There is always a lot to see and do in ‘The Republic of San Telmo,’ but the colorful Sunday street fair is the bohemian neighborhood’s biggest attraction.
The Feria de San Telmo began as a 270-stall antiques market in 1971, and has grown into a huge come-as-you-are street bazaar that draws over 12,000 people every week.
The heart of the antique wares are congregated around Plaza Dorrego but the entire outdoor market stretches down 13 blocks of the cobblestone Defensa Street and off onto a few side lanes. From 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Defensa Street is completely pedestrian and packed with entertainers jockeying for attention and an international array of street vendors who display their goods on the pavement. The offerings include antiquities from Argentina’s glory days, original art, funky clothing, homemade snacks, and pretty much whatever else someone can think to slap with a price tag.
Scanning the antiques in Plaza Dorrego can give you a glimpse into Argentina’s heady past, although long gone are the days where one can find bargained-priced historic treasures.
Better deals can be found among the ‘unofficial’ street fair vendors, who today make up the bulk of the market. Since 2005 some local shopkeepers and residents have pushed for the street side hawkers to be removed, claiming that their presence obstructs the sidewalks.
As usual in Argentina, the conflict culminated in protests. Finally in 2010, city officials reaffirmed that those who sell homemade ‘artisan items’ are entitled to stay, as are the musicians and other entertainers. Today, the San Telmo Fair continues as always and draws more enterprising free spirits and tourists every week.
Among the buskers and street merchants along Defensa you’ll meet some whimsical characters and can find some unique handmade gifts, often at exceptional prices.
For non-shoppers the street fair offers plenty of free entertainment and some of Buenos Aires’ most interesting people watching.