The day after I visited the market at Ponte Milvio, we all headed to the market at Campo de Fiori, within walking distance of the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. Campo de Fiori is often mentioned in the guidebooks as a quaint, sometimes must see, market within easy reach of nearby tourist attractions. Translated literally as Field of Flowers, the Field refers to the fact that the area was a field until the 15th century when it was paved over. But the flowers are unexplained…perhaps they grew there at the time? The area was once a horse trading/selling area then at one point executions of heretics and other “unsavory” characters were conducted here, before it became a vegetable market. Hmmm, perhaps that was the reason for bad vibes I got there…not the normal market rush of adrenalin! Frankly, I thought this market was highly overrated and I wasnâ€™t impressed at all. Though it was charming, with vendors under those traditional canvas umbrellas, you definitely got the feeling that few locals shopped here for their typical daily ingredient requirements. Things just screamed tourist trap, tourist trapâ€¦ At any rate, there were a few beautiful stalls bursting with fruit, vegetables, dried fruits and nuts, spices, etc. that were worth a five minute stroll, a dozen or so photos and a rapid departure for other nearby sights of greater interestâ€¦
As with all of the markets in Italy, the produce looked remarkably good, farm fresh and highly photogenic. I wish I were a much better photographer as my photos often simply record what I see rather than taking them up a notch on the quality scale. I am so certain that a real photographer would come out of the same markets with far more tantalizing snapshots. At any rate, the tomatoes, zucchinis, greens (lots of organics and micro greens here at ridiculous prices per kilo) and other vegetables were just amazing. There is nothing as vivid as color from natural sourcesâ€¦the red of ripe tomatoes, the green of crisp spinach, the purple on fresh asparagus or the yellow of a squash flowerâ€¦no wonder artists often use produce as subjects for paintings!
The one stall that really piqued my interest was a spice vendor. He had an incredibly novel way of displaying his spices in upside down conical plastic bags. The way his wares were displayed were not only attractive and practical (you could see what was in the bag), but they were also easy to store, open and scoop the contents out of. You could buy lots of spices to take home (I noticed tourists were the big customers) and he could vacuum seal the purchases so your luggage didnâ€™t smell of oregano when you got home. I also noticed a somewhat new penchant for selling spice mixes, say a dried puttanesca mixture or an arrabiata spice mixture to add to pasta saucesâ€¦this â€œinstantâ€ seasoning mentality, however, meant a bunch of really good spices pre mixed and sold to you in little packetsâ€¦how civilized is that? A far cry from say a Knorr sinigang mix, if you ask me!
There were several fruit vendors at Campo de Fiori and they were doing a brisk business for folks stocking up on reasonably priced snack material (compared to buying it in a grocery or convenience store) for their day of touring Rome. Grapes, cherries, bananas and other more tropical fruits were on offer at highly colorful, attractive and appetizing stalls. I was a bit surprised by the number of tropical fruits on offer like pineapples, some mangoes, and passionfruit. Dried fruits and nuts were also selling thought the selection was relatively small when compared to previous markets I have featured on this recent trip to Europe. The best overheard comment of the visit was a little kid asking if the rather dark statue in the middle of the Campo was “Darth Vader” to which the real answer is it is a memorial to the philosphers who were burned or killed on the spot. The specific individual depicted was apparently Giordano Bruno who was burned alive on the spot in 1600! Yipes.