Market Life in Florence and Rome

The weather in Italy was sunny, warm, and clear. I might have spent my time learning about the country’s culture by church- and museum-hopping, taking in religion, art and history, putting all these into context. Or I might have chosen to warm my winter weary body outdoors, strolling food markets and peering into food shop windows, learning about the country through its people and cuisine. In the end I did a little of the first, and a lot of the second.

For centuries, open air markets have persisted and thrived in both Florence and Rome, indeed all over Italy. A good market will be equal parts social gathering place and practical commercial center, and will provide Italians with their food for the day or for the next few days ahead. Sure, tourists like me flock to market to see what locals are buying and eating, but the locals are there also, buying so they may cook and eat. Visiting a market will connect you to the lives that are lived in these cities, even if you only walk away with a piece of fruit for your lunch. All around you, people will be talking, conducting their business or catching up with a neighbor. Read the signs that describe the produce and its origins, note the items you have never seen before, note the care taken with the displays. Pay attention to the sales pitches and smile when you realize enthusiastic exaggeration sounds the same in Italian as it does in your own native tongue.

The photos that follow were taken mostly in the largest markets of Florence and Rome – the Mercato Centrale and the Campo dei Fiori. Consider going into smaller, farther flung neighborhoods (as I also did) and face fewer crowds but equally bountiful selections. In Florence, you’ll find a Sunday market at the Piazza Della Repubblica and a monthly market, also on a Sunday, in the less-touristy Piazza Santo Spirito across the Arno. In Rome, head across the Tiber to Testaccio or Trastevere or even Monteverde. There’s even a small market just north of the Vatican, too, handy for lunch after spending the morning exploring the Vatican museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. Just remember, these suggestions hardly scratch the surface of a vast market life. Go walking, pass through one of the narrow side streets into any piazza on any day of the week, and you are likely to stumble into a local market, a find of your very own.

Click on the first photo to start the slideshow.