In Venice, when it rains, it pours. The sky looks like a dirty rag and the rain splashes incessantly. The winding streets of the floating city get slippery, bridges get more crowded with slow moving people treading cautiously and the usually pretty green canals turn churlish grey in colour. Somehow, the charm of Venice still persists and the twinkling lights of the city establishments reflect beautifully on the large puddles. Akash and I were awfully lucky with the weather during our week-long Venice trip and except for one day, the sun smiled on us. A Wednesday, however, dawned grey and dull and I decided to pay the famous Rialto Markets in Venice a visit. It was a Europe travel mistake of epic proportions. The rain made the journey very tough, navigating the baby car in the downpour took mammoth efforts and due to lack of much research, I got off at the wrong Vaporetto/water bus stop. The lashing made the usually helpful Venetians scurry away for shelter and I had a horrendous time, trying to haul the baby car alone across the Rialto Bridge to reach the market. The scene on the other side was the perfect example of “Much ado about nothing”, and only a handful of fresh produce shops had been open for business. The famous Pescaria or the Fish Market had not been found and a cranky Akash and I ended our rainy day Venice exploration in a little cafe nearby.
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This is the commercial heart of historical Venice
The cafe was a cozy one, popular among both the tourists and the locals and its decor was comfortingly old fashioned. Soft leather chairs and couches gleamed under a huge chandelier and light reflected wickedly on the glass filled interiors. The tourists, all of whom had come looking for the Rialto Markets lounged lazily on the seats, while the smarter locals enjoyed their cafes by the counter. Venice has a strange tradition of charging extra if you occupy a seat in a cafe and this is the starkest difference between a tourist and the local. While, in the cafe, I thumbed through a dog eared copy of the official Venice guide and read about the famous Rialto Markets while sitting at its exact location. Much is said and hyped about the centuries old market and it holds every morning close to the famous Rialto Bridge in Italy. This is an extremely important historical area of Venice and has been the city‘s commercial hub ever since its conception. The city’s principal market was transferred to this location at the end of the 11th century and it became a very busy area where all kinds of trading took place. Merchants rolled out exotic goods freshly unloaded from the ships at these markets and Venetians of all classes thronged to buy, bargain, sell and stare.
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The squares and lanes of the Rialto Markets in Venice, where history stands still
During that time, the Rialto Markets in Venice were the most important market places in the world and it had squares and porticos dedicated to different products. This tradition still reflects in the names of present local lanes and fruit and vegetables are sold at Erberia, while oranges can be exclusively found at Naranzeria. Speziali has only spices for sale while the famous Pescaria is a covered fish market with a mouth watering fruits of the sea on display. These are the exact descriptions of the Rialto Markets in Venice as mentioned in the guide book. It is supposed to be a treat for the senses with tumbling piles of peaches, cherries, artichokes, and bunches of sage. When the rain ceased, I ventured out a bit with the baby car and managed to get glimpses of the famous fresh produce at the Erberia. There were also a few food stores selling pasta, olive oil, wine, and other regional specialties. Apart from that only a handful of grey haired shopping trolley bearing old local ladies trotted beside smattering of tourists and everyone had a look of disappointment. So what is touted as Venice‘s best show, did not work out for me and the Rialto Markets visit ended up being a messy wet disaster. But, there is no smoke without fire and here are the travel facts of the Rialto Markets in Venice, for you to have a look at it yourself.
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How to reach the Rialto Markets in Venice?
The Rialto markets are located in the north-west of the Rialto Bridge in the San Polo sestiere of Venice. On weekdays the Vaporetto number 1 stops alongside, at the Rialto Mercato station. A gondola traghetto ferry service is available across the canal to Campo Santa Sofia on the Strada Nova.
Timings of the markets
The opening hours of the Rialto Markets in Venice is as follows. The fresh produce market is open from Monday to Saturday from 07:30 am to 01:00 pm and you can visit the fish market from Tuesday to Saturday from 07:30 am to 01:00 pm. The fish market is closed on Mondays. Shoppers arrive as early to escape the crowd of camera-toting tourists and during the late hours, you will find the fruit and veg stalls open, though most of the fishmongers will shut shop. That is why it is best to arrive as early as possible to experience the Erberia and Pescaria in full swing. The goods loaded barges dock at the market at dawn and the market buzzes with activity by 08:00 am. Since the whole sellers and most of the shop keepers pack up by mid day, around 01:00 pm, grab all the shopping for a picnic hamper before lunch.
Want to visit Venice on a budget: Check out my money saving tips for a pocket-friendly Venice trip
Get the feel of the local life of Venice
For a city which is sinking from a load of tourists and rich expats, finding the daily life of the locals is extremely rare and Rialto Markets in Venice provide just that. Wrinkled old ladies crossing the Grand Canal on Vaporetto or traghettos armed with their shopping trollies, sweating stevedores unloading crates of produce from the barges, vendors hawking their wares and chefs from the city restaurants examining the daily supply, delivery boys pushing handcarts piled with local fruits and vegetables from Treviso; these are some of the glimpses of local life of Venice which can still be savoured at the Rialto Markets. This market has been satisfying appetites for seven centuries and happily, the products on sale are all local. Go there to shop for vibrantly coloured seasonal produce like the Sant’Erasmo castraure (baby artichokes), radicchio trevisano (bitter red chicory) and succulent white asparagus. Shopping for food is a much loved daily activity in Italy, and the produce is naturally very fresh. Thus much of the fruit and vegetables sold at the Rialto Markets in Venice come from the nearby island of Sant’Erasmo and the produce is labeled with its place of origin.
Need help in planning your trip: Here‘s my Venice Trip Planning Guide
A sweet nothing from the chef
Elizabeth David, the cookbook author, portrays the Rialto market in her book the Italian Food:
“The light of a Venetian dawn is so limpid and so still that it makes every separate vegetable and fish luminous with a life of its own, with unnaturally heightened colours and clear stencilled outlines
“In other markets, on other shores, the unfamiliar fishes may be vivid, mysterious, repellent, fascinating, and bright with splendid colour; only in Venice do they look good enough to eat. In Venice even ordinary sole and ugly great skate are striped with delicate lilac lights, the sardines shine like newly-minted silver coins, pink Venetian scampi are fat and fresh, infinitely enticing in the early dawn.”
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE