Walking through the Public Market of Braga (Praça)

There are infinite public places in a city where we can think about the importance of interaction and social bonding. This micro-essay proposes, in a reflective exercise based on images in collections and fieldwork developed over the last few months, to think the Public Market of Braga – known by the locals under the name Praça – as a crossover and meeting point and as a combination of past and present.

 

The Market as a square

What is a market? And why, in the case of the Public Market of Braga, is it designated as square (Praça)?

When we think about squares, we find out that they can be understood as spaces where a wide variety of sociability and affections unfold. In many cases it works as a meeting place (Lynch, 1999) where we see each other and are seen too. However, the square can also be approached as a space of trade and circulation (Lamas, 1993), full of symbolic forms.

The square’s territory, as well as a precise definition of what it really means, is subtle: it does not impose itself or surround us, it just reveals itself. Authors such as Crespo (undated) consider the square as a site of action, reaction, and interaction in the urban landscape. From this perspective, the square is essentially the place where humanity takes place as a community. Also, if we go further in our thinking path, we realize that humanity takes place in different and multiple ways: between words, gazes, negotiations, confusions, affections, and disappointments…

The squares are usually the stage for everyday meetings in some large urban centres and where there is space for the simple act of ‘being’, whether alone or in a company. Authors such as Pereira (2008) argue that squares are historical spaces rich in history, culture, tradition, and knowledge about the city as a place for processes of identity constructions.

In historical terms, the relationship between the millennial Bracara Augusta and the commercial activity developed in the squares is inseparable, with close links going back to the Old Age. As Bandeira points out (2020, p. 6), “there were times when Braga was practically a single market”. With a decentralized and irregular form, the commercial activity of fairs and trade were organized over time and centralized between the end of the 18th and 19th centuries. As an example of this process, we can bring to memory the public market in iron structure in Praça do Município, and later the public market (Praça), in its current location…

To better understand the context from which the designation “square” (Praça) emerged, some visual sources of the city of Braga were consulted in the Nogueira da Silva Museum (MNS/Braga). The images explain this inherent relationship between square and trades/square and meetings.

 

Figure 1: Praça do Município (Twentieth Century)
Credits: Manuel Carneiro Collection| Nogueira da Silva Museum, Braga

 

Figure 2: Campo da Vinha in a market day (Twentieth Century)
Credits: Manuel Carneiro Collection| Nogueira da Silva Museum, Braga

 

Figure 3: Praça do Município (Twentieth Century)
Credits: Manuel Carneiro Collection| Nogueira da Silva Museum, Braga

 

Figure 4: Campo da Vinha in a day of firewood fair (Twentieth Century)
Credits: Manuel Carneiro Collection| Nogueira da Silva Museum, Braga

 

Figure 5: Public Market in iron structure in Praça do Município (1915)
Credits: Museu da Imagem | https://cutt.ly/fndajIg

 

Figure 6: Mercado Municipal in the current location (Twentieth Century)
Credits: Arcelino Augusto de Azevedo Collection | Nogueira da Silva Museum, Braga

 

The Market (Praça) as a social space

For the king’s return, the sellers of Praça promised the collections to Our Lady of the Tower (…). (Ondina, 1998, p. 95)

For the most loyal and oldest customers, the Public Market of Braga has always been called Praça. People went to the public market to shop and also to exchange a few words with acquaintances or the sellers.

If we continue to understand Praça as a central place of conviviality, we can reflect on the forms this interaction takes and the different people who participate in this spectacle of everyday life.

It is worth noting that this idea assumes that social life is concretized through communication, i.e. through a shared symbolic exchange (Carey, 1989/2009). Regardless of the details of the production or reproduction of this individual or collective life, as human beings we are created, sustained, and culturally transformed through communication, social structures, and nested symbolic relations.

Social interaction can range from minimal connections, such as a greeting between acquaintances, to extended conversations between market visitors or even interactions between sellers and customers. As Watson and Studdert (2006, p. 14) explain, “this engagement can lead to the formation of weak social ties, but markets can also serve as sites of stronger social bonding where friends and families trade together and form a particular community, or where traders and regular shoppers get to know each other over time”.

 

Figure 7: Public Market of Braga (2018)
Credits: Author’s personal collection

 

Figure 8: Public Market of Braga (2018)
Credits: Author’s personal collection

 

Figure 9: Public Market of Braga (2021)
Credits: Passeio

 

Conversations and social mixing between people of different ages, socioeconomic, demographic, and ethnic/racial groups are a constant. What seems to unite them is food and the act of buying/selling. In this sense, and if we want to take this proposal further, in a field research, we can think of some observation categories, for example, i) the social life of the sellers, ii) the relations between customers and sellers, iii) Praça as a social space for different groups of customers and finally iv) the social relations woven in Praça, with all the friendships developed, but also conflicts and tensions.

Another interesting point is that the role of sociability has a greater significance when we think of the role of social inclusion – of the elderly, minorities, immigrants, and the economically vulnerable – played out in public spaces and, of course, in the public market as a form of interaction/social bonding and co-presence. Despite the difficult task, given the plethora of olfactory and visual stimuli to get everyone’s gastronomic ideas and desires, it is entirely feasible to go to Praça and to be there without buying a single product (though the sellers will recognize this person for that trait).

One of the examples of the relational and interactional dimensions that is present in the daily life of the public market can be seen from the excerpt from a Passeio’s field note[1] dated May 8, 2021:

Farmers near live animals interacted with each other and with other customers. Some people were filming/photographing upstairs in front of the shops. The movement ended up being great. (…) I went to see if I could sit on the wall to have a coffee and take a look at the place from above. (…) There was a tiny space that was always occupied by amateur photographers who come and go. I noticed the relationship dimension. Costumers in pairs. Talking groups that were spread out over different places.

In conclusion, it is the conviviality, built up in a tangle of networks by the diverse people who wander there, that brings to our attention an interesting process: the daily transformation of an urban space into a commonplace. In this way, Praça can be seen as a space for community, for feeling, for engaging with life, for producing and affirming culture.

 

Thatiana Veronez

July/2021

 

Acknowledgment

The images of the Arcelino Augusto de Azevedo Collection and the Manuel Carneiro Collection available in this micro-essay were kindly provided by the Nogueira da Silva Museum for the purpose of Passeio’s investigation. I am grateful for the sympathy and presentation of the collections by Dr. Maria Helena Trindade.

 

References

Bandeira, M. S. M. (2020). Mercados Municipais de Braga: passado/presente. Braga: Câmara Municipal de Braga.

Carey, J. W. (1989/2009). Communication as culture: essays on media and society. New York: Routledge.

Crespo, N. (undated). A praça como panorama. Estudo Prévio. https://www.estudoprevio.net/nuno-crespo-a-praca-como-panorama/

Lamas, J. (1993). Morfologia urbana e desenho da cidade. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

Lynch, K. (1999). A boa forma da cidade. Lisboa: Edições 70.

Ondina, M. (1998). Vidas vencidas. Lisboa: Editorial Caminho.

Pereira, M. M. (2008). Praças públicas sustentáveis: caso de renovação das praças. Master’s thesis in Architecture, University of Lisbon, Portugal. Retrieved from https://fenix.tecnico.ulisboa.pt/cursos/ma/dissertacao/2353642204828

Watson, S. & Studdert, D. (2006). Markets as sites for social interaction. Bristol: The Policy Press.

 

[1] Passeio has been conducting fieldwork in the Public Market of Braga as part of the COMPRAÇA sub-project since January 2021, which involves regular visits to the field and subsequent recording of what is observed in field notes and visual and audio records.

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LOCAL: Braga

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