Collective enjoyment in Málaga

The Mercado Atarazanas is a living tradition

For day-to-day shopping, in search of that special freshness and quality or as a place where locals and guests enjoy Spanish culture together: the Mercado Atarazanas in the centre of the Mediterranean metropolis of Málaga is open to everyone six days a week. Its story connects yesterday, today and tomorrow.

It smells of fruits and vegetables, nuts, cheese and spices, and of fresh fish. In the soft light of the Mediterranean, all these scents combine to create a velvety melange that makes you want to go shopping. Under palm trees and surrounded by enchanted buildings in the 19th century bourgeois style, with multi-faceted references to Moorish culture, the Mercado Atarazanas can be found: it is the largest and oldest market in Málaga.

"Of course, we all know each other, we spend a lot of time together here. And do so nearly every day."

Natalia, worker at the market

With a soft crackle the red sweets clatter into a bowl, garlic and sausages hang from the ceiling, and in between, Natalia's face beams. The 26-year-old has been working at the market for a year and is currently busy preparing the market stall for the opening. For three generations now, the family of her employer has been selling its dried fruits, honey, sweets, nuts, wine, olive oil, vinegar and much more. The colourful market stand is in one of the three sections of the market with an area of 5,000 square metres and 265 market stalls. Divided into fruit and vegetables, nuts, spices and pickles, fish and meat, the traders are lined up in rows and offer their produce. At eight o'clock in the morning the doors open. What happens up to this point looks like organised chaos yet follows its own dramaturgy. Strong arms heave boxes and cartons from the trucks on the surrounding streets, the goods flow into the building on countless carts, and the individual participants glide past each other towards their destination as if in a secret choreography. The different boxes piled up in the aisles look like a skyline. Busy hands sort the products and make them into lovingly stacked architecture on the stalls. There is always time for a joke or a little chat among colleagues. "Of course, we all know each other, we spend a lot of time together here. And do so nearly every day," laughs Natalia. It is not only a market that comes to life, but an almost magical place that connects locals, immigrants and tourists with Spanish culture.

The Mercado Atarazanas of Málaga is in an old shipyard dating back to the 14th century, which later, after the Christian conquest of the city, also served as a warehouse, arsenal, military hospital and barracks. In 1868, the municipal architect, Joaquín Rucoba, received permission to build a new market on this site, which, due to constant land reclamation, is now one kilometre inland. Thanks to the intercession of the Academy of Fine Arts of San Telmo, the monumental sandstone portal of the old shipyard was saved and integrated into the centre of the new building's main façade. Rucoba based his design on the history of the area and created a neo-Arabic style market hall, which, with lots of glass and cast-iron elements, ties in with the rich history of the Mediterranean city. When drawing up the building plans, he was inspired by the iron construction of the Parisian weekly market, Les Halles. For the basic framework he used metal that came from the steelworks of Seville, which were located there at that time. Today, when almost all the old Muslim buildings in Malaga have disappeared, the Atarazanas Mercado is one of the most beautiful examples of 19th century architecture. To restore its original design, the building was extensively renovated between 2008 and 2010, including the large stained-glass window at the front. It is certainly one of the most sensational elements and not only the market people like it. In sunlight, the artistic representations of important sights of the city glow, but seafaring scenes are also depicted here. When the daylight then gently falls into the hall, it leaves a kaleidoscopic play of colours on the nearby fish traders' stalls and dances on the ground. The men, many of them working in family businesses, are just receiving their goods, freshly caught seafood directly from the port. They are the only ones that are closed on Mondays because the fishermen do not go out to catch fish on Sundays. But today, Wednesday, José is at his stall, as he has been for the last 36 years, serving his customers.

For him and his brother, the Mercado is a historical monument with a future. "Now in the morning it's still quiet and especially my regular customers come to buy mussels or fish from me," he says while packing a dish of mussels for a lady. "Only later do the international visitors join in. And what is new: the tourists only used to come to take pictures. These days they buy things too," says José with a friendly smile. "The mentality has completely changed. People don't eat out as much anymore. People prefer to prepare something healthy at home or in their holiday apartment. This is completely new," agrees Trinidad a few metres further on. The 33-year-old runs a stand for organic products and her concept was the first of its kind in all of Malaga. "Today people want to know where the products come from. They are curious and appreciate healthy, genuine food," she says with the unmistakable southern Spanish zest for life. The young fruit seller likes to meet new people. "I simply enjoy dealing with other people and I enjoy being able to help them. Doctors, administrators, politicians but of course also normal people and those with an alternative way of life come to me. My clientele is really completely mixed."

Suddenly it becomes fuller and louder in the narrow aisles between the colourful market stalls. Employees start their lunch break together in small groups and eat right here in the halls at their respective stands. Families, a few elderly gentlemen and tourists flock through the aisles, market traders praise their produce verbosely, the famous Serrano ham dangles over the counters, jokes are made, and goods weighed: but there is no bartering. Because, contrary to what one would expect, the goods in the market all have a set price. Just as they do a high quality. "Whether it's olives, meat, vegetables or fresh fish: Authentic. Fresh. Delicious," says Trinidad to summarise and turns to the next customer who is interested in untreated cow's milk. In the Mercado Atarazanas there is time for conversation, people meet each other with respect and curiosity. And so, shopping becomes a crash course in Spanish humour and courtesy. And really everyone is welcome.

