It is one of the most emblematic spaces in Porto. After extensive works, the Mercado do Bolhão returns to its splendor.
On the 15th of May 2018, the restoration work on the Mercado do Bolhão was officially commissioned. It was an old desire of the city, to see one of its greatest symbols again with a clean face. The machines started working soon after and it was expected that within two years the traders’ cries would reverberate at their stalls.
However, the technical complexity of the work carried out (it was said that the Mercado do Bolhão just didn’t collapse by luck), led to the deadline for the execution of the works having skidded. But the wait ended in September: the doors opened and the undefeated city recovered the place where a considerable part of Porto’s soul lives. And it has been an absolute success.
Mercado do Bolhão: a symbol that recovers
For decades it was the city’s main fresh market. Located right in the heart of the city of Porto, Bolhão has become a symbol of a certain Porto experience, genuine, without filters. It has also become a tourist attraction, although the decay into which it has fallen has stripped it of a substantial part of its charm.
The market was also known for being a mandatory stop for virtually all election campaigns that passed through Invicta. Whether it was municipal, European, legislative or presidential elections, no one was missing the round of honour, between easy-talking saleswomen and indifferent customers.
In recent years, Bolhão has been covered in ruins. There were some attempts to rehabilitate it, some more or less far-fetched projects, but instead of life, the market was filled with scaffolding to shore up the slow agony of a building that began to be chalked at the dawn of the 20th century.
The history of Bolhão
It is in 1910, the year in which Portugal overthrows the monarchy to become a Republic, that the first draft of a market appears in that place, a square where commerce was already carried out. However, it was only in 1914 that the construction of the current building began, designed by the architect António Correia da Silva.
The Bolhão Market was built in the middle of the First World War, between 1914 and 1917, when the Porto businessman Elísio de Melo presided over the first council of the republican era and to whom the city was also indebted, among other important urbanization projects, the opening of Avenida dos Aliados.
Work began on July 19 of that year and, in 1915, the first stores in the market were put out to tender.
Influenced by the architecture of Ecole des Beaux Arts, Correia da Silva designed a neoclassical building that gave the market the same grandiosity that marks the São Bento Station, by the architect José Marques da Silva, who was also influenced by the Parisian school. It was an advanced work for the time, due to the use of reinforced concrete in conjunction with metallic structures, wooden roofs and granite stonework.
Developed around a fountain with four spouts, the market has two floors connected by several staircases and a large central patio, which is divided into two outdoor spaces through a covered gallery, built in the 1940s.
The main entrance to the building, facing south, has an emblazoned pediment flanked by stone sculptures by Bento Cândido da Silva, representing Mercury and Flora, the gods of classical mythology dedicated to Commerce and Agriculture, respectively.
At different levels are the side entrances, through Rua de Sá da Bandeira and Rua de Alexandre Braga, which give access to an intermediate landing with stairs that connect both floors. The North entrance, on Rua de Fernandes Tomás, gives direct access to the upper floor.
New life for the market
The Bolhão restoration and modernization project was inaugurated on September 15 and had a cost of around 22 million euros. Artificial heating was installed, roofing on the lower floor, direct access to the metro and a technical basement with access for loading and unloading from Rua de Alexandre Braga.
Designed by the architect Nuno Valentim, the project maintains the commercial part and installs the restaurant on the upper floor, with the entrance on Rua de Fernandes Tomás, transferring the entire fresh market to the lower floor.
It’s a new life for Bolhão and an exciting occasion for all the merchants who in recent years have stoically endured doing business in a temporary market. A must visit.