Barcelona’s Els Encants flea market is full of funny little surprises. A model ship rides a wave of VHS tapes; an enamel pin of Bart Simpson grins next to another pin of the Catalan independence flag; the lower body of a mannequin sticks out of a pile of clothes like an over eager bargain hunter; the vendor is ensconced in his own improvised living room set. Simply put, there is a lot to look at. Three open-air floors abound with flea market fare, permanent shops, and even a food court.
Some vendors have placed their wares with care, while others have simply dumped their goods on the ground for shoppers to wade through. With piles of junk reminiscent of I Spy pages and shelves full of rolled fabric sold by the yard, the view is overwhelming, even without the crowds of casual browsers and serious hagglers. It wasn’t hard to spend a few hours taking photos.
Els Encants is also known for its mirror-encrusted roof, a geometric canopy that fits in well with the other unique buildings in La Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes. Flanked by the luminous Torre Agbar, the anvil-shaped Museu de Disseny and a shopping mall, the plaza is not one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist destinations, but it absolutely adheres to the city’s tradition of remarkable architecture. From the Gaudí facades to the anthems of the independentisme català on the tip of everyone’s tongue, the Catalan capital is a city that revels in its own uniqueness.
Here, tradition and history perform a complicated dance with a newfound love of revitalization in the name of tourism. Much like New York City’s Times Square, Barcelona’s La Rambla and Plaça Catalunya in the city center have been cleaned up to the level of family-friendly standards in the past couple of decades. The neighborhood of Poblenou, current home of Els Encants, was practically demolished and rebuilt from the ground up for the 1992 Olympics. Poblenou has been a symbol of the new Barcelona for some, but for many, the changes come at great cost to communities forced out of the neighborhood by gentrification.
In some ways, Els Encants embodies these predicaments of the old and the new. The market beneath the shimmering pavilion has been in existence since the 14th century where these relics continue to survive among the new and gleaming, making it one of Barcelona’s most fascinating sites of disruption and wonder.