I am a big fan of food markets when I travel, and the market at Rialto was on my Must-See list. Not only has the market on the curve of the Grand Canal in Venice been in continuous operation since 1079AD, but the Rialto area has a long and fascinating history that begs to be considered while strolling the stalls.
In 402AD, the first of the major barbarian invaders of the Roman Empire, the Goths, descended on the Veneto region. The people fled to the safety of the nearby lagoon and watched their homes burn in the distance. When the Goths departed, most returned to the mainland and started rebuilding their homes, but some apparently stayed and began building something else in the lagoon. Maybe staying just became easier to stay, since those living on the mainland were forced to flee to the lagoon repeatedly during the first half of the 5th century as conflict between the crumbling Roman Empire and the invading barbarians marched through the area time after time. Soon, there was a collection of settlements on this spattering of islands.
While there are a number of variations on the story, and the details become fuzzy or embellished over the centuries, it is said that Padua sent the first representatives to Rivoalto (or high bank) to set up a trading post in the prime spot. Being on high ground it was more immune to the tides, and located at a bend in the major channel through the islands made it strong choice for commerce. So, the founding of Venice is dated to 421AD, here at Rivoalto, today’s Rialto.
A particularly momentous moment in history for the Rialto area was (relatively speaking) soon after the 1079 inception of the Rialto market, in 1177AD.
Less than century is nothing – the Rialto Market in Venice has been in operation for nearly 1000 years.
Pope Alexander III and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa came to Venice to negotiate a peace between them. While the official ceremony of forgiveness and peace was carried out on July 24th in San Marco, the actual months of brokering between the diplomats on both sides – as well as the diplomats of various power who sought influence in the event – spent their days negotiating the peace in Rialto.
Later, in the mid-13th century, the Rialto area became the end point for Venetian voyages from Eastern ports. This brought great wealth to the Venetians who were able to operate trade with the world without ever leaving Rialto if they so choose.
Today, you can still stroll the stalls of the Rialto Market. Stalls are filled with gorgeous fruit and vegetables that I clearly couldn’t stop photographing. (I have tons of photos not included here!) Those running the stalls are ready to help you, but be sure to not touch the produce. Instead, allow them to choose and bag your choices for you. Traditionally this is a point of pride for the vendor, as no respectable vendor would sell or choose for you anything but excellent product. I highly recommend picking up something, even if it’s just a bag of cherries and a few other fruit items to keep in our hotel room to enjoy with a bottle of wine one evening – like we did.
It’s not just fruit and vegetables though. You can also pick up bags of dried seasoning or soup mixes from some vendors – and there were some gorgeous flower stalls.
If you have a kitchen available to you during your stay, it’s pretty much a rule that you have to buy something from the Pescheria, or fish market section, for at least one meal. The Pescheria is located in a distinctive covered stone hall (see above), and is still worth a wander through, even if you aren’t purchasing. Be sure to take a moment and locate the marble plaque on the outer wall of the Pescheria. This notes the required length of different types of fish in order to be legally sold. These lengths were, and still are, strictly enforced to protect from overfishing.
After standing for nearly 1000 years, The Rialto Food Market was nearly closed down in 2011. There were plans to expand docks for the enormous cruise ships that visit the city. The plan would have meant moving the fish market to the mainland and ending that in Rialto. Thankfully, the city pulled together and fought the measure, preserving the Rialto Market.
Be sure to visit if you can. The market is open Tuesday through Sunday, opening at 7am and begins closing down around 12:30-1pm.
Pin to save for later!