It’s one of the oldest markets in town, if not the oldest, considering that in 1869 already Campo de’ Fiori was the preferred destination of a group of ‘farming ladies’ coming every day from the countryside to sell their herbs and vegetables, often just sitting and cleaning them in the square.
A walk through the stalls
The square is famous for a number of characters, who inspired Mario Bonnard, Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Aldo Fabrizi about the love story of the fish seller Peppino (Aldo Fabrizi himself) and the lady selling fruits Elide (Anna Magnani), falling in love through the market stalls, in the old movie called Campo de’ Fiori.
The market has changed a lot since then and is now a mix of two different ‘souls’ of Rome: the one of the ‘natives’ who still go to Campo de’ Fiori for food shopping, but also looking for memories of the past, and the one of the tourists, who come to find the myth, the image of Rome they have seen in movies, art or literature.
The same has happened to the market stalls: the ones in the center are the original ones, selling fruits, veggies, fish or cheese, while all around have risen others selling ‘ready to use’ mixes of herbs or flavours such as carbonara, amatriciana, “pasta ciociara”, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper); or even ‘ready to cook’ risotto and colored varieties of pasta with tourist appealing names, such as Roma Antiqua, Italian flavor or Campo de' Fiori. Some stalls actually try to reach a compromise, selling typical Roman vegetables, as artichokes, together with recipes in English providing instructions for “jewish artichokes” and “roman artichokes”. There are also many stalls decorated by beautiful pumpkins, posies of red peppers and pomegranates.
Anyway, for those who want to experience the appeal of the original market, Campo de’ Fiori it’s worth a visit, as long as you are ready to pay for it… consider that one of the vegetables stalls has gained the nickname 'Bulgari' for its high prices.
It’s funny to see that the two main “celebrities” of Campo de' Fiori, the most curious characters, fully representing the two souls of Rome mentioned above, are actually sitting at two stalls in front of each other. The first one is the old lady Franca, 80 years spent at Campo de' Fiori at the fruits and vegetables stall belonging to her family since 150 years. “My mother raised 8 children, all in the veggies box, there were no pushchairs at that time. After all these years, I’m still here with my sons, but the market has changed a lot”. Hard-fighting spirit, with the gift of gab (talking about the vegetables she sells or the last match of Rome’s team), lady Franca hasn’t missed a single day of market and, despite her age, she keeps on proposing her fruits and vegetables “try it before buying it, grab a clementine, taste a grape… it’s so sweet”.
Just in front of Franca’s stall, there is the smaller one of Mustafa, now a star on the web thanks to some videos posted on YouTube, selling a special tool to cut carrots, potatoes, cucumbers and courgettes in funny shapes. However, the real strength of the stall it’s not the cutter, but Mustafa himself, who moves to Porta Portese market on Sundays. Coming from Maghreb, but now naturalized Roman, he presents his product with a hilarious slang, making jokes with whoever stops by and giving practical demonstrations.
After all Campo de' fiori market is popular also because of them, from Aldo Fabrizi in black & white movies, to the star of the web, thanks to a video posted on Facebook and shared by thousands of users in a few hours.
"What I liked the most at Campo de' fiori market were the colors. Even in December, there were strawberries, blueberries and raspberries next to huge pumpkins, sooo big that – they told me – instead of eating them they buy them for exhibitions and they even send them to Asia. Next to peaches, bananas and pomegranates, there were fruits I had never seen before. Mummy told me that one was called ‘starfruit’ and if you cut it in slices, you get all these twinkling little stars.
Then in another stall there were only spices, so colorful that they seemed confetti… green, orange, yellow, red confetti to spice your pasta. Yummy
But what puzzled me were these strange purple potatoes. The man at the stall told Mummy they come from Peru… wow, that’s a long way. They already seemed strange, but then Mummy at home cooked smashed potatoes, with milk, butter and all that stuff. Well, when she brought it on the table it was lilac. I looked her in the eyes and smiled… she could forget I would even eat a single spoon of it".
Purple mashed potatoes (alias black potatoes from Peru)
To be honest, the taste is not very different from common mashed potatoes (it has a light flavor of chestnut maybe), but it’s really nice to see. So, if you want to impress your guests, even a simple dish as smashed potatoes – made with black potatoes from Peru, wrongly called ‘purple’ potatoes – could make help.
For four people: boil 800g of potatoes in a lot of salted water, peel them once cooked to preserve the color. Mash them with a potato masher add half glass of milk, 30g of butter and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Simmer mixing with energy until the mashed potatoes become soft and homogeneous.
Just around the corner
We are in the heart of Rome, where literally around any corner you can stumble upon a masterpiece. Just walking a few meters down via dei Baullari you can get to the square that hosted the market before Campo de' Fiori, described by the Italian writer Belli “a field, a theater, a fair, happiness”: it’s Piazza Navona, so beautiful, so “obvious” that it’s almost redundant to mention it here. It’s better focusing on some less known corners, maybe the ones hidden by more popular monuments.
A celebrity of XVI century was Vannozza Cattanei, the lover and then official concubine of cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, later pope with the name of Alessandro VI. She had four children from him, two of them famous in history and literature: Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. Well, just around the corner of Campo de' Fiori, at number 13 of vicolo del Gallo, lady Vannozza managed the LOCANDA DELLA VACCA (a sort of guest house), where guests could enjoy the pleasure of a good wine on the ground floor, and experience “other pleasures” on the upper floors. Today, looking up on the external wall, you could see Vannozza’s aristocratic crest, enriched by the emblem of the last of her four husbands and the most eminent of her lovers, Borgia pope’s bull.
Four husbands and a rich and powerful lover implied several movings for Vannozza. Among the buildings she lived in, the closest to Campo de' Fiori is the one at number 65 of via del Pellegrino, but we suggest to stop a few steps behind and walk through the arch opening at your left: it’s called ACETARI ARCH and it opens into a little square where time seems to have stopped. There are no monuments to look at, but just the feeling of a Rome that has almost disappeared.
On the contrary, the Baroque style marks are well noticeable everywhere. One of the most representing artists is no doubt Francesco Borromini, who built some of the most amazing churches in town, some of which easy to reach in a few minutes from Campo de' Fiori, such as Sant'Agnese in Agone and Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza. But we suggest to head towards a secular masterpiece of the architect.
You can see it from the court of SPADA PALACE, in Capodiferro square, next to Farnese square. It’s a gallery of columns, ending with a statue of Mars. At first sight, you would say the colonnade is approximately 50 meters long and the statue life-sized. At first sight, because looking better you realize it’s actually a trompe-l'oeil, an optical illusion: the gallery is only 8 meters long. And if you want to discover the real size of Mars, but you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, you just have to stay in the courtyard and wait until a visitor gets close to the statue: you will be astonished to realize it’s not taller than 60 centimeters. However, we really encourage to buy an entrance ticket: you will be able to see the beautiful paintings collection (Guido Reni, Brueghel, Tiziano, Durer, Rubens, Caravaggio) once belonging to cardinal Spada, and Pompeo Magno statue, where they say Giulio Cesare had been stabbed to death.
|where||Campo de' Fiori|
|open||Monday – Saturday, h 7:00 – 14:00|
Parking: not available (and not easy to drive in the neighborhood)
From Termini Railway Station, Line 64