With this article, we’re starting a two-dates travel in Florentine history and culture: we’ll be exploring together the markets of Florence!
Not only places where to eat or go shopping, but also rich in funny and not so famous tales 🙂
In this first issue we’d like to start this trip talking about the Old and the New markets in town.
– Mercato Vecchio (Old Market): The Old Market was an area of Florence that was demolished, along with the old Ghetto, between 1885 and 1895 for the creation of Piazza della Repubblica, during the so-called “restoration” of the city.
This site was the ancient Roman forum of Florentia. The area had a high symbolic value, since it was the geographical center of the city where the Cardud and Decumanus intersected.In the early Middle Ages the area continued to be a meeting place, and soon became the most important market place of the city; it remained so until the election of Florence, capital of Italy, together with the need for a historic renovated and up to the expectations of the new political class, made it necessary to modify the structure of the city.
Exactly on the spot where the Cardus and Decumanus intersect, you can still today admire the column of Abundance or column Dovizia. The column defines the boundaries of three of the four historic districts of Florence (Santa Croce, San Giovanni and Santa Maria Novella) and, on it there still are attached two irons, one at the top, which was used to hook the bell which gave signals the opening and closing of the Old Market (dismantled to make room for the current Republic Square), the other at the bottom, was used instead to tie you with a bell collar worn by rogue traders exposed to the public pillory.
– Loggia del Mercato Nuovo is better known as Loggia del Porcellino. It is so called to distinguish it from the Mercato vecchio located in the area of today’s Piazza della Repubblica.
Built around the middle of the 16th century in the heart of the city, just a few steps from the Ponte Vecchio, at first it was intended for the sale of silk, luxury goods and straw hats, while today you can find there both leather goods and souvenirs.
The focal point of the loggia is the Fontana del Porcellino, “fountain of the piglet”. Popular tradition has it that rubbing the nose brings fortune, so over time, the statue has acquired a certain shine in that spot. Visitors are encouraged to place a coin in the mouth of the boar after rubbing its nose, and superstition implies that the wish will be granted if the offering tumbles through the grate whence the water flows.
Another oddity of the place is the stone of the shame, a round spot marked in bicoloured marble at the centre of the loggia, which is only visible when no sales stalls are there. The design reproduces one of the wheels of a medieval Carroccio, symbol of the Florentine republic, on which the city’s standard was hoisted daily.
The spot was later chosen for another purpose, whence its alternative name pietra dell’acculata (“the stone of the bum punishment”). During the Renaissance, the punishment of insolvent debtors included being chained to a post on this spot and then paddled repeatedly on the naked buttocks. The popular expression stare col culo a terra (“to have one’s ass on the ground”) and the word sculo (a dialectal word for “misfortune”) may have originated from this practice.
If you’re curious and would like to find out more about the legends and stories that enriches Florence’s fascinating history, check out our webpage and find out more with our History of Florence courses!