The Born district in Barcelona is right now probably one of the most loved districts by the young and hip. I remember before I even set foot in Spain I was discussing my upcoming trip to Barcelona with a friend in a cafe on the Lower East Side of New York and the waitress, who happened to be a Spanish exchange student, overheard our conversation and insisted that I familiarize myself with the Born.
I took her advice and instantly understood why she implored me to stroll down the Paseo del Born. This haven for creative types has just the right mix of cool watering holes, trendy eateries, and funky boutiques while the cobble stone streets, narrow winding alleyways and historic architecture allow visitors to travel back in time to Barcelona’s past.
Here you will find plenty of things to do, which consist of shopping, drinking and lounging as well as paying your respects to the all mighty Dios in the glorious Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral.
However there is another grand architectural site that deserves your respect and is a shining example of El Borne in its original heyday, the Mercat del Born.
Situated at the very end of the Paseo del Born near the Parc de Ciudadella, the Mercat de Born looms over the neighborhood with an impressive structure built on a forged iron skeleton and spans 4000 meters squared.
Built between 1873 and 1876 by three Catalan architects (Antoni Rovira, Josep Fontsere and Josep Comet), the Mercat del Born was once the largest market hall in Barcelona, although now it has lost popularity to other active market halls like La Boqueria and the Mercat Sant Antoni and the fact that it isn’t much of destination currently.
Sadly, visiting the Mercat del Born today will probably be somewhat of a disappointment since the City has undertaken the job of renovating the space, which has been ongoing for a number of years. All you will see now is scaffolding and construction workers not working nearly as hard as they probably should be.
Originally, when the project was presented to the public by the Instituto de Cultura de Barcelona in 2005 it was said the construction was to be completed by the end of 2009. Anyone visiting the La Mercat del Born today will see they not only did they miss their deadline they are far away from completing the job.
Furthermore, the antique market space won’t actually resume its old function as a live market but an enclosed cultural center bringing together the creative talent and works of art by neighborhood residents.
Not a bad idea on the part of the local government especially keeping in mind that the Mercat del Born was originally a library in the XVIII century before it was converted into the neighborhood market it is known for. In fact from the 1970’s up through the early 80’s the Mercat was used as the city’s main wholesale market until was abandoned to collect dust and decay.
In general the plan is to convert this whole space into a ‘’covered public plaza’’ that involves building underground passageways and tree-lined routes connecting the space to other parts of the neighborhood as well as the Parc de Ciudadella and the adjacent La Ribera area creating a linked cultural focal point for this section of town.
The new cultural space will include exhibition spaces for temporary cultural exhibits, a gift-shop and book store as well as a cafeteria and a guided tour of the basement level, which will contain artifacts from Barcelona’s past inhabitants like jewels, pottery and other items of this sort.
In the subterranean basement level the Centro Cultural del Born will also include a complete virtual display of daily life in the born during the XVII century complete with computerized three-dimensional replicas of the neighborhood as well as an oral archive that visitors will be able to consult.
There have also been talks about a section of the flooring of the cultural space that will be covered in glass to reveal the remains of demolished streets and homes dating back to King Philipe V that were discovered early on during the first stages of the renovation.
I frequent the area often stopping to have a coffee or a snack at one of the cafes that face the Mercat hoping to see more progress being made. At the rate they are going I am not sure I will be around when the renovation comes to completion.
The plans are ambitious and very costly but surely a worthy project for all that it promises for residents and tourists.
Nevertheless I suggest anyone eager to experience the market culture that is very much a part of Barcelona’s culture is advised to visit any of the other numerous neighborhood mercats such as Mercat d’Hostafrancs in the western part of the city or Mercat Santa Caterina, which is within short walking distance from the Mercat del Born.
If the mood hits you and you like snapping photos of industrial sites, take a few of the Mercat and pay your respect but don’t spend too much time circling the property since at the moment there are more active and eye pleasing sites around the neighborhood to see.
Mercat del Born
Placa Comercial 12