When I grew up in Qatar in the 90’s, the city was seen in a different light where glass complexes were still a far-fetched thought. In crisp December and January winters, I vividly remember being taken to the hustle and bustle of the most-talked about event of the season- flea markets. It was a Global Art Village, where vendors and artisans from different parts of the world were given stalls to sell the best products from their native. Iran, Istanbul, India, Japan, Amsterdam and many others proudly adorned a humongous barren ground. I never wanted this beautiful night to end because the glory of these cultures, ecstatic faces and market lights came alive in much grandeur.
Cut to attending flea markets in India today and the feeling is still the same. The joy of purchasing at a flea market is quite the opposite of taking a stroll at a mall. Sold for a much economical price, flea markets have goods and products that carry significant value that malls can sometimes fail to offer. This unorganized yet organized event comes in all shapes and sizes and every year no matter which part of the world you live in, shopping at a flea market is always on the agenda. We all have a couple of takeaways from flea markets, but little do we know about the origin of these marketplaces.
The History of Rummages and Bargains
The origin of the term still remains unknown though many claim that the concept of flea markets have existed in India, China and Bangladesh since time immemorial. It is also believed that Paris had bazaars that existed in the 1800’s and a clever bargain hunter rummaged through tattered clothes and flea-infested furniture naming the market as le marché aux puces which literally translates to ‘flea markets’. This story has a rather similar connotation as the concept of flea markets does involve the trade of second-hand products.
On the other hand, during the reign of Emperor Napoleon III, the imperial architect Haussmann planned broad, straight boulevards with rows of square houses in the center of Paris, where army divisions could march with much pompous noise. The plans forced many dealers in second-hand goods to flee their old dwellings. Alleys and slums were demolished but these dislodged merchants were permitted to continue selling their wares undisturbed right in the north of Paris, just outside the former fort, in front of the gate Porte de Clignancourt. The first stalls were erected in about 1860 and the gathering together of all these exiles from the slums of Paris was soon given the name ‘marché aux puces’, meaning ‘flea market’.
The Finest Flea Markets Around The World
If you’re an ardent believer of haggling at marketplaces and love the idea of shopping at flea markets, then your travel itinerary must include places like Istanbul, Israel, Madrid, Paris, Barcelona, and London for an extraordinary experience.
The Middle East never fails to stun visitors with it’s jaw-dropping traditional structures and delectable platters. But they’re also known to house exquisite flea markets that you will ever visit.
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul which is locally known as Kapali Carsi is one of the oldest and largest markets in the world sheltering over 4,000 shops. Kapali Carsi is regarded as one of the first malls of the world. From finding dazzling glass lanterns, carpets, pashminas to turkish delights and dry spices, Grand Bazaar is believed to be a place of visit for a crash course in bargaining.
Another place to brush up your bargaining skills is Jaffa Flea Market. Also believed to be one of the oldest market places, Jaffa flea market is more of an experience. Whether you’re looking for traditional middle eastern antiques and kilim rugs to winding up the day with a local takeaway meal, anyone can seamlessly make a beautiful day out of this eclectic flea market.
La Tomatina can take a backseat
You can forget the idea of visiting museums or shopping at the world’s largest Zara store when you’re in Madrid and simply head over to the city’s popular flea market- El Rastro. Held every Saturday and Sunday, El Rastro features market stalls along the two streams, Plaza de Cascorro and Ronda de Toledo, which sells mostly new clothes while the stores in the side streets are reserved for antiques, collectibles, and handmade items. Locals and tourists throng the elaborate street finding rarest of the items for a discounted price.
The hub of retro treasures and antiques can be found in the suburbs of Sant Cugat in Barcelona. They first opened their doors to the public in 1992 in the hope of establishing a relationship with vintage-lovers. Apart from selling quirky items and rustic furniture, the flea market also conducts restoration and ceramic workshops.
Portobello market in London, Brimfield Antique show in Boston and Mauerpark Flohmarkt in Germany are other flea markets that are real treasure troves that deserve a mention as well as a visit.
Flea markets are taking over everywhere as a place of opportunities, culture, new connections and novelty that only a place as this can emanate. If you’re someone who often ditches high-end malls for thrift shopping, then we have lots in common.
So which is the flea market you’ve recently been to?