The elegant Mercat de Born in La Ribera was a complex iron-and-glass structure built by Josep Fontserè in 1876 on top of the 18th-century ruins of Barcelona’s former district of Vilanova de Mar. Closed nearly 45 years ago, the market has now been granted new life as the El Born Centre Cultural, a center curating exhibitions on Barcelona’s history and celebrating three centuries of Catalan identity.
Inside the former market hall are excavations dating from the War of Spanish Succession between King Philip V of Spain and Archduke Charles of Austria. This took place in the early years of the 18th century and culminated in the year-long siege of Barcelona, which was won on Aug. 30, 1714, by Philip V and his Bourbon allies. The date is still celebrated today as the National Day of Catalonia.
A series of elevated walkways surround the excavations, which were destroyed during the siege and now lie some 10 feet (three meters) below present-day ground level. They are free for all to see, and there are plenty of multilingual information boards to decode what you’re viewing. Guided tours around the remains and the exhibitions detailing the political turbulence of the time must be booked in advance.
Also bringing the crowds into the reworked El Born Cultural Center is an excellent bookstore selling coffee-table tomes, as well the industrial-chic bar-restaurant L’espai Gastronòmic Moritz, which has a tasty early-evening tapas menu.
The El Born Centre Cultural is located at Plaça Comercial, 12. It can be reached via public transit by taking the metro line 1 to Arc de Triomf or line 4 to Barceloneta. The center is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., and admission is free. Admission to exhibitions and excavations, however, cost €5.50 and must be booked in advance.