales in banana leaves, and tacos with chapulines (fried grasshoppers). Please note the Frida Kahlo look-alike who is the well recognized owner of this popular eatery.

Oaxacan cuisine is local and regional to the core, the beneficiary of abundant micro-climates and fantastic biodiversity. Many dishes rely on local varieties of corn, chilies, herbs, and greens found only in a particular region. Many of these dishes have persevered through the years thanks in no small part to the state's isolated geography which has helped to preserve local pot herbs like cebollín, a wild onion with chive-like leaves and the marjoram like Almoraduz in the Sierra Sur. In my opinion, the cuisine of Oaxaca is beyond compare!

In addition to the Friday mercado, a must visit is to the gorgeous Templo de Santo Domingo church. Fortunately, Ocotlan reaped many benefits due to Rodolfo Morales, the internationally celebrated, but locally born artist, who dedicated his fortune to improving his hometown. The Rodolfo Morales Foundation has continued the work he started before his death.

Atrium and facade of the Temple of Santo Domingo de Guzmán

After it was no longer used as a monastery, the Santo Domingo complex had several uses, including that of a prison where inmates made crafts. In the latter 20th century, the Rodolfo Morales Foundation restored and converted the monastery space into a museum, which contains one room with works by Morales, one room with Oaxaca crafts, and one room with artwork from the colonial period. The church was also restored by the foundation which still maintains its religious function.

The Chapel of the Holy Child at the Temple of Santo Domingo. The feast of the Virgin of Ocotlán is celebrated on 15 May. Most of the festivities take place on the main square of the town with live music and regional food, especially tamales and atole. Atole is a drink of pre-Hispanic origin consumed in Mexico. It is made from corn and water and commonly flavored with spices and best served warm.

The most visible expression of the restoration work by the Rodolfo Morales Foundation is the Temple de Santo Domingo which has been completely rebuilt, from its bright blue, yellow, and white exterior to the Baroque gold glitter of its nave ceiling. Absolutely and totally spectacular!

Also painstakingly restored is the monastery behind and adjacent to the Temple which now houses the Museum where exhibits of religious art from the monastery and the church, contemporary local arts, as well as some of Morales’s own work are found.

Ocotlán de Morelos has been associated with crafts for generations. Some of the crafts still practiced here include basketry, textiles in the form of rebozos (blouses) and other traditional clothing embroidered in silk thread, blade making, saddle making, and miniatures in lead. The town is known for its red clay pottery which is often painted in various colors. While the men dominate the rug-weaving and woodcarving industries in Oaxaca, the women reign with their pottery. This is true in Ocotlan as well. The best known pottery family in Ocotlan is the Aguilar. At one of our visits, there was an amazing exhibit in the monastery of the ceramics by the internationally renowned Aguilar sisters of Ocotlan.

These painted columns are located in the Museum which is a part of the Santo Domingo complex. They were painted by Rodolfo Morales and depict the women of Ocotlan. Morales is best known for his brightly colored surrealistic dream-like canvases and collages often featuring Mexican women in village settings. Rodolfo Morales (born 1925 in Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca and died 2001 in Oaxaca, Mexico) was a Mexican surrealist painter who incorporated elements of magical realism in his work.

The above tin work is on display with the ceramics of the Aguilar sisters at the Santo Domingo Museum (the restored convent of the Santo Domingo complex). Rodolfo Morales was notable for his restoration of historic buildings in Ocotlán including this restored convent. Together with Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo he helped make Oaxaca in Southern Mexico a center for contemporary art and tourism.

My husband taking a much needed break after visiting the Temple of Santo Domingo and the Museum in Ocotlan.

The following photographs illustrate the amazing ceramic craftsmanship of the Aguilar family in Ocotlan which can be seen at the San Domingo Museum.

The detail and colors of the Aguilar ceramics are fantastic.

King and Queen of the sea rise from the ocean depths at the Santo Domingo Museum in Ocotlan.

Check out the amazing detail on this ceramic sculpture which I call the "Iguana Lady" of Ocotlan.

Another stunning ceramic creation by one of the Aguilar sisters in Ocotlan.

The Casa de Cultura Rodolfo Morales, in the yellow-painted mansion at Morelos 108, is three doors north from the plaza’s north west corner. In the graceful and lovely interior of the Casa de Cultura, the Morales family and staff manage the foundation’s affairs, teach art and computer classes, and sponsor community events. On the second floor is a gallery exhibiting collages by Morales. The Casa is open to visitors every Friday. It is a quiet and charming way to end your visit to wonderful Ocotlan.

The house is located just north of the main square and preserves a number of Morales personal effects, including collages. The building is also home to the Fundación Cultural Rodolfo Morales, A. C (Rodolfo Morales Cultural Foundation), which is a private, nonprofit organization which promotes education and culture in the Ocotlan District of the state of Oaxaca.

The Rodolfo Morales house is a mansion from the 18th century which he rescued and lived in. Today the building is a cultural center with an open-air theater, galleries of work by local artists, and a computer center. All activities and resources here are offered free of charge. I could be very happy cooking in this colorful and traditional kitchen!

A colorful collage by Rodolfo Morales which can be seen upstairs in one of the studios at the
Casa de Cultura Rodolfo Morales in Ocotlan.

Morales was especially known for his bright and bold murals and paintings such as this depiction of the ladies of Ocotlan.

Another collage by Rodolfo Morales which can be viewed on the second floor of the Casa de Cultura Rodolfo Morales in Ocotlan.

On the way to Ocotlan, there are three additional villages which hold their weekly mercado also on Friday. If you have the time (and the energy!) it would be worth your while to visit one or more of the following pueblos: San Bartolo Coyotepec (famous for its black pottery), Santo Tomas Jalieza (famous for its hand-woven belts and leather goods), and San Antonio Ocotlan (famous for its finely hand-embroidered blouses and dresses). Also in the area is San Martin Tilcajete (best known for “alebrijes” which are wood carvings of real or fantasy creatures painted in bright colors and intricate patterns).





I hope you have enjoyed your visit to Ocotlan de Morelos in Oaxaca. My new amigo seen below and I look forward to introducing you to another favorite weekly mercado in Oaxaca in the near future.  It’s name is ZAACHILA and we both hope you can join us.


 I remember hearing many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I am a believer of those inspiring words so I am including the link to my WEB ALBUM below which has additional photos for this posting.  And if that is not enough, I have also included the following embedded SLIDE SHOW of the web album for your immediate enjoyment. 


Until the next time, safe travels and be well!  Laura

Memories are just a click away!  



  1. We are off to Oaxaca soon and will be sure to visit Ocatlan based on your report.

  2. Have a wonderful time and here are the links to a couple of other postings on Oaxaca. Enjoy and muchas gracias, Laura

  3. If you would like me to add you to my blog posting "notice announcement" list you may send me your email address directly to:

  4. Just back from Oaxaca for Day of the Dead celebrations. I wish I had seen this before we went, but it is useful anyway to identify my potos. Nice work.

  5. Nice information and I wish I had seen it before having been in the area. We were there for 2018 Day of the Dead celebrations and this information will help me identify my photos.