Market Day

If I’m going anywhere near Siena, I always try to be there Wednesday morning, when vendors set up their stalls around the Fortezza Lizza on the edge of the historic centre.  Outside of Florence, this is the biggest mercato settimanale (weekly market) in Tuscany.

Mercato della LIzza, Siena

Siena’s weekly market is also known as the Mercato della Lizza, for the medieval fortress it wraps itself around.

Pieces of cardboard are laid out in front of the shoe vendor's stall for trying on

The shoe vendors set out pieces of cardboard for customers to try out the footwear.


There may be something you can’t get here, but I have no idea what that might be. The real question is – How do the vendors keep track of all this stuff?

It’s easy to spend a couple of hours wondering around – it’s enormous.  I kept getting lost on my first visit.  But not for long. All you have to do is look up and the walls of the fortress will help you get your bearings again.


In this age of standardized malls and supermarket chains, there is something very appealing, very real about this market.   I love checking to see if the same vendors are still doing the circuit.


I suspect – I hope – the people who operate the stalls are the owners.

Some of the trucks/stores are quite elaborate affairs. This salumeria (deli) is equipped with a rotisserie where whole chickens and potatoes are roasted.  The aroma is so-o-o tantalizing, I’m tempted to place an order like the locals do and come back to pick up my pollo arrosto later on.


A couple of years later in May, he has a new look, but it’s still the same vendor.


The only change I could see was at the fish stall.  If you look closely at the photo below, you can see that the pescivendolo (peh-she-ven-doh-low) under the sign promoting baccalà  (cod) is the same fellow I had photographed two years earlier.   Since my previous visit they had installed a rather un-Italian electronic numbering system.

The sign next to the queue monitor advertises the route – Siena on Wednesday at the Fortezza; Friday – Colle Val d’Elsa (where I go for crystal, not fish) and Saturday in San Miniato.



A spikey aphrodisiac.

The vegetable displays are gorgeous.  Many strange properties have been attributed to the carciofo  (car-cho-foe) throughout the ages.  It was one of the most popular aphrodisiacs of the Renaissance.  The edible part of is actually a tight flower.


For only 12 euros, you can buy 15 of the aphrodisiacal plants for your veggie garden.


At the fruttivendolo , make sure to ask for pesche, pronounced pes-kay, not pesce which is pronounced peh-shay and means ‘fish’.

While the locals come to the market to do some serious shopping, they also make time for catching up with friends.


My favourite part is the section devoted to plants, which is right next to the Bar del Mercato, a good place to have another morning cappuccino.  It’s a colourful little place and was full of customers when I arrived shortly before 10 am.

As I waited for my turn, a signora ordered un caffè, which here means not caffè americano, the watered down stuff, but  espresso – too early in the day for that kind of jolt for me.  An older fellow wanted un vino bianco con un po’ di acqua gassata (white wine diluted with a bit of mineral water – wouldn’t want it straight – it’s only 10 am).  As the barista prepared un caffè corretto da esportare (a “corrected” coffee for take-out – corrected in this case with a bit of scotch), the fellow next in line asked for un cappuccino e un caffè.  The barista kept on filling orders – including mine – but the cappuccino e un caffè did not materialize.  When he realized he’d been bypassed in the queue (there really is a queue – it may not look like one to the untrained eye, which sadly leads to many misunderstandings and bad feelings among tourists – but that’s another matter) the fellow called out, “Hey, where’s my cappuccino?”


Don’t mess with the barista.

I almost choked on the cappuccino I was already enjoying, at what happened next.  While even I, a straniera (foreigner) for whom Italian was a second language, had clearly understood the yet to be filled order, the barista, it turned out, had not.  With a remarkably straight face he looked the fellow right in the eye and said,  “Siccome mi ha parlato con la bocca piena di brioche non ho capito.”  (Since you spoke to me with your mouth full of brioche I didn’t understand.)

Travelling nursery

Travelling nursery

There are garden centres outside the city walls, but the market has everything for the typical city dweller – annual flowers for the front door, seedlings and herbs for the orto (vegetable garden), cut flowers for indoors and gifts.



In late fall, cyclamens and pansies for the front door.



As I mentioned in an earlier post (Are Gardeners All a Little Crazy?  La Mortella, Part I), one of the advantages of being an Italian gardener is there is no need to struggle with all those Latin names, since they are essentially the same as the ‘common’ Italian names.

Who can resist a lettuce called "Marvel of the 4 Seasons'?

Who can resist a lettuce called “Marvel of the 4 Seasons’?

When you've bought everything you need, then there's the challenge of getting it home.

The market has just about everything you need.  The challenge is getting it all home.

The market in Siena may be one of Tuscany’s biggest, but my favourite is the Saturday morning market in the village of Greve-in-Chianti.

Piazza Matteotti. There are no cars on Saturday mornings when the weekly market takes over the piazza.

Piazza Matteotti.

Piazza Matteotti is such a lovely piazza.  All those graceful arcades and creamy façades.  Too bad they let cars park here most of the time.  There is a huge parking lot only a five-minute walk away where everybody has to park anyway on market day.


The first time I went to Greve’s market was in the fall – although you’d never know it by all that sunshine and the light clothing the locals were wearing.

The fruttivendolo (fru-tee-venn-dough-low) is one of the busiest stalls.

The fruttivendolo (fru-tee-venn-dough-low) is one of the busiest stalls.

The chrysanthemums are a dead give-away that it's fall.

The chrysanthemums are a dead give-away that it’s fall.

“Dead give-away” is really a dreadful play on words, but only if you know that the chrysanthemum is the #1 choice of flower to take to cemeteries and that the #1 day for going to the cemetery is la Festa dei Morti (Celebration/Holiday of the Dead – how do you translate these things?) at the beginning of November, when almost all of Italy heads to cemeteries to pay their respects to departed loved ones, bringing with them, as gifts for the dead … chrysanthemums.

Beyond the mums, cyclamen and my favourite blue flower - plumbago.

Beyond the mums is a huge selection of cyclamen and my favourite blue flower – plumbago.
3 euros. It’s enough to make a Canadian gardener cry.

Heading home with le spese (spay-zay).

Heading home with le spese (spay-zay).

I wondered if the market would be much different in May a few years later.


When I got up Saturday morning I was almost afraid to look out the window.  It had poured rain the last couple of days.  I was never so happy to see a sunrise.

By the time I got to Greve the market was in full swing and the fruit stall as busy as before.

By the time I got to Greve the market was in full swing and the fruit stall as busy as before.


In spite of the weather, stalls selling everything from clothes to kitchen gadgets filled the piazza.

Travelling Nursery

No matter how many of these ‘Travelling Nurseries’ I see, they still delight me.

Pondering lettuces for the winter orto (vegetable garden)

Pondering lettuces for the orto (vegetable garden)

Quale? (qwah-lay) - which one?   I'd go for the plumbago but...

Quale? (qwah-lay) – which one?
I hope the ash from that cigarette doesn’t land on one of those flowers.  I’d go for the plumbago, but…

... looks like she's going to take the

… looks like she’s going for the portulaca.   Bright colours seem to be her style.