Its most life-enhancing marvels, however, may lie in the piles of neatly stacked fruit and vegetables, the bags of nuts and in the treasuries of fish reclining, dead-eyed but odourless, on beds of ice.
Markets such as the Mercado de Maravillas – which have long flourished across Spain – could be one of the main reasons why Spaniards are on course to overtake the Japanese to become the longest-lived people in the world.
According to a study published this week by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, people in Spain will have an average lifespan of 85.8 years by 2040, while those in Japan will lag ever so slightly behind on 85.7 years.
Fernando de la Fuente, who has run a fruit and veg stall in the Mercado de Maravillas for 47 of his 61 years, was not at all surprised that researchers think Spain’s famous Mediterranean diet plays a major role in longevity.
The oldest people he knows – and they tend, overwhelmingly, to be women – know how to eat.
“It’s fruit and vegetables – which we can grow all year round – it’s fish, it’s meat; it’s a bit of everything,” he said on Friday morning.
Could he conceive of a diet without a sizeable daily ration of fruit and vegetables? He looked confused and then aghast – and probably not just for professional reasons.
“That wouldn’t be possible,” he said. “A Spanish diet without fruit and vegetables is just unthinkable.”