Madrid: San Miguel Market
San Miguel market, named after the San Miguel square where it sits, is one of the very few iron buildings preserved to date in Madrid, and the only market at that. Its construction smack in the middle of town, right next to Plaza Mayor, was completed in 1915 under the direction of Alfonso Dubé.
The origins of the market date back to early XIX century. The first project to cover the open-air stalls was attempted in 1835, to reduce the negative visual impact of all produce and commerce detritus on the square and surrounding streets. The final project by Dubé, started in 1911 and completed in 1915.
This is a single floor space, with a high ceiling, surrounded by glass walls that allow to see both inside out and from the street in. The sturdy cast-iron pillars supporting a fully glassed-in interior pose the most wonderful contrast.
... And Then
But it survived!
Aging and Dwindling
By early 90s, San Miguel market began feeling the impact of modern times. Originally one of the most prestigious food markets in the city, together with La Cebada and Mostenses markets, it slowly lost its pulse with the ever increasing number of supermarkets and, quite simply, with the drastically changing city dynamics, where Plaza Mayor, and all the old Austrias surroundings ceased to be primarily inhabited by regular citizens and started being mostly occupied by bars, restaurants, souvenir stores, and other assorted commercial venues, servicing both Madrilians and tourists alike.
Produce, fish, meat, cheese stalls in the market continued closing off one by one, and the place began its slow descent to nonentity. In 1999, the Regional Government of Madrid invested serious funds in an effort to remodel and restore the market to its original look. Architectonically, the project rendered fabulous results, but it was not enough to restore commercial activity in the premises.
It seemed the lovely market was condemned to vanish in the mist of modern times. To curve that alarming possibility, a private group of associates with interests in architecture, design and gastronomy joined forces under the brand El Gastródomo de San Miguel (The Gastrodome of San Miguel) and they acquired all food stalls with purpose to unify the interior with a slightly different criteria and give the place a new chance.
The New Era
The new concept of San Miguel market opened its doors May 16 2009, with immediate and smashing success. The old cast-iron pillars now support one of Madrid's hot spots for shopping, food and drinks, and diverse cultural events.
With almost 100 years of life, the revamped market is a XXI avant-garde space that combines the spirit of any good ole food market with the modern conveniences of the times. In my opinion, the space is a perfectly harmonious combination of old market trade and sophisticated new age gourmet.
There are 34 stores and stalls, all offering fresh products, one of the leitmotifs of the market. Products served range from French cheese to champagne with oysters, chocolates, olives, fresh fruit, delicatessen meat or the ever present and ever fabulous Iberian ham.
The novelty and distinguisher with other food markets in the city is that one can either opt to take the goodies home or consume them in the central area, prepared for that purpose. One can as well buy some cheese in the fromagerie, and take it to the wine bar to order a red to go with it, and have both there. There is also a bookstore mostly dedicated to cook and food books, and a Vinçon, the famous Catalan designer store.
San Miguel has plenty of reasons to sit proudly, as it should, in one of the city's most lively areas. The interior design is wonderful, its old feel was painstakingly preserved and great care was taken to never lose that unique look of the original building, while at the same time modern, state-of-the-art elements made an appearance.
Even when it's full to capacity, it still has an airy feel to it, in part thanks to the high ceilings but mostly I'd say as consequence of a careful design of the central space that never feels quite clogged. The beauty of the original combines perfectly with the innovative design.The space aims at showing Spain's gastronomic diversity, and plans on being a presence in the cultural circles, with wine tasting courses, food fairs, launching of new products. It has also hosted some concerts and recitals.
For the eye
My love affair with the market
It's been a short but intense romance between San Miguel and me since it opened. You may have noticed none of the photos in this article are mine; I'm not ashamed to say that I've taken my camera to San Miguel 5 times at least, and none of those times have I been inclined to bother with removing it from my bag and snapping a few.
I've told myself multiple lies, as in, there's no good light, there are too many people to take a clean shot, the battery is low, let me save it for the perfect picture, etcetera. Truth is, I simply haven't been able to bother, I was always busy with a glass of champagne in one hand and some delicacy in the other. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking, research will turn out some photos, I'm sure. Well, I was right, wasn't I?
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