The first mention of La Boqueria dates back to 1217. Tables installed near the old city gate were mostly selling meat. According to some sources, the name La Boqueria came from the word boc, which means goat, the most popular meat sold here at the time. The market was set up unofficially by the merchants who tried to sell some of their products before entering the city so that they can save on the taxes.
From December of 1470, a pig market was held here, and the place became known as Mercat Bornet. After this, it became Mercat de la Palla and still failed to gain official status—most people considered it to be a part of the nearby Placa Nova market.
The real breakthrough in the market’s “life” came around the eighteenth century when La Rambla started to gain popularity. So did the market, and vendors from nearby towns started to come to try selling their goods as well. This didn’t please the old merchants much, which led to fierce argument. The city leaders decided that when entering through the gates, the butchers offering their products and shouting at each other shouldn’t be the entertainment for those taking a stroll on the city’s most prominent walking street, so they relocated the market. The new place was near to the orchards of the covenant of St. Joseph—still close to La Rambla, but not directly on the street itself.
In 1835, during huge demonstrations all over Spain, people burned down the neighboring St. James covenant amongst many others. A square surrounded by arcades was built on its place (the biggest one in Barcelona), and the authorities decided to move the market here temporarily. This partly failed—the temporary part, that is, since this became the final home of Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria.
At this point, the market was still on the open air, but the works on a roof began in 1840 on St. Joseph’s Day. Even though the market gained its official status the same year, the roof wasn’t finished until 1853. They also divided it into different sectors based on the products of the merchants, which were limited to meat and flowers by this time, but soon after, birds were added.
During the past 150 years of its official existence, the market went through a few more changes. In 1861, the fruit and vegetable sellers made their way into the building. After an expansion in 1869, the great change in the market’s existence came due to the introduction of gas lighting on Christmas of 1871. The fishmongers got their own section in 1911, and the metal roof that is still an attraction and, in a way, the symbol of the market was constructed in 1914.
The metal roof was the landmark of the modernization of the market. Not only the sanitation improved gradually after this, but the overall appearance of the market as well. Soon it started its march, becoming the celebrated tourist attraction it is today.
The sellers offering their products there today are mostly fourth-generation La Boqueria merchants representing both the long traditions of the market and the new ideas that keep it exciting and dynamically evolving. At present, there is barely any food in Spain that cannot be found here; and besides the wide range of food products, it also offers artisan handicrafts and farmer’s shops.
Even though we can see that the market came a long way from a tax-saving trick by the merchants, it is safe to say that today, it took its righteous place as the king of European—if not the whole world’s—food markets.