The Mercat Santa Caterina is located in Ciutat Vella, in the district of El Borne. The original market dates back to 1844, when land was given to the Barcelona Town Hall in order to build a market. Construction was completed in four years and the market opened in 1848. It was the first covered market in the city and quickly became an important center of commerce.
Unfortunately, by 1997 the market had lost its luster. It was close to center but in what had come to be known as a relatively poor area of the city. It was surrounded by dismal apartment blocks and hadn´t been properly maintained in the years before. The roof was decayed and the market had become so dilapidated that many citizens thought it should simply be demolished.
Enrick Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, the husband and wife team of EMBT Arquitectes, lived in the neighborhood and felt that demolishing the market would be a huge loss for the area. After much discussion with politicians, planners, and the official board in charge of the city´s markets, they submitted a proposal and eventually won the bid to refurbish the entire market. It soon became an urban regeneration project that went beyond the market stalls and included not only the market but also new housing blocks, a parking lot, and an organic waste deposit. As any of the local residents will tell you, the renovation of the market was a great success and has given new life to the neighborhood.
The project was delayed because during the initial phase of the restoration they unearthed the archaeological remains of the 15th century Gothic Monestir de Santa Caterina, a Dominican monastery that burned down in 1835. Other religious buildings and a late-Roman necropolis were also revealed. Archeologists spent time studying the remains and debating what to do, and with the collaboration of EMBT they found a solution that would allow the remains to be protected and displayed at the same time. There is now a small archeological museum set in the east corner of the market, along with a series of lights and viewing funnels in the public plaza, so that the public can view the relics.
EMBT kept the market´s walls on three sides, and on the fourth side they designed an entirely new facade. They included a new public plaza and two social housing blocks containing low-rent apartments for the elderly. Below ground is the loading bay, where fresh produce and goods are ferried to the main market hall by lifts and porters.
Of course, the most striking feature of the market is the colorful, undulating roof. It consists of a mosaic of 325,000 hexagonal Spanish tiles in 67 colors set in mortar, which form an abstract pattern of fruits and vegetables. The tiles had to be cut by hand due to the precision of the curves of the roof. The roof covers 5500 square meters in total. The structure is composed of wooden arches supported by tubular steel beams. The roof has received so much attention that it has become a symbol of the city of Barcelona, much like the Sagrada Familia or the cathedral, and its image can be found on posters, postcards, and the like.
Inside the market there are over a hundred stalls selling amazing varieties of meat, fish, fresh produce, and frozen and preserved items. There are also stalls selling non-food items such as flowers or perfumes. And to give it a modern touch, computers are being installed in all stalls which will allow stall holders to take orders by email to be delivered to their computers. The restaurant Cuines Santa Caterina (http://www.cuinessantacaterina.com/), which is part of the famous Tragaluz Group, is located here as well. The restaurant offers Asian, Mediterranean, Italian, and vegetarian food and is an excellent (and reasonably priced) choice for lunch or dinner. They also serve tapas and breakfast. And if you fancy something else, there are also several other bars that offer snacks and drinks in the market.
Markets are an essential part of Spanish life, and visiting them is the best way to get a sense of the culture. While the majority of Catalans buy some of their goods at the supermarket, they will also tell you that the highest quality food comes from the markets, and most of them will visit one of their local markets at least once a week. Also, for those that visit Barcelona and stay in rented flats with kitchens, there is nothing better than buying fresh food from the market and taking the time to create a homemade meal. You can also get everything you need to create a picnic at the beach or one of the local parks when the weather is nice.
The market is open Monday from 8am to 2pm, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday from 8am to 3:30pm and Thursday and Friday 8am to 8:30pm. For more information visit the official website at http://www.mercatsantacaterina.net/.