Porto’s Mercado do Bolhao market, the best known of northern Portugal’s capital city, is hugely colourful and bustling. But the two-storey market’s dense, twisting patchwork of tiny sales counters and stalls, offering everything from crates of live hens to wooden domino sets, port-tasting sessions and sackfuls of dujao and mantiga beans, contrasts painfully with the battered building it occupies.
Not to mention the two plush shopping malls – all elevators, split level shopping floors and acres of glass windows – situated less than a stone’s throw away.
The Bolhao – the Bubble – meanwhile, looks to be close to sinking into the land marshes that reputedly lurk below.
Segments of its upper floor landings, overlooking a huge, unevenly surfaced open-air courtyard hosting long lines of stalls, are supported by networks of equally rickety-looking scaffolding. Its broad stone stairways are cracked and crumbling and it’s hard to find a wall not begging for a coat of fresh paint.
Protected by two towering original 19th century wrought iron gates, inside there’s nothing as modern as a lift or escalator. In fact with its quantities of extremely fresh local food produce, alongside stalls offering peacock feathers, seashells from the nearby Atlantic, newly cut flowers and even giant-size wooden cutlery, the Bolhao feels like a throwback to times when shopping centres did not exist.
Quite how long the market can remain in its current state of permanent decay, though, remains to be seen.