The Campo de’ Fiori
The Campo de’ Fiori, Rome, is a public square south of Piazza Navona. Its fame comes not from art or architecture, but for having been a bustling focal point of Roman life since at least the middle ages. After being paved in the 15th century it became a theater for public executions as well as a hub for travelers who came to stay in its many hotels. The lanes around it were filled with tradesmen whose professions still lend their names to surrounding streets like Via dei Balestrari (crossbow-makers street,) and Via dei Giubbonari (tailor’s street). in the 19th century it became host to one of Rome’s most impressive fish and produce markets. To this day every morning the Campo de’ Fiori sees a riot of fresh food trucked in from the Italian countryside to the delight of locals and visitors alike. Sightseeing at the Campo de’ Fiori is a reminder that for all the beautiful art and monuments in Rome, It’s the Romans themselves who make this city great and continue to imbue it with a certain chaotic charm.
Visiting the Campo de’ Fiori: What to See
The Giordano Bruno Monument
You would have to look a long time before finding a Renaissance intellectual with more provocative beliefs than Giordano Bruno. This Dominican monk was was a radical theologian, a philosopher, Neoplatonist, hermeticist, and pioneer in the science of mnemonics. But the idea that really made him famous (and got him into trouble) was that the stars didn’t move around the earth and sun, but were, in fact, other suns with their own planets in an infinitely large universe – a theory we now call “cosmic pluralism”. The 16th-century church, in the throws of the Counter-Reformation, didn’t appreciate the theory. They clapped Bruno in prison and spent the better part of a decade interrogating, torturing, and demanding that he retract his belief in the theory. He flatly refused and when they read his sentence, he looked up at his accusers from where he was kneeling on the ground and uttered the now immortal words: “Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.”
Even when the authorities offered to commute his sentence from burning (a terrible way to die) to hanging (relatively less terrible), Bruno refused to recant his beliefs. On February 17th, 1600, he was taken to the Campo de’ Fiori and burned to death in front of a crowd of spectators on the exact spot where his statue stands today. When Italy was united in the late 19th century Bruno was given a monument and lionized as a martyr to independent thought. Today his statue stands facing the Vatican, or perhaps staring it down, a reminder of the eventual triumph of reason over dogma.
The Campo de’ Fiori hosts one of the oldest fish and produce markets in Rome. Though this is slightly misleading, as the market has moved numerous times since the Middle Ages, and only came to the Campo de’ Fiori in the 19th century. In the 90’s the market dwindled due to the changing culinary habits of Italians but it has seen a rebirth in recent years due to stall-owners’ decisions to market more of their products to tourists. This has created an interesting mix in the market. On one hand there are stalls dedicated to souvenirs but interspersed among them you can still find some of the Rome’s most respected produce-sellers and fishmongers. This mix of old and new, traditional and modern is a great example of Rome changing with the times and adapting to circumstances. If you’re in the neighborhood and you want anything from the freshest Tuscan truffles to the most touristy of souvenirs, visiting the market is one of the most classic things to do in Rome.
The buildings fronting the Campo de’ Fiori have been bars, restaurants and hotels for hundreds of years. Morning soccer games give way in the afternoon to rows of tables and chairs set up to receive anyone who wants to have a drink in the plaza and watch life go by. Tucked in among these buildings are two of the most legendary hotels in Rome. The first is the Locanda della Vaca, an old inn that belonged to a woman named Vannozza dei Cattanei whose claim to fame rested on being the favorite lover of Pope Alexander VI. Not one to miss a good branding opportunity she combined her family seal with his and placed it above her inn’s door where it can still be seen today. Not too far away is the Locanda del Sole, reportedly the oldest hotel in the city. Though not necessarily the nicest. In the Middle Ages public executions in the area were so frequent that some of the guests actually complained about having to witness torturings and hangings every single day of their stay. With public executions happily a thing of the past, it’s now quite a pleasant little hotel. If you want to stay there, it goes by the name of the Sole al Biscione Hotel.
Tips for Visiting the Campo de’ Fiori
The daily market is open from 8:00am to 1:30pm.
You don’t haggle for food in Italy. If you want to buy food from a particular vendor just offer the asking price. Low-balling a food vendor is usually seen as an insult. There are specific exceptions to this but rule they all involve spending a lot of time getting to know your food sellers so don’t expect it to happen if you are just visiting.
Don’t touch the food. Whereas many market cultures encourage you to pick your own produce, Italians insist that you tell them what you want and they will choose it for you. This involves an element of trust that the vendor will do right by you and not give you the worst he or she has on offer. Within this relationship are tied up many elements of trust and honor that we could write a dissertation on. For the purposes of this page, though, just accept that buying produce means having it chosen and bagged for you and the vast majority of food sellers in Italy are honor-bound to give you the best they have.
The Best Time to Visit
If you are coming to the Campo de’ Fiori for serious produce shopping the earlier you can be there the better. Not only will you beat the crowds, you won’t have to worry about the vendors running out of their best produce. Throughout the afternoon the patio chairs and tables come out from the surrounding restaurants and the piazza morphs into a nice place for an afternoon coffee or glass of wine. In the evening the Campo de’ Fiori has developed a reputation as a hotbed of drunkenness and vice. This is an exaggeration – it’s a meeting point for locals and tourists alike and it has a lot of lively bars. That said, as you approach midnight it tends to contain a few inebriated revelers. If a young, lively scene isn’t what you’re looking for, it’s best to avoid this area after midnight, but through dinner time it’s a great place for people of any age.
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