Artisan Scene: Montevideo, Uruguay

One of the most telling ways to determine the level of severity that any government rules with is to take a look at the Artisan scene. If it’s impossible to find, then obviously the local government does not want it to be found and probably governs fairly strictly. Conversely, if it seems that there are artists everywhere, especially selling their goods on the streets, then this is probably a good indication that the government and police force are more friendly and relaxed.

Uruguay’s artisan scene is so alive you can almost feel the pulse. On nearly every street you can find at least one person who wants to sell something. These vendors have everything from jewelry to license plates, from incense to peanuts, and ladies underwear to chocolates.

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Funnily enough, even the methods of selling crafts are incredibly varied. Montevideo has a few permanent artisan markets: Mercardo de los Aresenos, Mercado de la Abundancia y Mercado Artesanal. These are some of the best artisan markets to be found in Montevideo, they are each in permanent buildings, they have regular store hours, and are organized by conglomerates of local artists. For high quality artisan goods, this is exactly where you should look. They may be a little but more than the crafts that seem to be on every street in Montevideo, but these crafts are the best of the best.

Although, if you do not want to feel like you’re walking around in a tourist trap or have somewhat of a tight budget, then the vendors on the street may be more your style. All along 18 de Julio vendors set up tables, normally with overhead racks for displaying goods as well, and pass the day sipping maté. I have noticed that many of the table vendors tend to have either antiques or machine made goods, such as socks or purses.

Many of the artists that hand-make jewelry and other crafts have mats on the sidewalk, although they are not normally along 18 de Julio. Sand and I found many of these artists sell along the pedestrian path in the Ciudad Vieja section of Montevideo, close to Bartelomé Mitre. All through the winding sections of Ciudad Vieja are outdoor markets, even in the winter, and many of the Plazas are especially active. When Sand and I stayed at Ciudad Vieja Hostel we were close to Plaza Constiutión and most days there were vendors here. We also found that just walking towards the Rambla provided even more opportunities to browse.

Matés for sale at Tristan Narvanja
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My favorite part about the artisan scene is not necessarily a place where I would go to buy crafts. This is Tristan Narvanja, the weekly outdoor market that sprawls through the streets of Montevideo for more blocks that I could ever get through during a single day. Tristan Narvanja has almost everything. Only food and pets cannot be sold, but anything else you could possible think of is probably sold here. We found spices, fruit, vegetables, pasta, computer parts, tires, wooden and wicker furniture, clothing, coats, shoes, jewelry, license plates, antiques and even bullets in this enormous and beautiful outdoor market.

I really enjoyed the time spent looking through all of the things people sold, thanks Ricardo for bringing us, but this was not even the best part. What I enjoyed most about simply being in this enormous market was realizing that this market happens every week and much of what is being sold in Tristan Narvanja are used goods. I think the entire idea of an outdoor, weekly way to recycle what is no longer needed is incredible. This market proved to me once again that there are some things that Uruguayans do that just make sense. Of course we should be recycling, but why not make some money as we do it? I don’t really know if a market like this could ever work in the United States, but hopefully there is already one started that I just don’t know about yet.

Overall, the artisan scene in Uruguay is a vast sea of goods, services, crafts and pretty much whatever else you could possible want. the current government seems to be quite relaxed as this government changed the policy that forbode anyone from selling goods on the street. When you get a chance to go to Uruguay, keep a look out for how the artisan scene affects everyday life and definitely make a stop at Tristan Narvanja.