Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Rialto Market, Venice, Italy

Long-term readers know I like public markets, and the Rialto Market in Venice, Italy, is a a good one. The market has been here for hundreds of years and is still active, but has lost most of the Medieval earthy character that must have assailed a visitor's nose during its pre-20th century history.
Map drawn with ESRI® ArcMap™ 10.0 software using the ESRI topographic basemap layer
The Rialto Market is easy to reach.  If you are staying in a hotel in the San Marco district, walk across the Rialto Bridge (Italian: Ponte di Rialto), which spans the Grand Canal.
The Rialto Bridge is a popular tourist site with a fantastic view of the activity below.  The present bridge, replacing an older wood span, is a single span built of stone.  It was designed by Antonio da Ponte and completed in 1591.  It is an unusual design with rows of shops under the portico.  The shops sell expensive tourist souvenirs.
You can also take a water taxi, depending on where your are staying, but most people walk. Even Ernest Hemingway described this walk in his 1950 novel, Across the River and into the Trees,
"Then you could climb the bridge and cross it and go down into the market. He liked the market best. It was the part of any town he always went to first." 
Excellent advice for the modern tourist.  A market tells you a lot about the people of a town and their habits.
Proceed a few blocks northwest and you reach Campo de la Pescaria, the market district.  On my recent trip, some drizzle was falling and the market was a bit subdued.  You can follow the National Geographic walking tour if you want a route map.
But the awnings were down and the merchants were selling vegetables and all forms of seafood.  I did not see the snail lady.  Time to scan some old negatives from previous visits. As Hemingway wrote,
"He loved the market. A great part of it was close-packed and crowded into several side streets, and it was so concentrated that it was difficult not to jostle people, unintentionally, and each time you stopped to look, to buy, or to admire, you formed an îlot de resistance against the flow of the morning attack of the purchasers."
There were plenty of marine organic materials whose origins I could not guess, but have no doubt that Venetian chefs can make them utterly delicious.  The swordfish steak would be fine, too. Back to Hemingway:
     "He took a short cut, and was at the fish-market.
     In the market, spread on the slippery stone floor, or in their baskets, or their rope-handled boxes, were the heavy, gray-green lobsters with their magenta overtones that presaged their death in boiling water. They have all been captured by treachery, the Colonel thought, and their claws are pegged.
     There were the small soles, and there were a few alba-core and bonito. These last, the Colonel thought, looked like boat-tailed bullets, dignified in death, and with the huge eye of the pelagic fish. 
     They were not made to be caught except for their voraciousness. The poor sole exists, in shallow water, to feed man. But these other roving bullets, in their great bands, live in blue water and travel through all oceans and all seas.
     A nickel for your thoughts now, he thought. Let’s see what else they have.
     There were many eels, alive and no longer confident in their eeldom. There were fine prawns that could make a scampi brochetto spitted and broiled on a rapier-like instrument that could be used as a Brooklyn icepick. There were medium sized shrimp, gray and opalescent, awaiting their turn, too, for the boiling water and their immortality, to have their shucked carcasses float out easily on an ebb tide on the Grand Canal.
     The speedy shrimp, the Colonel thought, with tentacles longer than the mustaches of that old Japanese admiral, comes here now to die for our benefit. Oh Christian shrimp, he thought, master of retreat, and with your wonderful intelligence service in those two light whips, why did they not teach you about nets and that lights are dangerous?"
The ancient streets and alleys in the Rialto District are interesting architecturally.  There are plenty of arches, tunnels, and narrow lanes.  It is less crowded than the more popular San Marco district.
Finally, here is the result of all this fantastic produce and meat.  Venice's restaurants are a bit expensive, but no more so than ones in Manhattan or Los Angeles, and a glass of house wine is only a Euro or two. I could live in Italy.....

For readers interested in other markets, please see the posts on:
1.  Egyptian Market, Istanbul
2.  Reading Terminal, Philadelphia
3.  Central Market, Athens
4.  Farmers' Market in rural Greece
5.  Asan Chowk market, Kathmandu

Across the River and into the Trees is an odd novel.  It is about a crusty old U.S. Army officer in love with a young Venetian Contessa.  As summarized in Wikipedia, "Tennessee Williams, in The New York Times, wrote: "I could not go to Venice, now, without hearing the haunted cadences of Hemingway's new novel. It is the saddest novel in the world about the saddest city, and when I say I think it is the best and most honest work that Hemingway has done, you may think me crazy. It will probably be a popular book. The critics may treat it pretty roughly. But its hauntingly tired cadences are the direct speech of a man's heart who is speaking that directly for the first time, and that makes it, for me, the finest thing Hemingway has done.""  I do not agree - it is somewhat slow going, but do read it before your next trip for the flavor of post-war Venice.

Photographs taken with a Nexus 4 phone (sorry, no real camera this trip), with adjustments in ACDSee Pro software.


  1. I do love markets in almost any place I have visited, and I love your photographs of markets in exotic places. Hemingway, not so much. The fish, not so much. But, oh, the vegetables, the arches, the canals, and, the wine! You clearly get to go to places still on my list.