Even when the shopping is done, there is still much to discover in the Mercado Atarazanas: for example, one of the lively tapas bars at the edge of the market. There is already a lot of activity here at eleven o'clock in the morning, the glasses clink and the smell of freshly prepared delicacies floats through the air. Tapas is the Spanish national dish, but it is hard to find another place in Malaga where it can be enjoyed as authentically and freshly prepared as here, among locals and visitors. Han Jo from South Korea confirms this. He and his wife came here just for the tapas – they are both totally enthusiastic: "It was really delicious. And I think it's great to experience Spanish culture so closely here. Everything is totally relaxed; the people are very friendly." There are mussels, fried fish and of course paella, with a glass of wine – people celebrate the good life. Like Andrea, who came from Madrid with her husband and son for a visit. "I have family here and a trip to the market is part of every visit to the city. We try to buy a lot of local products. And this is simply where you an find the best products and the best atmosphere – that's why we are here."

Just as suddenly as the day in the market begins, it also ends. As early as 2 pm, the first traders close their stands. They carefully pack their leftover goods like valuable treasures and one by one they lower the heavy roller shutters down on their market stalls. Now life with the family can start. The next morning, they will all be back again. The market in Málaga is like a theatre: the play never loses its charm.

Where the windows light up

The small workshop at a roundabout outside the centre and the imposing market hall window of Atarazanas: you would not really put them together. And yet their relationship could not be closer. Since 1986, Rebecca Sanchez Nieto and Francisco Cascón Martin have dedicated themselves here to translucent art made of fragile material – they restored the famous market window in line with the original. A conversation about the love of one's own work.

What is so special about stained glass?

It makes a big difference whether you look at a design on paper or a well-placed glass object. This always creates a feeling of sensuality. Because the colours are reflected on the interior walls. This is a work of art, just like a painting. When the sunlight passes through the glass, everything shines!

How did you start your workshop?

We started in 1985, we went to Segovia, worked there for three years and moved on to Paris together. There my husband learned how to go about restoring historical art monuments. He worked in a workshop with a long tradition and learned all about the techniques of restoration. These are the same techniques that have been used since time immemorial, since the first leaded glass windows were made. We then worked for three years in Albi in the south of France, and then returned to Málaga. We've been back here for 20 years now.

Glass is very brittle as everyone knows. How do you bring the individual elements of your windows into their shape?

Each glass pane is cut by hand following a template, smoothed down and then edged with copper foil. Then the individual panes are soldered together, and the soldering seams are given a patina that gives the copper its colour. This can be either copper-coloured or black. For the lead windows, the glass panes are first cut and then fastened on a template. In the next step, the pane is gradually assembled using the lead came.

What was your assignment with the motif for the market hall?

We were expected keep the window the way it is. So, it was a matter of a restoration true to the original. Therefore, we first took a photo of each block and then worked with this photo. We then used this photo as a template to create the drawing on each glass block with the glass in the fire: so that the blocks look the same as before. The same brushstroke, the same brushwork, the same thickness for the drawing.

How long did you work on the restoration?

One and a half years in total. However, these are also not thin glass panes as we know them, but rather glass blocks. The individual elements of the window are almost three centimetres thick. Each block was given a number according to the place where it was in the original work. So, we first took a photo of the entire work and then photographed the individual glass blocks. Afterwards, each block was painted, piece by piece, and reattached in its original position. When painting on glass, you must think like the original painter – and then try to imitate his way of painting.

But you also do contract work for your customers.

We try to build a relationship with the customer, find out what he really thinks and what he really wants. Then we try to transfer his wishes, what he wants to feel when he sees the finished object in front of him, to the glass. We enjoy working out designs for customers and making sure that the customer likes the result. To make sure he is satisfied and says, "Wow, I have a work of art at my house!" That's the work we like to do best.


Light and glass in Málaga

Just outside the medieval walls in the important historical suburb of Funtanalla, where the Arabs built their pottery kilns, is where it can be found: the Málaga Glass Museum. Since 2009, it has been run jointly by three families who love glass, and in the summer of 2019, it celebrated its reopening after extensive renovation.

Opposite the church of San Felipe Neri, behind a small, cobbled forecourt, where the narrow path bends between the houses, stands a somewhat restrained but nevertheless prominent Spanish manor house from the 18th century. The building is made up of two parts and lies directly on the Plazuela Santísimo Cristo de la Sangre with its rustic façade, large wooden doors, green box-type windows with small balconies. At first sight one would probably not expect there to be a museum here. But a sign points the way to the Málaga Glass Museum. It is thanks to Gonzalo Fernandez-Prieto, his family and two friends that the building is still standing. They had been wrestling with the community for several years until the decision was made to renovate it and thus preserve it for the city. And its contents, an eclectic mix of exhibits, local, decorative art objects inherited and collected over 25 years, can also be traced back to the families. Over approximately 900 square metres, the museum is not kept sober as is usual. The exhibition stages the diverse glass objects from different eras in an environment that radiates no less taste and sense of style than the exhibits themselves. Most of the furniture dates from the 18th and 19th centuries and comes from all over Europe. Family portraits from the 17th to 20th century decorate the walls. The idea is ingenious: all the museum's exhibits are staged in their own chronological context. The earliest pieces in the collection come from the eastern Mediterranean, made of Greek, Roman and early Islamic glass. The exhibition's strength lies in glass from the 18th to the 20th century. For instance, when a collection of English drinking glasses from the 18th century illustrates the development of lead glass. Or a dining room with a Wilkinson dining table is adorned with Wedgwood porcelain and complementary glasses from the early nineteenth century. And so, you can move through the whole house and admire glittering chandeliers, carafes, glasses, bowls, vases and many other objects. A special highlight are the personal guided tours given by the owner: in an entertaining way he explains the historical classification of the exhibits, provides explanations of the different manufacturing techniques.

Inspiration Malaga

One Ground for your home

For more than 100 years, the large colourful stained-glass window of the Mercado Central de Atarazanas market hall in Malaga has fascinated visitors. The shapes and colours of this delicate treasure as well as elements of the building's neo-Arabic architecture are reflected in an unusual laminate flooring in vintage tile look.

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