Photo by Suzannah Larke
The current Encants market at Glòries
“The cheapest, the cheapest,” shouted a tall, middle-aged man in a baritone voice, pointing at his one-euro coloured threads piled up in a cardboard box. People passed, turned their heads, and kept going. At his side, there were a dozen silent canaries in small bird cages, beads and cheap jewellery on an improvised table, along with three big hunks of ham exhibited on an old chair. Such was his stock for sale.
Odd, but by no means the most eclectic collection on offer at La Fira de Bellcaire, better-known as Els Encants Vells, Barcelona’s flea market. It has been in this location for almost 80 years, minimally ordered and unconventional, but the city has plans to turn it into a contemporary shopping centre and move the market to a new location.
Or so it’s said. But this is not the first time that Els Encants’ last days at this location have been scheduled. A 1997 article in Metropolitan announced the Ajuntament’s plans to move the market to the car park beneath the Glòries roundabout. It never happened. Nor did any of the other various schemes for relocating the vendors and their stalls that were proposed in the following years. So it’s not exactly breaking news that the Ajuntament is saying Els Encants is to be moved. What is news, this time, is that all the players involved—consisting mainly of city officials and vendors—seem relatively satisfied.
In early 2003, when the Ajuntament revealed plans to move the market to Vall d’Hebron, Diego Escamez, the president of the Encants Sellers’ Association, told El País that the vendors wanted to remain in the Glòries area: “We do not want to be an impediment to the reform, but we think that there is space for all of us.”
A subsequent proposal wanted to move the market to the Monumental bull ring, but the sellers were not convinced. “We did not agree with the first proposal because the space only had 5,000 metres and we asked for 10,000. What they are proposing now has 8,200 metres and we can stay outdoors,” Escamez commented to the press about the latest plan.
The architect for the new Encants is Daniel Modol, who spoke extensively with vendors and was careful to integrate their needs into his proposal. His design was selected from 12 others, and will cost €2.5 million, money which will come from a €125 million budget to be spent on the renewal of 11 of the city’s markets. The transition of the market is part of a larger modernisation project involving the entire Glòries area, and will take as long as 10 years to complete with a total cost of €3.15 million.
The new plan says that within two years the market now situated in the Glòries area will be moved to a new space, not far from its current location, called El Bosquet. The place is bounded by the streets of Meridiana, Castillejos and Casp, and the new building promises to satisfy all the requirements of a modern market. The market will be installed on two levels and will be appropriate for selling both indoors and out. There will be a covered area of 32,372 square metres, space protected from sun and rain, with shops, exhibition spaces, information centre, offices, a loading-unloading zone and a 300-space underground parking lot.
Other substantial changes are in the works for the neighbourhood, the most radical probably being the disappearance of the Glòries ring. Piece by piece, it will be taken apart and replaced with a new 120,000-square-metre park. Traffic will be kept moving by diverting part of it underground, beneath the Gran Via. For two years the ring, undressed from its concrete walls and sustained by the columns alone, will wait for the Encants to be moved. Afterwards, the traffic will be redirected through the area where the flea market is situated now.
Some of the social, cultural, and educational developments scheduled for the area include 1,200 new pisos, a new Museum of Design and Decorative Arts, a new theatre, an Audiovisual University Campus, new office buildings, a new public library and a sports centre. And, a whole new Encants. “It will be functional, open and a market of the future,” promised Ajuntament spokesperson Jordi William Carnes i Ayats on the city’s official website. And Mayor Jordi Hereu went even further on his blog, calling the plans for Glòries “historical changes” and promising that the new area will change the face of the city. “We will make Glòries the centre of Barcelona.”
But, as the city gets a face-lift, people will have to say goodbye to the old treasures or just plain junk being sold in chaotic piles on the ground. A radio for two euros, an ancient knight’s helmet for 45, knives and swords, old dolls, metal buckets, plugs and wires, computer pieces, crayons, counterfeit perfumes, stolen phones, stones, records, everything and anything imaginable; much of which is not so likely to appear in the new Encants.
It is no secret that many of the vendors along the market’s periphery are not only selling items of dubious provenance, but are, themselves, frequently without papers. Nevertheless, they form a part of what draws shoppers to the market, and some of the more legitimate vendors are worried that their absence may reduce the number of people making the trip to see what’s on offer. Currently, it is estimated that the market draws upwards of 100,000 visitors a week. Still, the City Council points to the fact that on June 16th, 2008, 80 percent of the sellers voted to approve the new project. “What that means,” elaborated an elderly woman selling used boots in a corner of the market, “is that 80 percent of the representatives of the sellers from the vendors’ association have voted for the change.”
Some of the market’s vendors do not even seem to be aware of the Ajuntament’s plans. “Where did you hear something like that?” asked a vendor, behind a table full of knick-knacks. “No, they are not going to move the market. Not us, they are just going to move the ones who sell on the ground.”
Still others prefer not to comment on the City Council’s ambitious plans for the area and for Els Encants, reserving their judgement, well-aware that it is one thing to announce plans and another to implement them. “Two years is two years, it’s a lot of time,” said a young man selling fabrics laid out on a table. “And two years is a lot of selling. After that, we’ll see.”