A trip to Barcelona's grimy, exciting and intermittently rewarding Els Encants Vells flea market with Kavel Rafferty.
Els Encants Vells, I mistakenly thought this to mean 'market of old charms', which sounds delightful, but even if it were true might be stretching it a bit these days.
The name actually relates to the time of the plague in Barcelona when the poor would sell the property of the dead, shouting 'en cantes' the prices outside the city walls. The original market dates back to the 14th century, making it one of the oldest markets in Europe; it was moved to the site near Glories in the 1920s to clean up the Saint Antoni area for the Universal Exhibition of 1929.
As with many markets, Encants has a mixture of new and old, from mountains of second-hand books spread out on blankets to phone unlocking services. The more permanent stalls around the edges tend to be new; household goods, electrical supplies, flamenco dresses, big pants and fabrics. In the centre are the grottier junk stalls; old paint, records, magazine, 'antiques' and collectibles, but really you could pretty much come across anything. You’ll need to dig around a fair bit, and you need good balance too as sometimes you have to climb over stuff to get to the back of the stalls. Amid all this bustle you'll find women selling platted garlic for a couple of Euros.
Every 10 to 15 minutes recorded messages are played over the Tannoy, in Catalan, Spanish and a strange American/English accent, mostly reminding you to take care of your bags. Along with this reminder to watch your belongings, are the shouts from stall holders todo barato (everything cheap), which is ironic as I find it a little over-priced, you really do have to barter hard. Ladies should beware of the onion rubbers 'a frotar la cebolleta' as my friend Arantxa describes the older gentlemen who rub up far too close to women, when they think they can get away with it.
Don't let any of this put you off, in general there’s a lively, exciting atmosphere. Most markets have s seamy aspect and this one is little different in that aspect to my past local of Brick Lane.
Work started recently to move the market to a modern, covered 25-metre marquee, just across the street but somehow I think this will ruin the feel. I'm not sure a flea market should be too clean – organised chaos should rule.
Els Encants Vells, Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday. I usually give Saturday a miss as it can be pretty heavy going with the heat and crowds. It opens at 7am with auctions, the market proper starts around 9am fizzles out by 2pm.
Metro: L2 Encants / L1 Glories
You can see Kavel's illustration work on her website.
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