The Rialto fish market is still a genuine place where the locals go shopping daily, except on Mondays when it is closed due to the fishing boat crews’ day off.
Located nearby the Rialto bridge, along the Grand Canal, and next to the fruit and vegetable market, it is a neo-gothic porticoed building with large ogival arches and an upper loggia, built in 1907 on a design by Domenico Rupolo and Cesare Laurenti.
Laurenti is also the artist responsible for the bronze statue of St Peter on the left corner, facing the Grand Canal, while the wrought-iron decoration is the work of Umberto Bellotto.
While visiting the Rialto Fish Market, have a look at the capitals of the columns: the central one has four carved heads and indicates the year when the first building was completed (1905).
On one of the side columns, vessels with big baskets are carved: they were called vieri and were used to keep the catch in water. On the other capitals, you will glimpse more sea creatures, like lobsters, crabs, octopuses, scallops, and seahorses. The rooms behind wrought-iron gates used to house the market authority’s office. On one of the gates is the Latin maxim “Piscis primum a capite foetet”: the fish stinks from the head. What a properly located reminder for the officials who worked there! On the side overlooking the Grand Canal, is a plaque reporting the smallest fish length allowed for sale.
Although the building is quite recent, the location of the fish market has been the same since the 14th century. In 1514, the island of Rialto was devasted by a great fire: it was so cold that fire fighting was impossible because the wells and canals were frozen over, and the blaze burned for twenty-four hours. Among the projects for rebuilding the market, there was a plan for a rectangular complex surrounded by canals. As often in Venice, a more conservative design was chosen with most elements of the previous layout.
Fishmongers have been screaming the quality of their goods to their prospective customers for seven centuries, rain or shine. Today the scene hasn’t changed much. The sellers, even if engaged with a buyer, keep on shouting to invite passers-by to have a look at the freshness of their fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. What has actually changed is the number of stalls: while in 2008 there were eighteen, today it is half that number, and more are on sale. Residents, whose number is also decreasing (less than 53,000 while I am writing), are doing their best to support one of the activities that are a symbol of their city. #PescariaRialto is the hashtag through which locals and visitors are invited to shop at the market. If you want to buy the best fish in town lightheartedly, book a connection with a Prontopia local and get in-person help from a friendly local arriving there easily and for help understanding and interpreting your fresh fish purchases! You might even learn of a local Venetian recipe or two.