Palermo, the market places – by Raffaella Saba

There are three historical market places in Palermo: Capo, Ballaro’ and Vucciria.

I didn’t put the names in order of importance, but it’s just my personal preference. All three of them are worth to be visited, first of all because they can all be seen in about three hours walk, then because they have their own peculiarities that one cannot be preferred to the other. They do have one thing in common: the colors explosion of the vegetables counters, the fragrance of the fruits and the “abbanniate”, the merchant’s yells gushing over their products to attract customers….So much fun!

CAPO – Porta Carini is the entrance to CAPO market, which goes all way to Seracaldio quarter, the meaning of the word coming from the Arabic “sâri-al-qâdî (Kadi’s street, which means Magistrate’s street). The access to the market was called “caput Seralcadii” (top part of the Seracaldio) so it became CAPO to shorten the name and nowadays it indicates the market itself. The market place starts from Porta Carini and ends in Piazza Beati Paoli. Sant’Agostino’s branch point begins on the left and through via Bandiera you can reach Vucciria market. Here there are all kinds of products for sale, from luggage to chandeliers, from curtains to shoes.

BALLARO’ – Ballaro’ market goes from piazza Casa Professa to the Corso Tukory’s fortress, towards Porta Sant’Agata. The center of the market is located in Piazza del Carmine, where there the church of Carmine Maggiore is. The name of the market comes from the Arabic “suq-al-Balarî”, indicating the place where the farmers came from, “Balarâ”, which was a hamlet near Monreale. A different version about the origins of the name, exotic and fascinating, says the name comes from the sovereign’s title from the Indian region of Sind, Ap-Vallarja that is, because here is where the fine and expensive spices coming from Deccan were sold. And from the mangling of that name, there you have BALLARO’. This is one of the oldest and busiest ‘grascia’ markets; in other words, foodstuff!

VUCCIRIA – The heart of the market is in Piazza Caracciolo and it is located in the old Loggia neighborhood, between via Roma, La Cala, Il Cassaro and Piazza San Domenico. La Bucceria Grande, as people used to call it at one point, gets its name from the French word “boucherie”, butchery. Feasibly the first installation goes back to the Angevin age and most likely was originally a meat market. In 1783, for want of the Viceroy Domenico Caracciolo, the square was embellished with colonnades, later on walled-up, to host the merchants selling their goods. Beside the food market (which was the inspiration for one of Guttuso’s painting, now showcased at Palazzo Chiaramonte), Vucciria was also the headquarters for the “foreigner” merchants coming from different “countries”: here people from Genoa, Amalfi, Spain, Pisa and so on, practiced their everyday business. Hence, it was a very important market place. Some think the name comes from chaos, in a positive meaning, typical of this place; in fact vuccirìa means confusion in the Palermo dialect.

Yes, the markets are striking but…because there is a but! How many times have I got ripped-off before I figured out with one was the more honest of all? Many times! And it was always my fault as I was always too eager in front of the colors of the fruits and my poor inclination for numbers, especially the one with zeroes. Interesting number the zero, isn’t it? Just one small episode: I find a sign with big characters that reads EURO 1.00 on a round, ripe and hard tomatoes case. I buy most of it for one euro, two at the most. I pay for it. I’m feeling happy but on the way home, I start thinking of how much money I’ve spent. I can’t do it. I need some paper and a pen. I have the suspicion I’ve paid too much money but I can’t figure out how. The first time I thought he might have put more fruit than I asked for, the second and third time I started to think he might have gypped me, the forth time…well, I’m going to ask him!

“Excuse, didn’t the tomatoes cost one euro? Why are you charging me two instead?”

“Because its 1.99 Euros!”

Well, it is what it is! That huge zero has an almost invisible extension in the lower right. It almost seems like a smear from an unsteady hand, but it’s actually intentional!

Now I have a trustworthy fruit seller, which is also my friend, who always asks me about my child and worries if she doesn’t see me at least twice a week. Do you think she also cheats me? Oh who cares, she calls me “sweetheart” and I’m just fine with it!.


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