Florence’s central market turns 150

Florence’s central market turns 150

The Mercato Centrale Storico is planning a line-up of events to celebrate its culinary and historical value.

Mon 25 Mar 2024 11:27 AM

Selling fruit, vegetables and all manner of other foodstuffs to Florence for one and a half centuries, the ground-floor Mercato Centrale Storico is gearing up for ten months of celebrations.

Florence’s Central Market as it was during the inauguration. Ph. Di Vincenzo Pagrandi – Paolo Pierazzini via Wikipedia

Designed by Giuseppe Mengoni, the distinctive 19th-century iron and glass pavilion in the heart of the San Lorenzo neighbourhood was based on Paris’ central fresh food market, Les Halles, and shares a likeness with the architect’s most famous achievement, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. When Florence’s central market opened in 1874 on the occasion of the International Exposition of Agriculture, a loggia with ten classic arcades and slender pietra serena columns extended outwards on each side of the building. Built to be functional, natural light streamed in through skylights and air flowed through the space divided by purveyor. Butchers, bakeries and fishmongers all occupied their own dedicated areas, while greengrocers were situated in the triangular-shaped piazza until 1979, when they moved to the first floor of the building. The arrival of more supermarkets in the city centre (and fewer residents in general) had a major impact on sales, especially in terms of fruit and vegetables, which resulted in the 2014 takeover of the first floor by entrepreneur Umberto Montano and the runaway success of the artisanal food court championing Italian speciality produce.

Mercato centrale 150 years
Mercato centrale 150 years

To celebrate the 150th anniversary, Florence’s Mercato Centrale is set to host around 30 events from now until the end of the year, culminating in the presentation of a docufilm and a book starring the stories of those who lead their daily lives at the market.

“We thank all of the neighbourhood’s institutions and associations for having taken part in creating the 150th anniversary events calendar,” commented Massimo Manetti, president of Consorzio dello Storico Mercato Centrale. “The celebration belongs to the entire city because the market is an open space for the whole community. Above all, I want to thank all the stallholders at the Mercato Centrale Storico, who generation to generation have rolled up their sleeves to allow Florentines to carry on shopping and bring the best produce to their tables in the best possible conditions and, as a result, to attract residents back to the centre.”

For the occasion, a line of limited-edition souvenirs emblazoned with the special anniversary logo are now on sale at the consortium’s shop. After a dinner for stallholders and their families, the celebrations will officially get underway at Palazzo Medici Riccardi on April 4 with a gathering of representatives from markets all over the world, including Barcelona’s La Boqueria, Copenhagen’s TorvehallerneKBH, Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, Oslo’s Mathallen, Malmö’s Saluhall, Cork’s English Market, Berlin’s Markthalle Neun, Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehudah, Riga’s Nami and Santander’s Mercado de la Esperanza, while Borough Market in London and Central de Abasto in Mexico City will attend via video link. The event will also be attended by delegates from the European Union with the idea of embarking on a process to establish an association of historical markets aimed at achieving UNESCO recognition.

Dignitaries at the Central Market for the presentation of the 150th anniversary events calendar

Food enthusiasts can indulge in the many opportunities to learn more about local specialities, while talks (in Italian) about Giuseppe Mengoni as well as former local residents of note such as Carlo Lorenzini, the creator of Pinocchio, sculptor Benvenuto Cellini and artist Vinicio Berti are on the calendar. Also on the cards is a neighbourhood festival with live music and concerts featuring prominent guests in piazza del Mercato Centrale, piazza San Lorenzo and Piazza di Madonna degli Aldobrandini.

While the final programme is still being confirmed, readers can plan ahead for May 11 when the neighbourhood will go back in time with musicians and drummers in full 19th-century garb, as well as a procession of costumed players who will evoke the walks that families once took to the market accompanied by the inevitable Gonfalone banner.

The Storico Mercato Centrale is open Monday to Friday 7am-3pm and Saturdays 7am-5pm.
For more information about the 150th anniversary events, see www.storicomercatocentrale.it or follow the market on IG and FB.

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