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Campaign to save the pavilions of the Bolhão Market in Portugal

INTBAU Portugal is promoting a public petition to save the interior architecture of the old market Bolhão, in Porto city centre, in partnership with the blog “Old Portuguese Stuff“.

Message from INTBAU Portugal:
It’s very important to achieve an international participation in this initiative. That’s why we appeal for all to read the message below and sign the petition, in this link:

The Mercado do Bolhão, Porto’s only remaining traditional market which opened in 1915, will soon be renovated by its owner, the Porto City Council. It has been slowly falling apart for years, waiting for controversial and sometimes megalomaniac development projects which never left the drawing board.  We are now told it finally has its marching orders, and is to be simply updated and mainly function as a modern market.

We like this idea, and in general the project which was presented last April, on the 22nd. We like that the outside of the market is to be completely restored, including the big cornice brackets that were removed years ago, that the shop windows will revert to the original design which now only graces one or two stores, and that the traditional canvas awnings will return to give it a uniform and consistent look.

There is one thing though, which can dramatically change our perception of the Bolhão.  As per the project which was shown to the public, one essential element of the market is destined for the wrecking ball: the so-called Barracas do Bolhão.

Barracas do Bolhão elevation.

On the original drawings its market stalls are shown like this. They are from the same period as the original project, drawn by then then chief City Hall Architect Correia da Silva.

The market stalls today are neglected and in need of repair, their coherent design obscured by decades of changes and spurious additions. Decrepit neon lettering, cages, aluminum windows, boarded-up openings, slate roofs hidden beneath bleak, grey tarpaulins, the passages in between covered with rancid translucent plastic shed sheets, now so dirty and yellowed by the weather that they are almost opaque.  Underneath all the junk however, one can find these little wonders of simple architecture and vernacular inspiration.


Far from vernacular ingenuity though, the stalls are designed and detailed from the ground-up, and form an integral part of the building as a market. By being semi-closed, linear and autonomous constructions, they extend the street outside visually onto the market’s interior and create its unique atmosphere, vaguely suggestive of an eastern bazaar.

More interesting yet is the fact that, beyond their consistent style of “traditional shed”, the designs are highly original. They form an ensemble of seemingly unrelated elements: colonnades, pediments, Roman arches and Gothic revival windows, trellises and roof vents, rarely assembled in this fashion.

Barracas do Bolhão

Unfortunately, from the images provided recently by the City Hall and several news items, these buildings are likely to be demolished and replaced by a “modern reinterpretation” which is little more than generic fare, devoid of the peculiar and magical atmosphere of today’s market.

 Mercado do Bolhão interior perspective showing the future market stalls

We believe the Barracas are the soul and beating heart of the Mercado do Bolhão. Removing them would be a lost opportunity for Porto to have a unique and charming market which is also modern and functional.

We believe in the quality of the current proposal, and can only commend the attitude of the current City Hall in regards to the rest of the project. However, we know it is possible to integrate the Barracas, fully renovating them and cleaning them up after years of neglect, including the beautiful windows and slate roofs and make this into an extraordinary project.

Therefore we kindly ask of you, our readers:

1. Spread the word – Forward this to those individuals or institutions you think are interested in historic and cultural preservation (contact us for a Portuguese version of the newsletter); share this on social media;

2. Participate directly – Write to the Mayor of Porto via email:

3. Sign our online petition! (English and Portuguese)

Thank you for all your help!

There are many more images of the Barracas and the Bolhão on Old Portuguese Stuff. Drop by and explore all the details, drawings and old photographs we published this month!