Feira da Vandoma: a plea
Let us raise our voices
In January of 2016, Feira da Vandoma, Porto’s flea market moved – it left the picturesque Alameda das Fontainhas and parked in Avenida 25 de Abril, in Campanhã – and it also changed.
As someone who has frequented Vandoma for years, I can state that a wound has been opened, and it will be hard to heal. That is if there is even a cure. The first market out of the Fontainhas left a void inside all of us.
The Vandoma is a flea market that has been held in Porto for over thirty years. It was initially created by students, who sold books and other knickknacks at the Calçada da Vandoma, next to the Sé do Porto. From there it grew and changed.
Unlike what many oblivious people may claim, this is not a market made by tramps. At Feira da Vandoma you can hear the hustle and bustle of an entire city, in all shapes and sizes, from all means and status. It is faithful to the tripeiro soul, but it is also inviting and welcoming to all who visit it. And this genuine character is remarkable and priceless. For us, but also for the tourists. No one wants to visit a city without character, void of the charms of its daily life.
First and foremost, the beauty of the scenery and the historical setting that buyers and sellers had been so used to is lacking. This beauty was a feast for the eyes in its last residence, the Alameda das Fontainhas, where you could gaze at the river Douro and Porto’s bridges, or at the sunny Cordoaria, and at Vandoma’s birthplace, next to the monumental Sé do Porto.
Sellers complain of poor conditions, having to help themselves to a measly couple of portable toilets, and also having to walk far to find a coffee shop when hunger strikes. Yes, because a coffee shop is needed, to nourish, but also to meet friends and costumers (but maybe that’s a thing of the past).
During this time of the year, it becomes costly to buy and sell, due to a frightful cold that is blown by the wind without barriers, in the inhospitable Avenida 25 de Abril. The lack of shelter is a considerable problem, which is further aggravated in wet conditions.The difficulty in erecting awnings and other protections also means that many sellers give up when the meteorology warns of rainy weather.
But even worse, the accessibility by public transport is much more limited. Vandoma’s relocation from the city center threw it far away from the route of passing tourists, who were responsible for a large portion of the sales.
Unlike what is said in Porto’s town hall’s web page, there is not a lot of parking in the area. There is little and at a great distance. However, the Municipal Police brigades thrive, in paradox that is an area where a market is held but in which it is almost impossible to stop or park, even for loading and unloading.
The general feeling is almost of resignation, of a sadness in the loss of a place of extraordinary beauty and character, but also due to the loss of several colleagues and clients that did not engage with the new spot. As much as a market is made by the people, the people also have to review themselves in what the market is. We cannot understand why the many squares and garden spaces of Porto, which are proper for the effect, were not chosen. Unfortunately, Avenida 25 de Abril has no character, no history, and no living.
Some say that the fast paced and uncontrolled growth of the old flea market anticipated the decision, but there are also those who say that there is a guilty hand that hides, that allowed the chaos to force drastic decisions, as the one undertaken. Some say that the urban rehabilitation and certain installed touristic interests tossed Feira da Vandoma afar, where it cannot bother. Reality shows that gentrification is an octopus that is clasping its ugly tentacles around our city.
All the great European cities cherish and preserve their flea markets, and thanks to such care, these markets became unmistakable icons for locals and tourists alike. Who has never heard of the magnificent flea markets in London (Portobello Road), Paris (Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen), Munich (Flohmarkt auf der Theresienwiese), Amsterdam (Vrijmarkt), Brussels (Jeu de Balle), Barcelona (Mercat Dels Encants), Madrid (El Rastro), and Lisbon (Feira da Ladra), for instance? All of them are large, vibrant, and made of people and for the people. Porto should not aim to be smaller, by smothering what is genuine.
Against the will of many, Feira da Vandoma will persevere. However, it may someday strike revenge and leap far away, and Porto will lose another of its gems.
Consequently, we leave our request to those responsible at the Câmara Municipal do Porto, as well as to the members of the Assembleia Municipal do Porto: we ask the proposition of a new solution for Feira da Vandoma, a solution that dignifies and values our flea market, as it well deserves. The city of Porto will be thankful.
Photo by Laszlo Daroczy, CCBY 2.0.