1 of 2
Photo by Miquel Hudin
2 of 2
Photo by Miquel Hudin
Born market ruins
Shut down in the early Seventies, the Mercat del Born has had many false starts on its way to a new life; as a result, for many years, it went slowly into decline while its interior became a magnet for urban explorers. Ten years ago, plans were formed to turn it into the Provincial Library of Barcelona only for these to then grind to a halt with the discovery on the site of ruins from the 18th-century La Ribera neighbourhood. It had been razed to make room for Felipe V’s much hated citadel, built in 1715 to keep Barcelona in line after the brutal War of Succession. Not that the find was much of a surprise given that in La Ribera car park on Passeig del Born, ruins from the same area were found years ago; they were subsequently destroyed to make room for parking spaces.
So, the market plans changed again and a project was developed to create a new cultural centre for the neighbourhood as well as a subterranean museum of the ruins similar to that in the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat de Barcelona in Plaça del Rei. While the inauguration date is set for September 11th (starting a year of events commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Fall of Barcelona), for some months now, the construction process has been slowly winding down, with the semi-permanent brick wall around the market yielding to a temporary fence and the sounds of jackhammers diminishing. Locals can now do something they’ve haven’t been able to for decades: touch the market walls.
Jaume Rovira has lived across from the market for the last nine years. Day to day, the main noise in his area comes from the drunken hordes of tourists that pack into the restaurant below his flat, leaving rubbish (and sometimes worse) in front of his door. But the market has had an impact on his life as well. “Year after year, there’s been constant noise, which is why I and others in the neighbourhood put up signs like, ‘Enough with the construction, return the Born!’ across our balconies. The worst time came recently when they were tearing up the roads to make room for these rebuilt streets around the market.”
The plans have called for a cessation of all through traffic and parking on the streets of Fusina, Comerç, La Ribera and Comercial, which will become full-width, pedestrian-only thoroughfares. Sewage is being improved. Trees are being planted. But, given that many perceive the general approach to development of Barcelona’s centre as tourists first and residents second, those living around the market are eyeing these changes cautiously. This was echoed in a recent tour of the market for residents when one attendee asked, “Are these new rooms in the market just going to be cafés for guiris?” The representative of the new cultural centre, Gemma Noguera, gave a definitive “no”, but transparency on the project has been wanting, both for residents and businesses.
Short of a paper posted on his building notifying residents that Comerç would soon be cut to through traffic and about the aforementioned market tours, Jaume Rovira has had little other outreach from those running the project. Similarly, he and others had been told that there would be no new terraces allowed in the area, but it now appears this won’t be the case.
Donald Myerston, the manager at the newly-opened restaurant Llamber, also received one of those papers about the traffic restrictions. “To know what is happening we have to ask the engineers we see,” he said. “We would like to have more communication with the Ciutat Vella district office, but it’s always closed and the phone is never picked up.”
The one thing Myerston could confirm is that, despite the assurances of “no new terraces”, the plans he has seen and the discussions he has had with the project engineer suggest the complete opposite. “I’ve seen in the plans that the city has allocated terrace spaces directly along the middle of the streets around the market which will be for the restaurants’ use depending on how many spaces they’re permitted. Of course, we don’t know anything more because no one has told us.”
For certain non-food enterprises in the area such as Sofia Gidlööf’s eponymous Scandinavian furniture shop, the construction has been viewed as a necessary evil. “Other than finding my street being torn up in front of the shop one day, there hasn’t been much in the way of disruption from it,” said Gidlööf. She’s looking to the future and seeing the larger picture of a grand pedestrian boulevard from Santa Maria del Mar that will run past her shop and out to Parc de la Ciutadella. She sees it becoming a ‘new’ part of the centre for locals rather than tourists, something which Donald Myerston (whose front of house staff speak Catalan, a not so common thing in restaurants in the area) agrees with.
For the more traditional businesses here, such as granel shop Casa Perris (which sells pulses and dried fruit in bulk), employee Claudia Ventura says that all of this has had little effect on them. “People come to our shop for the same reasons that they have for decades, to buy flour, beans, nuts, etc.” Beyond the annoyance of having their street pulled up, they haven’t seen any changes in business. With the completion of the work, though, they anticipate an increase in their dried fruit sales as they believe there will undoubtedly be a lot more tourist foot traffic in the area.
The fully exposed ruins, some of which are thought to date back to the 14th century, form a fascinating snapshot of life in Barcelona prior to their destruction. Two metres below the surface there are over 50 old homes, several taverns, butchers, countless wells and even a large pit in which they made wine. Crisscrossing all of this are the old streets that still exist in the modern neighbourhood, although in slightly different orientations. And then there is the most dominant element, the old Rec Comtal. This is a hydraulic system that, for many centuries, fed water to this side of old Barcelona.
To visit the ruins, according to the communication department of the city’s Institut de Cultura, people will need to go online to book an appointment with a guide. However, the cost for this has not yet been determined. There will also be a museum of artefacts found during the excavation but what will be contained here is still also undecided. The rooms inside the market will be for neighbourhood use but, again, the communication staff is quite vague about exactly what this will entail.
The Born market is just a few weeks from reopening and local restaurants are waiting to hear about terraces and completion of the work. Despite having been given tours of the market’s interior in February and March, residents don’t receive much information and what they do hear is often conflicting. Possibly it’s a result of there never having been a fully clear vision for what to do with this market. Or perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the original project architect, Rafael de Cáceres, publicly resigned in 2011, protesting the reduction in cultural space among other unfavourable changes to the plans.
Whatever the reason, one thing has remained constant: the concept of ‘more’. The businesses all foresee there being more foot traffic. Residents see this as well and fear having to pay more for their rent in the not-too-distant future. September 11th is getting closer and while that day will mark the official reopening of the market, there is little doubt that more regarding this story will unfold afterwards.