It’s said that if you really want to know what a city and the people who live in it are like, you’ll find the clues in its markets. Coming up to its 103rd anniversary, Tarragona’s Central Market is a worthy representative of the Mediterranean spirit of Tarragona, and more dynamic than ever since its renovation was completed in 2017, which has also imbued new life into its Modernist features. In this new stage of its life, the historical essence of the market is still very much to the fore, but now coexists alongside the ambition and dynamism typical of the twenty-first century.
The real treasure of every market is, of course, inside it: its people, products and stories. But the outer shell of Tarragona’s Central Market cannot be underestimated and the features of this stunning building alone would justify a visit. The Central Market was designed by one of the most prolific architects of Catalan Modernism in Tarragona, Josep Maria Pujol de Barberà. He was charged with satisfying a historic demand that the city had been craving since the nineteenth century: the creation of a large covered market that would unite all the different open-air stalls whose hygiene and comfort conditions left a lot to be desired. He chose for the project the huge esplanade which is now known as Plaça Corsini, and in the early twentieth century was little more than wasteland where football games used to be staged.
Curiously enough, the place where the Central Market was raised is just a few metres from the heart of the Roman city of Tarraco: the local Forum, where a number of ruins still stand that can be visited today. Thus very close to the spot where, two thousand years ago, the Romans used to buy and sell goods, Pujol de Barberà planned a large rectangular building with three naves, built with a material which at that time was very innovative for Tarragona: reinforced concrete or cement. The building was inaugurated with a big formal ceremony in December 1915 and caused such an impact on the local residents in the early twentieth century that it was even mentioned in many popular songs, reflecting their fascination with the new edifice.
The success of the design of the Central Market is partly explained by its modernity. The three-nave structure and the use of wrought iron pillars bear similarities with the Born Market in Barcelona, while its four symmetrical façades are reminiscent of the Viennese Secession style, especially the Otto Wagner pavilion in Karlsplatz. The roof was covered with glazed ceramic tiles, a feature that was lost during successive reforms and the impact of bombing during the Spanish Civil War, but which the most recent renovation has revived.
But it’s not all about aesthetics. Pujol de Barberà had planned a functional market with space for more than 300 stalls and dim lighting that would avoid spoiling the produce by overheating it. However, the Central Market has evolved a great deal since the days when market stall concessions were granted for one month, or the vendors could only have a single 80-watt bulb to showcase their wares. The updated market, which now includes a new semi-underground level for local stores, a hypermarket and a new car park, encompasses a space where people not only go to shop but also to taste, learn and absorb the buzz of the city.
Today, the heart of the Central Market is formed by around forty stalls that specialize in different food products: meat, vegetables, fruit, fish, dried fruit and nuts, spices, patisserie, bread, etc. This is all high quality, local and always seasonal produce, endorsed by the knowledge of the stallholders, many of whom have been preceded by generations of their families. Yet you can do much more than simply fill your fridge or cupboards at the market stalls: many of them offer samples of their products to taste, from freshly-squeezed fruit juices through to a full menu, and even specialities such as freshly-made sushi. In the Central Market you will also find a spacious area to sit down with a coffee, a glass of wine or a tasty meal surrounded by the beauty of its Modernist architecture.
Life in Plaça Corsini also offers a wealth of possibilities for spending an enjoyable day. At the unusual stall of La Teca i la Meca you’ll often find tempting gastronomic ideas, wine and food pairing suggestions, and even crafts and handiwork that will delight young and old alike. Cookery courses, decoration workshops, tasting sessions, shows, face-painting… The Central Market never fails to reveal a new facet to surprise its visitors. And in addition to all this there are plenty of local stores and restaurants in the area, as it stands in one of the main shopping areas of Tarragona.
And we shouldn’t forget to mention the latest incorporation into this twenty-first century market. No visit could be complete without watching the Central Market’s new Carillon Clock in action. Every day, seven figures from the seguici popular (popular retinue) of Santa Tecla dance to the sounds of the pasodoble Amparito Roca (the anthem of Tarragona’s Santa Tecla festival) on the main façade of the market. They perform at 12 noon and 6.00 pm every day, all year around, with a third outing at 8.00 pm in the summer. This is yet another ingredient in a culinary and cultural offering that is bound to put a smile on your face during your visit!