To Farmers Market: When in Rome, Do As the Romans Do

What is the difference between a Tourist Farmers Market and a Local Farmers Market? How do you recognize if you are in a tourist trap? How to make the most of both markets?

Tajan's Market

Built in 179 B.C. Trajan's Market, the world oldest supermarket.

Applying the old adage: “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”, I will describe two of Rome’s major Farmers markets: Campo de’ Fiori and Mercato Trionfale. I will write about their history and their main attractions. Although Rome is not “next door” (seven hours drive), its history and location makes it one of the most interesting destinations for Mediterranean cuisine lovers.

 

THE EVOLUTION OF THE ROMANS FARMERS MARKETS

The Mediterranean cuisine and most of its natural products have been used since the Roman Empire and have survived throughout the centuries on Roman culinary tables, particularly appreciated and valued in the Vatican kitchens.

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Trajan Market

(Map 1: Rome I century B.C.)

Starting with the Trajan Market in 179 B.C., Rome has centuries of history in the development of food markets and international commerce. Market squares were found in both Greece and Rome, but large covered farmers markets, similar to our modern Supermarket and with the sole purpose of selling foods, originated in Rome.

Map Data © 2015 Google

First Farmers market Trajan's market

Map 1: Rome I century B.C.

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These farmers markets were called Macellum, a word which is still in use in the Italian language today but refers only to slaughterhouses. Following the Tajan Market, more Macellums were built in Roman provinces, such as Pompei, Rimini and in other trading countries like Greece, Libya and Algeria.

The Trajan Markets have recently been restored - in the last 20 years - and their marble artefacts and fragments reorganized and rejuvenated. With a beautiful architectural structure spanning over tree level, they are definitely worth a visit if you are in Rome. You will find plenty of food .... but only food for thoughts! It is now only a museum.

 

Campo de’ Fiori

During the Roman Empire, Campo de’ Fiori was considered one of the roughest areas of the city; it was used for storing the charioteers that were used for racing in the Circo Massimo. (Map 2: Rome I & II Century A.C. Roman Empire)

Map Data © 2015 Google

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Farmers market in Rome

Map 2: Rome I & II Century A.C. Roman Empire

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After the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome remained uninhabited for centuries and the square became just a plain meadow. That is where the name originated from, Campo de’ Fiori meaning flowers field. (Map 3: Rome 1000 A.C. uninhabited)

Map Data © 2015 Google

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Farmers market in Rome

Map 3: Rome 1000 A.C. unihabited

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It was only in the 1500’s, when Pope Sisto V cleared Rome of the brigands, reclaiming the land by building drains and sewage systems, that the square became a centre for farmers markets, shops and public gathering.  (Map 4: Rome 1500 Pope Sisto V)

Map Data © 2015 Google

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Farmers market in Rome

Map 4: Rome 1500 Pope Sisto V

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The square was also used for public punishments and torture, one of the most famous being the burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno in 1600, a mathematician and philosopher who contradicted the Vatican with his Astrological discoveries.

The entire surrounding area of Campo de’Fiori was dedicated to commerce and artisan shops. Each street was dedicated to a specific trade and that is the origin of their names, e.g. Via dei Giubbonari for jacket manufacturers (giubbotti), Via dei Cappellari for hat makers (cappelli), and many more.

From the 1500’s to the 1900’s the population of Rome was confined within the city walls. Outside the walls Rome was surrounded by farms – both crops and livestock. The best of the farmers produce was destined for the tables of the wealthy Clerics in the Vatican and the Aristocracy. While the rich consumed the best cuts of meat from the livestock, common people had to survive on the animal leftovers. That is why the Roman cuisine is rich on unusual, and for some “unappetising” , delicacies!

Il Rio della Plata. Bernini 1_1_1

No Thank You! I'll pass!

Rigatoni alla Pajata: Pasta rigatoni served in a sauce made with the small intestines of milk-fed veal still containing the chyme (mass of partly digested food that is expelled by the stomach into the duodenum and moves through the intestines during digestion), which makes the sauce rich and creamy.

Tripe: rubbery lining of a cow’s stomach flavoured with mint and seasoned with abundant pecorino romano

Oxtail: made from the tail of the animal (usually oxen) stewed and topped with various vegetables.

Those meals might sound unappetising but they are still popular dishes today and even in these times of consumerism they are served in restaurants and regarded as delicacies. If you fancy a try, you will find them mostly in the area of Trastevere.

But Roman cuisine is famous for many more appetising regional delicacies, like Abbacchio alla Romana, Carciofi alla Romana, Puntarelle, Porchetta and many more. Not only can you order them at the restaurants, but you can also find all necessary ingredients in the farmers markets.

