Porta Palazzo

Although many markets today are virtual, it is important to recognise the culture and tradition contained within long standing physical market places. Known as one of the biggest open air markets in Europe, Porta Palazzo is also one of Turin’s most popular tourist attractions. It contains a wide range of different stalls, exemplifying the bustle and atmosphere of routine commercial activity. It has historically been the centre for people’s livelihoods, their access to goods and services, and their social identity. The market serves multiple purposes:

  • Food distribution
  • Tourist attraction
  • Community resource

I’ve been coming to teach in Turin for many years, but only found out about Porta Palazzo when I read Rachel E. Black’s anthropological study. So on my visit in November 2023, I took a quick taxi ride from the ESCP campus to have a look around. The outdoor market meets the covered part at its entrance:

The inside section is a labyrinth with multiple vendors selling whatever meats, fish and bread you can imagine. Behind the counters some stalls have ladders leading up to their hidden storage areas, and vendors serve you from a height.

I was particularly impressed by the variety of animals and cuts of juicy meat!

There is a “new” section of the market, which is modern, quieter, and more civilised. But it’s familiar and a little boring.

Across the road there is the open air market, and at first I made my way through stalls selling household items.

I even found a Porta Palazzo truck!

The most colorful and lively area by far contains the fruit and vegetable stands. Here, vendors are at the same level as their customers, and there is much greater noise and discussion.

Here are some of the orange and clementine stalls:

Like many markets, the pace of activity changes throughout the course of the day. It tends to be busiest around meal times, and better deals are made just before it closes. Across Italy, people are most likely to visit markets on weekends, but they are usually closed on Sundays.

Notice how many shoppers – especially older ones – wheel a trolley bag with them. Some of the younger customers appeared to be buying in bulk for commercial purposes.

There are several reasons why markets such as this have an older demographic. It can often be a combination of factors such as:

  • Low prices
  • Habit
  • More free time
  • Social aspects
  • Convenience

I also noticed younger vendors on the periphery of the market, selling mint and other fresh herbs.

These tended to be immigrants, who are becoming an increasingly important source of custom for markets across Italy.

I’ll finish this photo essay with the words of Rachel Black:

Although it is easier to focus on the big picture of the market as an institution, the complexity, personalities, and passions of the people who participate make markets truly extraordinary places. Through the people and their daily interactions, the marketplace takes on life and meaning. The time I spent in markets taught me that these are not waning sites of tradition and history; they are dynamic places of lively sociability that resist homogenization and remain open to the general public.

Markets have always embraced globalization as a force that creates diversity and encourages social, economic, and cultural exchanges across borders and barriers, making them extremely timely institutions that have the potential to bring people together and help create community.

Black, 2012, p. 180-181

To learn more about Porta Palazzo:

  • Black, Rachel E., 2012, Porta Palazzo: The anthropology of an Italian market, University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Porta Palazzo market – Arrival guides