The more economically advanced countries of post-World War II Europe experienced a progressive erosion of the public market system as a result of the adoption of more modern commercial formulas. In Spain, however, the public market system not only continued but expanded significantly. Barcelona was an outstanding example of this. The city had built an important public system of markets by the end of the nineteenth century. Later on, in the Francoist era, after a second construction wave of markets, there were even plans to use the markets as an urban planning tool. This essay examines the process in which the city had to choose between public and private initiatives and makes an assessment of the impact of the public market system on the city.
The study of an urban planning event such as the World's Fair held in Barcelona in 1888 is a good opportunity to raise some issues of an historical and planning nature. One of them is the Exhibition's impact on the urban structure of Barcelona. The fact that this event coincided with some urban planning changes of relative importance — and with the conversion of Barcelona into a ‘modern’ city — has sometimes been interpreted as proof of this type of event's structuring capacity.
To understand the nature and the urban dimension of the Exhibition, it is essential to place it within the urban sequence, to avoid showing an overly simplified urban context. Thus, this article's point of departure is a fairly extensive consideration of the historical period and an examination of the changes in the urban spatial structure in order to understand the relationship between the affected sector and the entire city.
The Exhibition can be seen as a symptom rather than a cause of the aforementioned transformations. Also as an operation which brought to a culmination several initiatives for the monumentalization and decoration of certain of the city's representative spaces. The progressive lack of centrality of the area where the Exhibition took place also shows the event's limited importance to the growth trends and structure of the late nineteenth century city. The objectives associated with a propagandistic desire to promote and renew the city's image prevailed over other structural issues.