The Markets of Seville

It's often said, sometimes by me, that if you want to understand the soul of a place, and the people that live there, the best place to start is with a visit to a local food market. The claim is sometimes over-egged, but there's no doubt that you can learn a lot by wandering around such places, observing the appearances, watching the stallholders and customers, and even better, interacting with them, and, of course, there's always the food itself.
 
The Mediterranean generally is famous for the colour and variety of its markets, and Spain and Seville are no exception. Fresh fruit and vegetables are probably the most eye-catching, but fish and seafood are prominent (particularly in coastal towns), as well as meats, delicatessen, poultry and game. There's usually a baker's and a general grocery as well, and on the periphery there are often less obvious traders, like electrical and household goods. 
 
 
And, of course, every market has at least one, and usually more, tapas bars to provide refreshment for both weary stallholders and weary shoppers. Market shopping is fun, but when it's a busy Saturday morning it can be tiring too, with long waits at the most popular stalls, and a cold beer and a nice plate of fried fish or calamares goes down a treat - and you know it's fresh, straight out of the market.
 
In recent years there has been a trend for some of the old retail stalls to be taken over by bars. Although Seville's markets are still vibrant and well patronised, there has been a gradual long term loss of trade to the supermarkets, and the establishment of "gourmet" bars and food courts (which are a growing part of the catering sector) has helped markets re-invent themselves and tap into an affluent customer base, which keeps people coming through the doors.

Arenal Market

 
 
The Arenal is the most recently established of the four central markets, having been built in 1947, though it's not the most modern of the market buildings. Originally it was a both a local market and the main wholesale fruit and vegetable market for Seville, but the wholesale operation was moved out of town in the 1970s to reduce traffic. Prior to the building of the market the site was occupied by the El Pópulo prison (another type of institution where the trend has been a move to out of town locations), itself adapted from previous use as a convent. 
 
The market building was designed by the architect Juan Talavera y Heredia in an Andalucian regionalist style, with the market on the ground floor, and apartments for municipal functionaries above. It occupies an entire block, with a colonnade of arches and columns around the exterior. It has been looking a little neglected in recent years, but is currently undergoing renovation, and it will be interesting to see the result. Inside the "streets" between the stalls have barrel vault ceilings, and big rounded windows at the end. The market also houses the Sevilla de Opera, a small opera company that shows accessible versions of major works, especially those with a Seville theme.

Encarnación Market

 
 
Encarnación market was established around 1850 on the site of the old convent in Plaza Encarnación, where you will now find the ultra modern Metropol Parasols. The market existed in its original form until 1973, when, by then in a state of disrepair, it was demolished to make way for a new market, and the stallholders were housed in “temporary” accommodation in a site in the corner of the square. In the event they were to remain there for 37 years.
 
When work finally began on an underground car park for the new market Roman ruins were discovered, the archaeologists moved in, and work was postponed for several years, although the ruins themselves were restored and can now be seen in the Antequarium beneath the parasols. The parasols were the winning entry in a competition for a building designed to cover the antequarium and the new market, re-opened in 2011 on its original site. It's now the newest and most modern of the four central markets, and is light and spacious, with well-equipped stalls.

Feria Market

 
 
Feria, in the Macarena neighbourhood, is the oldest of Seville's markets, with origins that date back to the founding of the El Jueves street market in the 13th century, and even rates a brief mention in Cervantes. It acquired its own premises in the 18th century, and was refurbished about twenty years ago, though it still retains an old style feel. It's housed in two buildings, separated by a pedestrian street. The front building houses most of the non-fish stalls, ranged along narrow aisles that make it the cosiest and friendliest of Seville's markets. The fish market is in the second building at the back, part of which is now used as a food court. After shopping make a point of stopping at La Cantina for some fried or grilled fish, it's probably the number one market bar in Seville.

Triana Market

 
 
Triana market is technically not in the centre, but across the river at the Triana end of the Isabella Bridge. It's many people's favourite because of its neighbourhood feel and the traditional tiling of the stalls and their names. Triana was once a major centre for the production of pottery and ceramics, but most of the workshops and kilns are now gone, although the ceramics museum just around the corner is worth visiting. 
 
At the back of the market is a section of the wall of the Castle of St George which stood here until around 1800. Built in the 12th century to guard the bridge of boats that crossed the river, it was later the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition until 1785, when it was abandoned and demolished. The market was created in 1823, covering the remains, but as part of the substantial renovation completed in 2001, they were once again exposed, and are now a museum.
 
Triana has more bars than the other three markets, and a popular dining out location, although the recently opened Mercado Gourmet Lonja del Barranco across the bridge(in what was the 19th century fish market), has become fashionable.

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