The Municipal Market of Figueira da Foz was inaugurated 131 years ago, on June 24, 1892, St. John’s Day, around seven o’clock in the morning.
At the end of the 19th century Figueira witnessed a strong development, with strong urban reflexes, highlighting the construction of the New Quarter of Santa Catarina (Bairro Novo), the initiative of the Companhia Edificadora Figueirense, founded in 1861 by Francisco Maria Pereira da Silva who arrived in Figueira da Foz with the aim of drawing the hydrographic chart of the port in order to proceed with the desilting of the bar.
With the sands from the desanding of the bar, the Praia da Fonte, a cove of the river that then existed on the site of the current municipal Market and Garden, was landfilled.
Praia da Fonte was used as a boat repair yard. Opposite was a dock for anchoring and unloading and, from here to the Fort of Santa Catarina, there were warehouses, workshops, forges, locksmiths, harness makers, carpenters and stonemasons, a veritable industrial park.
It was exactly on the landfill created by the desassoreamento of the bar that the new Engenheiro Silva Market was erected, whose name is a tribute of the city to Francisco Maria Pereira da Silva, responsible for such important works and one of the great drivers of the development of Figueira da Foz at the end of the 19th century.
In 1861, the construction of the Bairro Novo (of St. Catherine) began.
In 1890, with the clearing of the land now occupied by the market and some houses on Rua Cândido dos Reis, the Praia da Fonte dock was earthed, which became the current municipal garden.
In 1891 the Municipal Garden was inaugurated, with a project by Companhia Progresso Figueirense, belonging to the businessman Guilherme Mesquita.
In 1890 the City Council, chaired by Francisco Lopes Guimarães, decided to build the Engenheiro Silva Market, having chosen a proposal from Companhia Progresso Figueirense, owned by Guilherme Mesquita.
Two years later, on June 24, 1892, St. John’s Day, around seven o’clock in the morning, 131 years ago, the current Municipal Market of Figueira da Foz was inaugurated.
The opening of the Market was a great celebration. It was decorated with colorful flags, making a wonderful contrast with the “old-pink” of the walls. Firecrackers and the beautiful music of the “Figueirense” philharmonic band were heard.
The people of Figueira proudly celebrated their new market, which finally replaced the old open-air market in Praça Velha that had operated for 122 years, from 1770 to 1892.
It became illegal to sell outside the Engenheiro Silva Market and, if this happened, offenders would have to pay a fine of 1000 réis, a fairly high amount for the time.
Vendors from the outskirts of the city, such as Tavarede, Brenha and Buarcos, were unhappy with the new sales conditions, and the newspaper “Correspondência da Figueira” argued that it was “unfair to end the free market of street traders” in Praça Velha.
The concession of the Engenheiro Silva Market was first given to Guilherme Mesquita and then to Companhia Progresso Figueirense, which kept it for 85 years.
In 1977 the operation of the Market passed to the competence of the City Council that proceeded to remodeling works in the years 1999, 2002 and 2012/2013, being today very modern and with good operating conditions, mainly due to the works carried out in 2012/2013.
For the time it was a large market, with 4,800 m² of covered area, with a large central courtyard, covered by a metal structure, integrating the current of “iron architecture”, in fashion during the 2nd half of the century. 19th and early 20th centuries XX, classified as a Property of Municipal Interest since 2004.
The new market became a meeting point for all Figueirans, a real shopping mall of our days, even having a café that, according to the newspaper “O Figueirense”, competed with the chic cafés of Lisbon and Porto.
From 1940 to 1960, the S. João dances were very popular, having been attended by many people, some coming on excursions from various parts of Portugal, and even from Spain, as António Flórido well reminded us in one of his radiant chronicles(link).
In 1929, the year in which the municipal holiday was instituted on June 24, the S. João (St. John) dances began to take place inside the Municipal Market of Figueira da Foz.
“At the beginning of the night, policeman Baptista was regulating traffic, Jáime was selling the newspapper ‘O Século’ and ‘Taxeira’, the ‘Palhinhas’. In the garden, Sofia made popcorn and many enjoyed an ice cream from Chico! The Ball of S. João has had several nicknames, such as the “ball of the onions”, the “cabbage ball'” and the “recruits ball”. And the market, on that night of June 23-24, was nicknamed the “cabbage cabaret”. And due to the reasonable influx of military personnel (Figueira da Foz had at the time two large barracks, CICA 2 and RAP 3) who on the nights of St. John’s got permission for an ‘extended night’, the market was full of soldiers. Since military law required military personnel to wear uniforms at all times, the nickname ‘Baile dos Magalas’ was born.
And the magalas went looking for the ‘sopeiras’ and also on the lookout for the Spanish maids who came a lot to the dances, always well-groomed in their characteristic aprons.
In some years, three balls were held in a row on June 22, 23 (St. John’s Eve) and 24 (St. John’s Day). Of course, the night/early morning of the day before was the main one, as the market did not close doors! The entrance was only through the gate on the river side and had an almost symbolic price that served to pay the orchestra, which was almost always the “Quiaios Clube” with the vocalist Victor Melúrias.
Already at dawn, the soldiers would nestle under the stalls to sleep and, as hunger tightened, they would extend a naughty hand under the tents that covered the stalls and there would come an apple, pear, banana or any other fruit to mitigate the ‘hunger’ that begins to ‘tighten’! And the stallholders knew it was going to happen but they didn’t care, even though some also slept in the market to avoid major abuse!
And from these evenings, warm and lively on the one hand, many flirtations arose and many marriages took place.
After April 25, 1974, the two barracks in Figueira da Foz were closed, thus ending the soldiers and the name ‘the magalas ball’. The St. John’s dances themselves at the Engenheiro Silva Market were also never held again”.