Nowadays Campo de’Fiori remains one of the busiest tourist destinations for farmers markets and shops. Not far from Piazza Navona, with charming farmers market stands and small streets full of restaurants and cafes, Campo de’Fiori is a unique and attractive place to wander around during your visits to Rome. The perfect tourist farmers market!

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Mercato Trionfale

(Map 5: Rome 1878 expansion)
Following the unification of Italy in 1870 and the inclusion of Rome, the city underwent a major expansion and new districts were designed and built as part of the Urban Planning Scheme presented in 1873.

Map Data © 2015 Google

Farmers Market in Rome

Map 5: Rome 1878 expansion

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Next to the Vatican the district of Prati was created, for the barracks and military housing of the new Republic. This is where the Mercato Trionfale is located; just 4 minutes walk from the Vatican Museum entrance.

It is a unique location, close to one of the busiest attractions in Rome, but just outside the typical tourist destinations and in the middle of a busy residential community. That is where “the Romans do” their shopping. It is a perfect location to visit, if your feet will still allow it following the Vatican tour.

Farmers market Trionafale in Rome

Farmers market Trionafale in Rome

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Campo de’Fiori vs Mercato Trionfale

So where should you go? You can DO as the Romans DO and you will find amazing farmers produce at fantastic prices, but after all you are a tourist and Campo de’Fiori is too charming to miss.

So my recommendation would be:

(Map 6: Rome 2015)

Map Data © 2015 Google

Rome Farmers Markets 2015

Map 6: Rome 2015

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To visit Campo de’Fiori for the following attractions:

1. Charming old town


2. Beautiful stalls and colours

Campo de'fiori 7_6_1
3. Cooking classes

Market cooking classes_13_1
4. Souvenirs

Market Pasta 1_14_1
5. Refreshing fruits to eat

Market refreshing fruits_17_1

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To visit the Mercato Trionfale instead for its unique products:

a. Gigantic mozzarella

Mozzarella 7_1_1
b. Porchetta

Porchetta 1_2_1
c. Pecorino Romano

Market Cheeses_12_1
d. The tastiest tomatoes

Market Tomatoes_19_1
e. Fantastic vegetables at the best prices

Market Strawberries_18_1

And don’t be afraid to try:

Mercato trionfale 6_25_1

Rome remains an important centre for the Mediterranean cuisine.

Many professionals of Southern Italian origins (mezzogiorno) have relocated to Rome to study or find a job, and their traditional Mediterranean cuisine has followed them.

 

Briosce siciliana e cappuccino_1_1

Sicilian brioche and cappuccino

Products from Sicily, Napoli, Calabria and Puglia are available in most local farmers markets. These are products that you will not find as easily in the northern Italian Markets, not even in Tuscany.

I would recommend making the most of it!

Roman Farmer Markets

  18 comments for “To Farmers Market: When in Rome, Do As the Romans Do

  1. 20th March 2017 at 11:35 pm

    I love that you are incorporating history with your suggestions of things to do and see 🙂 My trips to Rome were definitely highlights, and reading your post made me want to go there again…NOW!

    • Laura
      31st March 2017 at 3:47 am

      Thank you Jamie. The market is always a good itinerary if you really want to know more about a culture

  2. Fatima
    21st March 2017 at 12:39 am

    Interesting post and pics! I never would have thought to write something like this so I enjoyed it!

    • Laura
      31st March 2017 at 3:45 am

      I love to walk you through my city. Thank you Fatima

  3. 21st March 2017 at 5:39 am

    Lovely post..
    Great pics.

    • Laura
      31st March 2017 at 3:44 am

      Thank you Rabz

  4. 21st March 2017 at 6:02 am

    Nice work keep it up

    • Laura
      31st March 2017 at 3:44 am

      Thanks

  5. 21st March 2017 at 9:33 am

    I love Rome such a beautiful city with so much history

    • Laura
      31st March 2017 at 3:43 am

      Thank you Lisa

  6. 21st March 2017 at 1:45 pm

    WOW. Incredibly informative – I will be following (and planning my next few trips) for more of your great ideas!

    Thanks!
    Fliss
    http://sweetcleanliving.com

    • Laura
      31st March 2017 at 3:43 am

      Thank you Fliss, food is part of our history. They go hand in hand

  7. 21st March 2017 at 4:24 pm

    I love the history of Rome! what a great way to give informations. thanks for sharing.

    • Laura
      31st March 2017 at 3:42 am

      You are welcome

  8. Ella
    21st March 2017 at 5:12 pm

    I loved reading this! Food, history and Rome! Who can want more?! I miss Rome! Lovely stuff!

    • Laura
      31st March 2017 at 3:42 am

      Thank you, next time you go don’t miss the markets !

  9. 23rd March 2017 at 6:37 am

    Rome is such a great city! Love this post 🙂

    • Laura
      31st March 2017 at 3:41 am

      Thank you Janne

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