This is the unedited and unabridged version of an article I originally wrote for Expedia.
As one of Barcelona’s lesser known attractions, the new Encants Market is every bit as gritty as the infamous original, says Ben Holbrook
“Dos-para-dos-para-dos-para-dos! Dos por un euro!” cries the vintage clothes trader on the ground floor. He’s vying for the attention of a group of well-heeled ladies at the next stall. It works. They drop the clay pots and ceramic vases that they were mulling over and teeter totter towards the mounds of old robes, ploughing their arms in elbow deep and pulling out fistfuls of colourful scarves and blouses. The trader looks on smiling, “Dos-para-dos-para…”
I come to the new Encants Market regularly, not to buy anything necessarily, but to see a side of Barcelona that I’ve yet to find elsewhere in the city. Despite the market’s ultra-futuristic mirrored roof design, which bounces light around the vast open space and floats above the market like some kind of intergalactic rocket ship, it still retains an air of gritty, rustic charm. It’s real.
I stroll through the alleys that loop up to the different levels. It’s been designed to maintain the feeling of the old market, of being outdoors, whilst offering protection from the winter rain and the blistering summer sun.
The stall holders aren’t here to appease the appetites of wealthy tourists. Instead, they target the locals who come to hunt out “gangas” (bargains) and stock up on household essentials. I spot ’Ghlain Klain’ underwear, naked action men and Barbie dolls with missing arms and singed hair, rolls of fabric, bicycles, stacks of old poetry books, construction tools, vintage cameras, oil paintings of cats, 2-metre-wide paella pans, antique furniture and jewellery.
I find myself at the strip of food stalls on the top floor with elevated views over the the market and I order a portion of “pescaditos” (little fish fried in batter) from the Peixet seafood stand. I squeeze a wedge of fresh lemon over them before chomping them down bones ’n’ all and guzzle ice-cold Moritz beer to fight the saltiness. I’m surrounded by hungry shoppers feasting on spicy patatas bravas, artichoke hearts and slithers of jamón, watching me curiously as I snap away with my camera.
They’ve been shopping here for decades, as their families did before them. In fact, the origins of this market date back to the 14th century, making it one of oldest flea markets in Europe.
I sip away, listening to the constant hum of bantering traders, over excited children and the rumble of the city tram that constantly rolls up and down the street outside. Looking outward, I marvel at the contemporary design of the Torre Agbar Tower and in the distance I can see the cranes and spires of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. The new contrasting the old, that’s what Barcelona is all about.
But even I remember that the market wasn’t always this way.
The original incarnation was a free-for-all, a mud-sludged, rain-sodden, tin-roofed sort of place, where traders displayed their wares on stained sheets spread out on the ground. I would cycle past on my way into the city centre and slow to watch police chasing the pickpockets and thieves, swindlers and hustlers who had set up shop on the fringes of the market. It was always the same scene: a few panicked shouts followed by the flurry of playing cards and dice erupting into the air, bin bags full of “Louis Vuitton” handbags discarded in frenzied getaways and the disappearing sounds of fleeing footsteps.
And although the organisation and design of the new market have done away with this, there is still an underlying element of excitement, as though just about anything could happen at the drop of a hat.
Back in the street I zig-zag through the ant trail of workers to-ing and fro-ing stock from stall to van, van to stall and stop to take more photos. There’s a loud bang and a collective yelp. Blue lights flash and I hear the fading echoes in the background… “Para dos, para dos, para dos!”
- Arrive before 10am if you’re interested in antiques
- Remember to haggle, haggle, haggle
- Glories metro stop is, misleadingly, much closer to the market than the Encants metro stop
- Whist you’re here, consider exploring some of the spectacular modern architecture in the area
The Encants Vells market is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 9am to 8pm. More information available at www.encantsbcn.com.
All words and photos by Ben Holbrook