Friday, 7 January 2011

The covered market, Melle

The three Romanesque churches of Saint-Hilaire, Saint-Pierre and Saint-Savinien are undoubtedly the main attractions of Melle, a small town built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the River Béronne in the French département of Deux-Sèvres. Several attractive late Medieval, Renaissance, and early nineteenth century buildings can also be found while walking through the narrow streets. However today's building belongs to a different period altogether.
Melle's present covered market was built in 1903 by Paul Antoine Mongeaud, the département's architect. It is located just outside the town centre on a vast square created in 1779 when the castle of Melle, which had suffered extensive damage during the Wars of Religion of the second half of the sixteenth century, was finally pulled down. A document from 1681 indicates a covered market, which belonged to the barons of Melle, stood originally close to it. It is possible it survived the demolition of the castle and that it was this wooden L-shaped structure that was dismantled and rebuilt on the site of the present market in 1836 by the architect Antoine Bizard. A picture taken before it was demolished shows a wooden frame supporting a flat-tiled roof. Although this open-sided building had its charm, it offered relatively little protection to products. Meat, poultry and fish in particular could deteriorate rapidly. Additionally, even if the market was cleaned regularly, germs proliferated in the porous ground and cracks of the wooden stalls. By the mid-nineteenth century it was becoming increasingly clear that this type of structure was partly responsible for low standards of food hygiene. As a result new covered markets appeared throughout France during the second half of the nineteenth century. Many replicated Victor Baltard's design for the pavilions of the Paris central market. Built of glass and iron, with openings under the tiered roof to ventilate and regulate the temperature, they were considered as some of the very best at the time.
In the département of Deux-Sèvres, a brand new covered market built of glass and iron opened in 1871 in Niort, the main town. Similar structures, albeit smaller, were then built across the region. Although Melle, with a population of nearly 3,000 (75,000 with the villages around), was an important town, the decision to build a new covered market was only approved in the late 1890s. Paul Antoine Mongeaud, who had drawn in 1896 the plans of the new market of Coulonges-sur-l'Autize nearby, was given the task of designing it. Follwing the rejection in 1900 of his first design, which combined market and village hall, he submitted a second one for a covered market only. It was built by A. Cayer of Niort while the cast iron posts were supplied by the Marfil foundry of Ruffec. Coloured bricks and glass fill in the space between the cast iron posts of the outer frame and two pairs of monumental doors in Beaux-Art style give access to the market. While the coat of arms of Melle adorns the gables of the smaller western and eastern entrances, the letters "RF" in a roundel surrounded by foliage are inscribed above the more impressive northern and southern entrances. "RF" stands for République Française. Within the context of the period, this was a powerful political statement!
Albeit not in the latest style -that would have been Art Nouveau- the covered market looked incredibly modern (actually an Art Nouveau portal which was added to a house nearby looks out of place in this small provincial town). In a town where virtually everything is built of limestone, the glass, bricks and iron used for its construction clearly set it apart. With such a building, the inhabitants of Melle certainly felt they had entered the twentieth century.

The covered market was restored in 1993 and is still used every Friday morning.

The north side of the market with the initials "RF" (République Française) inscribed above the entrance

1 comment:

  1. This is a neat building. I love the Art Nouveau feel to it and it just seems as though the portal can be a gateway to a dream of a simpler time. Very inspirational - thank you for posting this. :)

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