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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of La Boqueria Market in Barcelona

What is La Boqueria?

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, commonly known as simply La Boqueria, is Barcelona’s oldest and most famous market, first established in the early 13th century, where the Spanish Gastronomic Revolution of the 1990s began.

La Boqueria History

Central to Barcelonan and Catalan history, the Mercado de Sant Josep, or La Boqueria as it’s more commonly known, has fed the city for over 800 years. This bustling market was around when Columbus sailed across the Atlantic, during the Inquisition, the bloody Spanish Civil War, and throughout the Francoist dictatorship. The market dates back to the early 13th century when travelling merchants set up vending stalls near the city walls. For 500 years, the then Mercat de la Palla (or ‘Straw Market’) specialised in meat and livestock. Breeders mainly sold sheep and goats – or boc in Catalan, the origin of the current name.

Despite its growing popularity throughout the 18th century, the market was not officially recognised and still took place outdoors, with vendors laying straw on the ground to protect their produce from dirt. The market was only officially established in 1827. Throughout the 19th century, however, La Boqueria still exclusively housed butchers and fishmongers. The flower, fruit and vegetable sellers so common here today were not allowed to sell their produce in the market hall until 1861.

La Boqueria spanish tortilla pie

In the early 20th century, responding to vendors' and shoppers' demands, the present-day market building was constructed on the land of the old (now disappeared) Monastery of Sant Josep. Modernist architect Antoni de Falguera i Sivilla designed the market’s famous arched entrance with its stained-glass panels and a 3,000-square-metre enclosed iron structure.

However, the architecture is of secondary importance to the world-class contents of the market. Each turn in the souk-like labyrinth of its streets will surprise you anew with an immense and eclectic variety of local and exotic ingredients. For generations the market’s vendors have searched out the best produce from across Spain. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Spanish Gastronomic Revolution of the 1990s, headed by Ferran Adrià (founder of El Bulli, one of the world’s best restaurants), began with the produce found here in La Boqueria.

La Boqueria fruit stall

In La Boqueria's people and produce we see a reflection of Barcelona itself. The market is not just a nexus of commerce but the apotheosis of Catalan values. It’s an ever-changing environment driven by its vendors’ dedication to producing and offering only the finest and freshest produce. The pride they take in their work makes La Boqueria both the stomach and the heart of Barcelona.

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