Venice’s bustling Rialto Market has been whetting appetites for seven centuries, yes over seven hundred years! The Rialto area was the first part of Venice to be developed, and it soon became a centre for commerce. Venetians and merchants came to the market in droves where they could buy and sell exotic imported goods just unloaded from ships.
In the sixteenth century, after a destructive fire, a complex of squares and porticoes was constructed to the west of the Rialto Bridge, with areas dedicated to different products. These are still recorded in the names of the local lanes and squares: Erberia (fruit and vegetable market), Naranzeria (oranges), Speziali (spices) and Pescaria (fish). The fish market is housed in a covered hall, the Pescheria, with fishy decorative features.
The old ladies from Cannaregio cross the Grand Canal on the vaporetto or the little traghetto gondola with their shopping trolleys each morning, and the markets are still a place where local people can shop for their daily food requirements at reasonably low prices. For tourists, it’s a good chance to stock a rented kitchen or to prepare a cheap and healthy picnic. I would definitely recommend staying at an Air B&B and taking advantage of the lovely goodies this market has to offer.
Food shopping is a daily activity in Italy, and produce is expected to be very fresh. Here at the Rialto, many of the fruit and vegetables come, as they have always done, from the nearby island of Sant ‘Erasmo, so they have not traveled for hours or been frozen overnight to get to the market. Everything is fresh and you can tell by the smell as you walk through the market– even in the fish section, there is absolutely no smell; all due to the extremely fresh quality of the food sold. Produce is all labeled with its place of origin; if not the lagoon islands or the surrounding countryside of the Veneto, it is likely to be from elsewhere in Italy. Locally caught seafood is tagged ‘Nostrano’ (which means local). The fish market is definitely the main attraction, especially for a seafood lover like me. There were so many fresh fish, including some types I had never seen before, I was truly in awe of the vast and fresh display they had there at the market.
The markets are open in the mornings from Monday to Saturday; the fish market is closed on Mondays. Shoppers generally arrive as early as they can, fighting through camera-toting tourists such as myself :) In the late morning you’ll still find the fruit and veg stalls, though some of the fishmongers will have packed up. There are also several good food stores around the market area, selling gourmet foodstuffs, oils, wine, pasta and regional specialities.
The angry lion pictured below with the phrase “Rialto no se toca” which roughly translates to don’t mess with Rialto is a symbol to the city council of Venice that the fishmongers and shopkeepers will not move their wholesale fish market to a warehouse so that the city can use the space for economic and commercial development. This is their protest against the city council and dedication to their craft and trade-bringing the best seafood to the local residents in the heart of Venice.
The markets are located alongside the Grand Canal, to the north-west of the Rialto Bridge in the district of San Polo (the opposite side to San Marco). From the Rialto walk straight on, then dodge to the right through the lines of souvenir stalls. Pick your way through the squares of the historic markets and you’ll find yourself right in the middle of this bustling market. The colors, sights, and smells are simply breathtaking and the soothing sound of the canals provide the most beautiful backdrop to this vibrant market. It honestly is a must see for anyone visiting Venice!