Encants Barcelona – 14th century market in new clothes

What better way to spend a sunny November afternoon than in a buzzing market searching for hidden treasures? When the market is also an architectural treat, – even better!

The Encants Barcelona, also called Fira Bellcaire, is one of Europe’s oldest markets, apparently dating back to the 14th century. For many years it’s held its position on a tangent of Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes – a place originally designed by city planner and ‘father’ of the Eixample area, Ildefons Cerdà, and intended to be the very heart and centre of Barcelona. As we speak, Glòries is undergoing a facelift; the enormous double-decker roundabout that dominated its core came down some months ago, and in addition to Glòries commercial centre and cinema complex, new architecture, most importantly in form of Torre Agbar, by French Architect Jean Nouvel, and the Design hub (DHUB), by local MBM architects, is helping it reclaim its post. Shortly after celebrating its first birthday in a new suit, the Encants market has also managed to successfully relieve itself of its shabby shacks and take a leap into the future under the direction of another local architectural office, b720 Fermín Vázquez Arquitectos.

If I’m honest, I generally like coming here to gaze at the architecture and soak up the atmosphere. The market consists of three floors, whereas the two top floors are fitted with containers allowing each merchant his own space easily sealed off at the end of the day, and the ground floor, or indeed the basement as you have to go down a flight of stairs to reach it, which is my personal favorite. This isn’t known as the place to look for vintage or priceless designer objects, but there’s certainly a lot to look at. Objects including everything from furniture, lamps, paintings, chandeliers and handbags are placed directly on the floor and consequently mirrored in the ceiling high above. Yes, you heard me. The market place is covered by a roof like structure; a high floating slate seemingly broken into various pieces and tilted at different angles. Architecturally and geometrically interesting, yes, but to me the ingenious touches are the mirrors fitted on its base, successfully reflecting all the activity and light underneath it. It somehow gives the structure a light feel as if it’s hovering over the market.

The market has its fair share of visitors, but the mirror effect gives it off as being even more buzzing. The fact that the roof is puzzled together by different pieces allows views of what’s happening directly below, but you can also see the people, cars and trams passing by outside, on street level.

This creates an interesting dialogue between the architecture and its surroundings, but it also helps tie the new structure to the plaza and to root it to its history. The hustle and bustle of the street reaches you when you’re in the market, as the busyness and objects of the market reaches the people passing by on the street, successfully connecting merchant and costumer. After all, a busy market is far more appealing than an empty one, wouldn’t you agree?

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