Merkato is the largest open air market in Africa, covering several square miles and employing an estimated 13,000 people in 7,100 business entities. The primary merchandise passing through the Merkato is locally-grown agricultural products — most notably coffee.
Prior to the current Merkato, there was an open market place in Addis Ababa near St. George Church at the site where the City Hall stands now, but it ended with the Italian occupation of the 1930s. The occupiers moved the market further west to the area around the premises of Fitawrari Habte Giyorgis Dinagde, which they named Merkato Indigino. Thus, the present Addis Merkato was founded by the segregationist policies of the Italian occupational government.
Meanwhile, the Italians restricted the historic St. George Merkato to Europeans, renaming it Piazza, which featured European style shops that displayed commodities through glass windows. The mostly Arab tradesmen who had shops there eventually relocated a half mile to the west. Over time, local shopkeepers displaced the Arab merchants and, since the 1960s, the Addis Merkato has had a mostly local flavor. The Mercato Dijino did not have any plan and gradually grew in width and breadth taking different categorical stocks called “terras”.