Rotterdam does ‘surreal’ exceptionally well, and the latest addition to the city’s famed modernist architecture, the Markthal (Market Hall), reinforces that tradition brilliantly. It is like being a character in Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. Walking through the huge arch of the Markthal is not unlike when James walks inside the peach to discover that it is inhabited by equally giant insects.
Stepping thought the glass entrance, you are instantly confronted with a 36,000 square foot mural depicting an asparagus stick the size of a Californian Redwood, a piece of broccoli the size of an oak tree, a gargantuan cow and a selection of fruit, vegetables, fish and insects that wouldn’t have looked out of place to Gulliver when he arrived in Brobdingnag on his Travels.
The enormous mural, by artists Arno Coenen and Iris Roskam, is titled “Cornucopia”, although if they’d called it “Down the Rabbit Hole” I would have understood. The artists describe it as the “Big Bang of Fruit”, a remarkably accurate description. Raspberries, strawberries, avocado, prawns, ears of wheat, half eaten apples, grapes, fish, butterflies, pumpkins and mushrooms swirl around overhead in a wild display of colour and movement which is mirrored in the busy market below.
In the earth-bound market there are dozens of food stalls selling delicious looking fresh produce – mainly local and organic. Rows of oranges, bundles of bread, piles of fresh chillies, Spanish hams and freshly baked cakes vie for space with restaurants serving up sushi, tapas, burgers and sausages from posh streets stalls. There are fine dining options available if high end street food isn’t your thing.
You could easily spend several hours contentedly grazing your way around the food stalls, in between times gazing towards the food heavens above. If the mural wasn’t surreal enough, it is punctuated by squares of glass through which you can occasionally glimpse a person looking at the events below – one of the more peculiar vistas the city of Rotterdam has to offer.
The structure surrounding Markthal is made up of apartments – 230 in total – making it one of the most extraordinary places to live in the Netherlands. It must be handy if you need a pint of milk and some eggs, but I wonder if residents quickly tire of the hubbub below and being the constant object of tourist cameras?
Markthal would look pretty bizarre in many cities, but in Rotterdam, especially this part of Rotterdam, it’s right at home. A short walk away is the 1970s Kubuswoningen, the yellow cube houses designed to look like a treehouse village; also within sight is Rotterdam’s central library with its exoskeleton of yellow pipes. Markthal is in good company.
Markthal is expected to attract up to seven million visitors per year. It’s entirely possible, so remember, the early bird gets the organic sausage from the biological butchers.
*A claim made by the people who run the Markthal, clearly they haven’t been to Nazca.