Barcelona’s markets – the soul of the city

A tour of Barcelona’s most emblematic and historically, architecturally and culturally fascinating locations

Barcelona is one of the few cities left in the world with a network of market sufficiently extensive that every district has one close by. Today’s network extends to 43 such markets, the first of which is documented as far back as the 10th century and was originally sited on what today is the Plaça de l'Àngel. As the city expanded its limits, so the markets grew in number, eventually arriving at the new covered model of the 19th century. Expansion continued throughout the 20th century and the network is currently undergoing a new phase of modernisation.

A tour of the Barcelona’s emblematic markets could begin, for example, in one of the higher points of the city, where the Sarrià market is one of the district’s distinguishing features. Preserving its original structure and exposed brickwork façade, the building is clearly inspired by early 20th century modernism. At the time, Sarrià was an independent municipality and, still within the same district, but a little further down, we could stop off at the Galvany market, notable for both its size and its glassworks, which are also of modernist inspiration, as are those of the Sants market, designed by architect Falqués i Urpí, which has been classified as an artistic monument for obvious reasons. The Galvany market takes its name from Baron Galvany, the owner of the land donated for the construction of the market, which began in 1868.

If we continue our journey in the direction of Gràcia we will have the opportunity of visiting not one, but two traditional markets. The first of these is the Llibertat market, the work of Francesc Berenguer i Mestres, which, though it underwent a comprehensive facelift in 2009, maintains both its heritage value and the district’s wrought-iron crest on both the main façades. The Llibertat market was a symbol of the Gràcia revolt against the government of General Prim even though, at the time, it was merely one of Barcelona’s neighbouring villages. Also part of the district is the l’Abaceria Central, which maintains the local spirit of Gràcia and was inaugurated in 1892 as the Santa Isabel market in an effort to divert the farmers, who were more accustomed to visiting the nearby Plaça de la Revolució.

Continuing on our journey, we come to Ciutat Vella, where the Santa Caterina market is one of the city’s newest icons, mainly thanks to its striking new roof, part of the refurbishment carried out by Enric Miralles. The market was originally built on the site of a former convent, from whence it gets its name, a tradition that may be applied to many locations throughout the city. Santa Caterina, furthermore, was the first of the city’s covered markets, using a technique for uniting the glass with the metallic structure. It currently houses the MUHBA Santa Caterina space, in the interior of which some of the vestiges of the original convent are still visible.

On the other side of La Rambla we have the internationally renowned market, La Boqueria, which has undergone the same modernisation process as the markets of Poblenou, Lesseps, La Concepció and Barceloneta. In Eixample, the Ninot market is another one that has been remodelled, taking its name from an innkeeper’s daughter’s love of a ship’s figurehead in the form of a child. The original figurehead is now housed in the Barcelona Maritime Museum.

Two recent examples exist of traditional markets that have been transformed into modern, emblematic locations, one of which is the Born market, the city’s first modernist market, later converted into the resplendent new cultural centre it is today. The other is the original Encants Vells – Fira de Bellcaire market, now a tribute to modernity in the Plaça de les Glòries.

Finally, we can finish up our route in the Sant Antoni market, though it is currently being remodelled and there is little to see. In the near future, however, the compensation may be greater than we think as, at the beginning of summer, 2014, it was announced that a team of archaeologists had discovered Roman remains, remains of the city’s defence system from the 17th century, and further remains from more modern periods. The Sant Antoni venue is also known for its Sunday magazine, book, collector’s card and videogame market, the biggest of its kind in the world.

A host of details that provide further proof that few things are more deeply rooted in a city’s culture than its markets.

Publication date: Friday, 26 September 2014
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