For the love of Sicilian markets

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 photos 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.

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Every year I spend 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 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.

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I’m afraid my beloved Sicilian markets are no longer the same. Sant’Agata di Militello in Messina Province. © Rochelle Del Borrello 2019 

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 no longer the same.

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.

During the year there are many other places in Sicily which host big markets from Randazzo at the feet of Mt Etna to the little town of Mojo Alcantara which is famous for its doughnut peaches and even Taormina hosts a wonderful antique market once a month.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to open-air markets.

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The fair of Sant’Agata di Militello in Messina Province dates back to the 18th Century.                    © Rochelle Del Borrello 2019 

In the province of Messina I never miss 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 1700s.
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.

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Textiles and fabrics sold by the meter at the Fair of Sant’Agata di Militello in Messina Province.   © Rochelle Del Borrello 2019 

Being the optimist I am I went back to Sant’ Agata this year again without any expectations and determined to simply soak in the atmosphere without looking to buy anything. Even though I found the usual mixture of quality.

I genuinely had an enjoyable experience because I found myself looking around at the people, listening to their interactions, laughing at the different accents, characters and social climate that thrives in and around the markets.

From groups of local high school children who get the day off school for the Fiera, and parade up and down the promenade cracking jokes, buying whatever current knick-knack is popular this year. They are so brimming with youthful energy as they laugh like hyenas and squeeze themselves into the trendy clothes of the moment (this year it was all about slightly short jeans for the boys and sexy ripped denim for the girls).

To families with little children, grandkids with grandparents, boyfriends and girlfriends and everything else in between. The energy of Sicilian’s walking up and down the stalls is what keeps me coming back to any Sicilian markets.

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Randazzo’s Sunday markets, Catania province.

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.

Thank goodness daily food markets around the country are filled with the sights, sounds and tastes of an Italy which relishes its food.

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Sant’Agata di Militello in Messina Province.   © Rochelle Del Borrello 2019 

The Palermitani’s demand for fine food persists is what keeps the city’s daily market neighbourhoods thriving. The 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 theatre 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).

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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 cities 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 they are 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.

Vedi qua il post anche in Italiano: Per l’amore dei mercati Siciliani

Here’s my own personal list of Sicilian Food markets not to miss.

Sicily'a markets

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