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There is something essential about a flea market. You might say it reflects what it means to be human: our purchasing habits, the way we crowd together, our tastes, or lack of them. All this and more is on show and free to view at the Mercat dels Encants, a market that boasts around 300 outlets of the most varied kinds and which is one of Europe’s oldest. Aged around seven and a half centuries and created through the merger of two even older markets, this city institution has been running at various sites around the city since medieval times. However, since 2013 its 33,000 square meters have been located at the point where the Avinguda Meridiana meets the Carrer de los Castillejos, in the famous Eixample district.

The bewildering range of items on sale includes vintage clothing, antiques, bric-a-brac, arts, crafts and miscellaneous bargains and attracts up to a hundred thousand visitors each week. Locals and tourists from almost every country on earth have wandered this bazaar. The name, els Encants, which is an antique itself, seems to go back to the time when auctions were carried out at the market, although there are those who say it refers instead to the old custom of attracting customers by singing out to them.

Whatever the case may be, one of the most striking aspects of this bustling site, a promised land for shoppers, collectors, treasure hunters and the merely curious, can be found overhead. 25 metres above the market stalls is an ultramodern roof of steel mirrors, whose broken planes return a scintillating and fragmented image of the market where we stand. The starship-style roof offers a startling outline, advertising the market’s presence on the skyline, and also protects the professionals and stallholders at this open-air market in case of inclement weather. A fine example of tradition merging with modernity.