Rialto was settled in the ninth century and it was the financial and commercial centre of Venice. A bridge of boats called "the bridge of the Coin” was built in 1181, later replaced by a wooden drawbridge and finally, at the end of the sixteenth century, the current Rialto Bridge was built. Rialto was an international exchange square, the hub between East and West, where they sold fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, but also valuable products like spices coming from the East, metals, precious stones, perfumes, balms, silks and fabrics.
Rialto market is still divided into the areas of “Erbaria", “Naranzeria", “Beccaria”,”Casaria", “Pescaria", "Ruga of Oresi", "Ruga of Spezieri” - respectively where they used to sell vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, fish, and jewels, and finally the expensive spices from the East. At the sides of the bridge you can find the "Riva del Carbon”, "Riva del Ferro" and "Riva del Vin”, where they used to sell metals, coal and wine.
Since Venice was founded on the water, it seems almost unnecessary to point out the importance of fishing. During the times of the Serenissima there was already an environmental policy in place to preserve fish stocks, and the more experienced fishermen used to participate in the Council sessions to discuss the problems of the lagoon.
At that time there were two large fish markets, the first one was in Rialto’s current location, and the second one near the palazzo of Zecca in San Marco. There was a special magistrate who used to control the freshness of the fish and their size. (The edict of 1173 established the minimum lenght of a fish before it could be sold for retail. Today at the fish market in Rialto there is still a white marble board that indicates the minimum length allowed for the fish to be sold).
The art of fishing was divided between fishermen and fishmongers; fishermen used to wholesale at the Rialto Palo and the fishmongers used to select the fish and sell it at the two markets.
Rialto Market is still the historical heart of Venice; it is where Venetians and restaurateurs go to for their food shopping. Here you can find some of the best local ingredients which are essential to prepare the many typical Venetian dishes.
Our top tips for those who visit this magical place:
- Buy local produce! We recommend to buy fruits and vegetables from Santin, the Moro brothers or Boscolo, and the fish from Zane.
- Go early in the morning, it is less crowded and you will meet Venetians and restaurateurs.
- Stop by “all’Arco" to taste the many traditional Venetian cicchetti, and drink a glass of wine at Marcà.
- For spices and wine go to Mascari
- To have a real Venetian experience of a gondola ride, take the “traghetto” gondola from the market to Strada Nova, crossing the Grand Canal.