It’s no secret I’m a fan of open air markets, I love trawling through every stand exploring what I can find. My blog is filled with photo’s of African wood carvings, crafty jewellery and fun discoveries, endless market randomness and textures. I enjoy the colours and the unexpected. A Sicilian market contains everything from fresh produce, antiques, fabrics to bric-a-brac.
Every year in Sicily, is made up of annual appointments with big Sicilian markets and fiere (/fiè·re/), which are big brothers to the simple daily food markets who bring together many vendors from other provinces together with the trade of livestock. A spring fiera previews what you will see in the stores during the summer, while an autumn one often brings a chance to find unique gifts without the Christmas rush.
Often visitors to Sicily criticise markets as places filled with cheap Chinese rip offs, which sadly is a valid lament as over the years of the never ending economic crisis in Europe, many boutique operations and family businesses selling beautiful products have closed down, moving overseas to cut costs, leaving space for dreaded cheap imports to fill in the gaps. I’m afraid my beloved Sicilian markets are beginning to disappear.
In my little piece of Sicily in Messina province most locals have an appointment with the Fiera at Capo d’Orlando on the 21st and 22nd of October which is associated with the feast day celebration of the local Madonna, who is the city’s patron. Also I never miss out on the autumn and spring markets at Sant’Agata di Militello, the ancient Fiera over the 14th and 15th of November (and the 14th/15th of April) which stretches out along the main esplanade running parallel to the Tyrrhenian sea.
The November markets are usually where I do my Christmas shopping, but for the first time last year I actually came home empty handed. There were the usual endless stalls common of this extravagant fair, yet none of the substance of these historic markets which date back to the 1700’s.
Established by the Ventimiglia family, a well known Sicilian aristocratic dynasty, who gathered up the agricultural wealth of the Nebrodi area, the Sant Agata fiera was a focal point for farmers and artisans of all types. The first day is dedicated to livestock while the second offers visitors everything from textiles to haberdashery, farming tools, local produce, fashion and crafts.
Marching up and down the stalls last year I found nothing of quality, so much cheap Chinese junk, many obviously second hand clothes and shoes being passed off as new, strange one size fits all clothing which really won’t cover anyone who weighs more than 40 kilo’s and the same series of scarves and Christmas decorations as other years. I didn’t see the usual ceramics I go crazy over and there was only one antique stall which had the same things as last year, the owner sadly told me business is really slow and he probably won’t be back next year.
The decline of markets in Sicily has gradually been creeping forward all over the island. For example many travel magazines surprisingly still sing the praise of Palermo’s Vucciria as a thriving major Sicilian city market, but the once buzzing neighbourhood packed with hundreds of food stores spilling over out onto the streets has become nothing but a small strip of resilient store owners who keep the historic markets alive for the tourists.
Italians believe in slow food and travel, where you take the time to soak in the character of a place, happily making the most of the moment. In a country where the people and culture are as colourful as the scenery itself, it is justifiable to seek out a more authentic connection to everyday life.
Food markets are filled with the sights, sounds and tastes of an Italy which relishes its food. In times of economic downturn Italians will cut back on everything else except what is on the table.
Thank goodness the Palermitani’s demand for fine food persists, it is this which keeps the other daily food market neighbourhoods thriving. The il Capo, Ballero’ and Borgo Vecchio markets keep the traditions alive with their associated family run restaurants and street food vendors deep in the centre of Palermo.
You can still have an authentic Sicilian market experience at Ballaró which extends from Piazza Ballarò in the Albergheria district (near the church of San Nicolò) along Via Ballarò past Piazza Carmine toward Corso Tukory, roughly parallel to Via Maqueda toward the main train station.
While the Capo markets are tucked behind the Teatro Massimo opera theater and extend from Via Porta Carini off Via Volturno near the old city wall toward Piazza Beati Paoli. The Vucceria is at Piazza San Domenico, but in a much reduced manner as compared to its past history, it still winds along Via Maccheronai toward Piazza Caracciolo and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, branching off along Via Argenteria.
The Borgo Vecchio markets are in between Piazza Sturzo and Piazza Ucciardone. Palermo’s markets are usually open all day from 9 to 7pm (they are closed Sundays and open only half days on Wednesdays).
At Catania the main markets are in Piazza Carlo Alberto near Via Umberto and Corso Sicilia which is easily reached from Via Pacini off Via Etnea near the Villa Bellini park.
The Pescheria (fish markets) filled with the city’s most sought after seafood is located off Piazza Duomo near the cathedral and fountain dell’Amenano, between Via Garibaldi and Via Pacini, extending along Via Gemelli Zappalà and some of the nearby streets. Catania’s markets are closed Sundays and afternoons.
Sadly the markets around me seem to be fading into insignificance, so when you visit Sicily be sure to visit a major city’s food market as it is a precious piece of Sicilian history.
To discover the best local daily markets in Sicily simply ask around, once you arrive in Sicily the best information will be found through local knowledge. If you want a general idea about the different smaller markets to visit see the Italian Ambulente web page, which is a site set up by market stall owners to let tourists know about market days. The page is in Italian but it is easy to do a search of particular towns throughout Italy to see when the markets are usually on in most local squares.
Here’s my personal list of Sicilian Food markets not to miss.