Exploring Trajan’s Market, The World’s Oldest Shopping Mall (and what it can tell us about today’s shopfitting trends)

Trajan's Market Shopfitting Sunshine CoastIn today’s world, obsessed with technology and innovation, there seems to be an unspoken bias that “newer equals better”. While we agree that technology has done more to enrich lives, foster equality and open communication, and offering opportunities that would have been impossible for regular citizens a century ago, things are not necessarily better just because they’re newer.

Life is constantly growing out of the ruins of the past, like vines encompassing a derelict building in a deserted city center. It’s preposterous to think that everything was backwards and dysfunctional, historically, as the past, quite literally, created the present.

Instead of reacting out of these unspoken prejudices, let us take a moment to consider one of the oldest commercial properties on the planet, and see what it might tell us about where today’s shopfitting might be heading.

Exploring Trajan’s Market, The World’s Oldest Shopping Mall

With over 150 shops, delicate marble work, an on-site library, Trajan’s Market was a marvel of the Ancient World. Although its precise origins are lost to history, Trajan’s Market is thought to have been built by Apollodorus of Damascus, the royal architect for Emperor Trajan, roughly around 113 CE. This makes Apollodorus of Damascus one of the earliest shopfitters in history.

The shops, which circled the first two levels of Trajan’s Market, varied in size and shape. Many shops were like small closets, where the shopkeepers were thought to have greeted the customer at the door, retreating into the shadowy shopfronts to retrieve their wares.

The impressive, sprawling complex was covered with a vaulted roof, as a precursor to today’s indoor shopping malls.

Not only was Trajan’s Market the earliest shopping mall in history, it also served as headquarters for Emperor Trajan. Trajan’s Market was originally conceived as an expansion for the Roman Forum, which had been blocked in by hills and existing buildings. State officials, politicians, and shopkeepers had apartments above the shop floors, making Trajan’s Market an early example of a live/work space.

To accomplish this impressive feat, Apollodorus of Damascus terraced the hillsides, to make room for the market, in an early example of terraforming. He then arranged the market in a semicircle, known as the Great Hemicycle, to better withstand the pressure from the Earth.

Trajan’s Market is not only still standing, it still functions as a marketplace, 2000 years after it was built. If only all designs could withstand the test of time as well!

What Trajan’s Market Can Tell Us About Today’s Shopfitting Trends

The fact that Trajan’s Market is still a functioning marketplace, millennia after it was built, is a testament to the timelessness of its design and execution. In many ways, many of Trajan’s Market central design concepts are still as relevant as ever, if not more so, although some have fallen by the wayside, over the course of history.

Starting in roughly the ’90s, shopping malls have been on the decline, in favor of, what the website DailyCaller.com calls “a sign of the decline of suburbia and an embrace of a city-centric, centrally-planned, new age, creative class, sharing-economy, walkable, kumbaya cultural future.”

Shopping malls offered high-quality shopping experiences to suburbanites who may not have had easy access to lavish urban shopping, nor the means to afford them, even if they did. Shopping malls were an early example of the average consumer beginning to aspire to higher class aspirations.

This promise, ultimately, culminated in the hyper-connectivity of e-Commerce, where every shopkeeper on Earth is competing to offer the lowest prices, with storefronts that never close.

The progression to e-Commerce was probably inevitable. A few decades into Internet shopping, however, has left us craving the physical shopping experience. Brick-and-mortar storefronts, around the world and across industries, are experiencing a renaissance, as customers search for the speed, convenience, and interactivity of physical shopping. To make the most of the rising tide, retailers are beginning to offer lavish, luxe shopping experiences that no VR headset will be able to surpass.

Likewise, live/work arrangements like Trajan’s Market fell under rampant criticism, during the late ’70s/early-’80s, as consumers began to be skeptical of the all-inclusive arrangement, being the modern equivalent of the Company Store.

Ironically, this setup speaks directly to the “city-centric, centrally-planned… walkable future,” mentioned above. While shopping malls may have once been the ultimate sign of capitalist expansion, might these mighty edifices offer a possible solution to some of today’s urban plight? As oil becomes more and more scarce, walkable shopping centres such as these will continue to rise. Perhaps the live-in retail centre might be the most New Age concept of all?

Suffice it to say, Trajan’s Market provokes some thought about traditional shopfitting, and which way it might be heading.

Looking for shopfitting that will stand the test of time? Let one of the Sunshine Coast’s leading shopfitters help your storefront flourish! We also offer competitively-priced, comprehensive commercial building management for the Sunshine Coast.