Mercat de la Boqueria

Tradition And Optimism At Barcelona's Legendary Market

La Boqueria Market, the popular name of Barcelona's famous Mercat de Sant Josep on The Ramblas, is certainly one of the major attractions of the city.

With over 20,000 different products on offer, the Boqueria satisfies the needs of local shoppers and continues to serve the community as it has done for over a thousand years.

Only this morning, I commented to a restaurant-owning friend in the Eixample that I was working on an article about the Boqueria and he told me proudly that all his ingredients were delivered directly from there and until recently he made the trip with his shopping trolley down the hill every morning to choose the ingredients himself.

However, the famous market has also become a tourist attraction and hundreds of camera-snapping foreigners visit every day buying very little.

The Boqueria's challenge is to balance both its local role and media presence, a difficult job which presents continual challenges.


Getting to Mercat de la Boqueria

Mercat de la Boqueria
La Rambla, 91
Ciutat Vella
08001 Barcelona
Tel: 933182017

Opening Hours
Monday to Saturday: 8:00 - 20:30 h


Origins Of La Boqueria

Originally, the Boqueria was almost certainly a travelling market that set up shop outside the main gates of Barcelona city walls at Pla de la Boqueria.

There is definitely constance of a meat market outside the Boqueria gates dating from the 12th century, which made a lot of sense as this is where the roads from Montjuïc and the Llobregat came into Barcelona making it an ideal place for farmers to sell their produce.

It's also worth remembering that, although difficult to believe, the urban jungle that is now El Raval was once open fields.

The name of El Raval's Romanesque monastery Sant Pau del Camp, which dates from the early 10th century, means Saint Paul of the Field.

So what is likely to have happened is that local smallholders brought their vegetables to sell in the same place as the meat farmers.

The religious orders will have got in on the act too as the churches of Sant Pau, Sant Antoni and Sant Bertran are known to have had large horts - orchards or allotments.

In 1470, there is evidence of a petition to hold an annual Pig Fair at the Pla de la Boqueria in December.

Moving To Modern Times

In 1777, the Boqueria gates were demolished and a primitive Rambla was being paved so the market was moved to the gardens of the Convent of Sant Josep, just behind its current location.

Apparently, there is evidence of both fish and meat stalls at this time and the market was first covered so the offal and innards would be hidden and not offend the sensibilities of King Carlos IV and his family, who visited The Ramblas in 1802.

However, following the visit the market traders gravitated back to The Ramblas again, which after all was where the customers were.

Following the Burning of the Convents in 1835, the Convent of Sant Josep was demolished and under pressure from the public, the Ajuntament - Barcelona City Council - decided to build a market in its place, which opened in 1840.

The present fishmongers' section was built in 1911 and in 1914 the distinctive metal roof that we see today was installed.

Obviously, the market has changed a lot with old stalls being demolished and modern ones being added.

One of the market services that has been lost with time was at the exit onto Plaça Sant Galdrich, where men sat at tables with typewriters and would write letters to order - apparently, there were always enormous queues.

Barcelona Synergies

However, for over a century the basic layout of the market has changed very little and if you have the chance to view it from above, it looks curiously similar to Ildefons Cerdà's design for Barcelona's famous Eixample neighbourhood.

A central avenue broader than the rest, which could quite easily be Passeig de Gràcia, is home to the most important stalls and the rest of the market is distributed along parallel aisles, which host less attractive stalls the further away you are from the centre.

And of course, La Boqueria also boasts its own Plaça Catalunya the neuralgic centre of Barcelona and the circular fish market here.

Everything At Hand

Another thing that grabs your attention as a shopper with a particular dish to cook is that the layout of the stalls has been planned with convenience as a priority.

So rather than fruit being with fruit, meat being with meat etc, the stalls are organised with particular recipes in mind.

For example, if we have our heart set on a succulent piece of salt cod, a few metres away we'll also find somewhere to buy peppers and onions conveniently close to a spice stall stocking ñora chillis just next door to a general grocer where we can buy our flour.

Everything we need for a delicious Bacallà a la Biscaïna is close at hand!

By the Stallholders for the Stallholders

The two keys to La Boqueria's success, however, are firstly, that although the space is owned by the Ajuntament, the stalls pass down from generation to generation favouring a commitment to the Boqueria tradition.

Secondly, the market is internally administrated so it is run by the stallholders with the stallholders' interests in mind.

Consequently, with the success of the Boqueria as a whole being the priority, it is the stallholders themselves that decide what can and cannot be sold on each stall.

This has meant that the fruit and veg stalls at The Ramblas entrance, which were suffering from competition from cheap greengrocers' in El Raval and lack of purchases from voyeuristic tourists because of their location, have been reconverted by mutual consent into fresh fruit juice stalls and everybody is happy.

* The picture above shows Juanito from Bar Pinotxo, who is probably the most photographed man in Barcelona - including Leo Messi!

A Bright Future

Since the beginning of the 21st century La Boqueria has succeeded in facing the new challenge of maintaining tradition and modernising at the same time.

In 2005, La Boqueria received the accolade of being declared the Best Market in the World at the World Congress of Public Markets in Washington and since 2006 has presided Emporion - the European Association of Markets.

Currently, a tourist attraction as well as a place to do the weekly shopping, La Boqueria is targeting culinary excellence.
The quality of the fresh produce goes without saying but also the market bars such as Pinotxo and Quim de la Boqueria, which used to be spit and sawdust places, are earning a reputation for some of the best food in town.

Similarly, the Aula Gastronòmica de la Boqueria is not only an information centre but also offers daily cookery courses led by its on-site team as well as by invited chefs and somiers.

I can only say that the Boqueria's future looks bright, as bright as the twinkle in the eye of that merluza, which I may well have chopped up, roll in batter and deep fry for my lunch.

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