Every morning at about 09.00 the market at Piazza Campo de Fiori loses the last semblance of a street market for locals and shows its true colours as a tourist trap. Coach-loads of Germans file past the stalls, while Americans take photos of each other in front of pyramids of colourful vegetables. The bravest ones buy some fruit or sun-dried tomatoes to take home. As these visitors admire the quaintness of the square and gush over the preservation of the traditional Italian market, they are unaware that in fact it is being maintained almost entirely for and by themselves.
Elsewhere in Rome, street markets are struggling to survive, squeezed by supermarkets, ambitious city council projects and a general change in the Italian lifestyle. The transfer in 2002 of the citys wholesale market from Ostiense to a location off Via Tiburtina far outside the GRA, Romes ring road, has made it more difficult for stall-holders to buy their goods.
On Via della Pace near Piazza Navona, Anna Sbroli is one of three hardy stall-owners who has been setting up her fruit and vegetable stand in the same place for 35 years. Long ago hers was one of about 30 stalls spread all along Via della Pace and around Piazza del Fico. The market changed when the areas residents changed, she explained. There are hardly any real Romans left; its all people from the TV and cinema industries. Can you see them doing their shopping at the market? In fact, not a single customer was around at 09.00 on a weekday morning.
Many share the approach of one grouchy shopper in Piazza delle Coppelle near the Pantheon, who said she bought most things at the supermarket but came to the street market for superior-quality fruit and vegetables. Danilo Crema, a farmer and stall-holder, sells vegetables which he grows in the Boccea area, as his father did before him. It used to be much more satisfying when people took their time to go shopping and had big families to feed, he said. Now its impossible to make customers happy; we have to wash and prepare everything for them, and then I have to go on delivery rounds because no one wants to carry their shopping.
Most market stalls are family-run, with children inheriting coveted licences (which become available to outsiders only very rarely) from their parents. One business at Montis covered market in Via Baccina seemed a picture of family harmony, with mother, father and son all pitching in wholeheartedly. But when asked whether he was pleased that junior is following in his footsteps, Maurizio Federici didnt mince his words. No. I hope he gets another job as soon as possible. Theres no future in this work, he said.
In fact, their brightly-painted stall was one of only four open in the entire market building, which has space for about another 20 vendors. The market reopened two years ago after a ten-year closure for renovation, but is failing to win back its customers. Federici came to Monti from the nearby Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II market, which became one of the first victims of the citys modernisation drive when it was relocated from the square to the former military barracks in Via Turati nearby. Federici described the colourful, multi-cultural market as the first shopping mall in Europe, praising the diversity of goods available but regretting that most of the vendors are now marocchini.
Not wanting their own children to work as market vendors but begrudging immigrants the opportunity to do so is a common sentiment. At Piazza Campo de Fiori, eight Bangladeshi-owned stalls selling imported household goods, clothes and accessories were evicted last December by the city council despite having valid licences, in order to return the square to a more traditional look. The long-
standing Italian vendors, one of whom was quoted in newspapers as referring to the Bangladeshis as the Taleban of Campo de Fiori, had been agitating for months to have the newcomers stalls removed. The city council ruling now specifies that the market should have a maximum of 36 stalls selling food, three florists and eight (compared to the previous 16) stands offering other goods. While the quotas for sellers of flowers and other goods have always been filled, there are now only about 20 stalls selling food.
One market that has been spared such artificial pruning and has nevertheless retained a more authentic atmosphere is in Piazza Testaccio. Though the market was recently modernised with a roof and more hygienic permanent stalls, it is still lively, well-frequented and busy enough to allow true competition. One fish-vendor thought this is simply because of the people who live in the area: real Roman Romans who are fiercely loyal to Testaccio and its market.
Nevertheless, Romes city council is keen to make the market even more modern. Councillor for commerce Daniela Valentini recently presented a project to move it out of Piazza Testaccio to the site of the former football field nearby a former training ground of AS Roma. Valentini envisages the construction of a state-of-the-art glass building that would also accommodate services such as banks and restaurants. Construction of similar complexes is underway in the Torpignattara area off Via Casilina in the southeast of Rome, and in Piazza S. Giovanni di Dio in Monteverde Nuovo, where multi-storey buildings will house shops, services and underground car parks.
According to Confcommercio, the Italian union of shopkeepers and traders, modernisation is the only way to remain competitive. But what a shock it would be to the tourists at Piazza Campo de Fiori to discover that the quaint markets of Rome are rapidly evolving into run-of-the-mill shopping malls.