From the interior, the wrought-iron superstructure, embellished with the Chilean flag’s recurring lone star, provides an airy setting for merchants to display their fresh fruit, vegetables, and seafood—according to food and travel writer Robb Walsh, “a display of fishes and shellfish so vast and unfamiliar that I felt I was observing the marine life of another planet.”
Lunching and people-watching at tables set among the produce has become a popular tourist pastime, but Santiaguinos enjoy the market as much as foreigners. The smallish restaurants on the periphery are cheaper and nearly as good as the two or three that monopolize the prime central sites.
In 1817, Bernardo O’Higgins himself shifted the disorderly market on the Plaza de Armas  to an area once known as “the Dominican garbage dump” on the Mapocho’s south bank, a few blocks north. When fire destroyed the informal market installations on the new Plaza de Abasto in 1864, municipal authorities hired Manuel Aldunate to create more permanent facilities, but the current structure (1872) is mainly the work of Fermín Vivaceta.
Streetside storefronts have concealed the original facade except on the Ismael Valdés Vergara side, where it faces the river and opens onto a new plaza; there are entrances, however, on San Pablo, Paseo Puente, and 21 de Mayo.