The Pulsing Heart of Palermo: The Historic Vucciria Market

Screenshot 2014-10-27 19.00.30What inspired Renato Guttuso, famous Sicilian artist, to dedicate a painting, in 1974, to the Vuccirìa market? The “Vuccirìa di Palermo” is the title of the painting that soon became one of his most famous works and an emblem of Sicily.

The Vuccirìa is one of the four most popular historic markets of Palermo together with Ballarò, ù Capo and Borgo Vecchio. These markets still maintain most of their original aspect although time and modernization have inevitably marked them. A visit to these markets fully immerses you in the spirit of the city and is a not-to-miss experience, far from the usual tourist attractions.

Located in the central area between Via Roma and Corso Vittorio Emanuele the buildings surrounding the marketplace show evidence of Second World War bombing. Unluckily the negligence of the local administration has done little to avoid the relentless deterioration of the area; this however doesn’t affect the people’s attachment to the place.

The term Vuccirìa derives from the French word boucherie, or butcher shop, dating back to the 13th century Angevin domination of Sicily and it denotes the origins. Thereafter the market became well-known for its fresh fish and fruit.

VTS_A_VUCCIRIAuccirìa also means noise, confusion, chaos and the term well describes the atmosphere that dwells along the streets of the market. It’s fascinating to hear vendors shouting out to sell their goods, trying to overwhelm each others’ voices. It seems a bit odd when these vendors speak to you directly with the best of their smiles inviting you to buy something. It makes you feel part of it all and this happens commonly in Sicily.

The fruits and vegetables, well arranged on the stands, are a burst of color. In every period of the year the market offers the freshest produce. Autumn is a generous season with the last of the summer fruits and vegetables – peaches, grapes, prickly pears, tomatoes and peppers, as well as early produce such as broccoli, pomegranates, persimmons and chestnuts. The market is also the best place to find spices and herbs, dried fruit and tomatoes and all those ingredients reflecting Sicilian culinary traditions. City dwellers, especially those living nearby, prefer going to the market daily to buy the goods necessary for the family meals.

TS_pesce_A_VUCCIRIAThe Vucciria is best known as a fish market. The typical white marble fish counters, called balate, display the catch of the day: tuna, swordfish, calamari and octopus, but also mussels, urchins and clams, for the joy of fish-lovers’ palate!

There’s an old Sicilian saying that refers to the fish counters that are continuously splashed with icy water to maintain the fish cool and fresh, it says: “I balati ra Vuccirìa ‘un s’asciucanu mai!” which means “the counters of the Vuccirìa market will never dry”. Consequently when people from Palermo refer to something that will never occur they say it will happen: “quanni i balati ra Vuccirìa s’asciucanu” (when the counters of the Vuccirìa will dry).

 

Maria Lina Bommarito
I was born in Chicago, in 1960. We returned to Sicily when I was 14 and this time it was to stay! I am married to a lawyer and we have two children that now live and work in Milan. I have a degree in Political Sciences/International Relations and an A.I.S. Sommelier diploma. My passion for what I can “the world of wine” is inevitable, living in Sicily. My wine experiences begin in the winery vineyards. I enjoy interviewing the winery agronomists and oenologists because I find it very interesting knowing all about wine and grapes and soils and vinification. My husband is also a pilot and I enjoy flying with him on a small plane enjoying the breath-taking views and taking photos. I also enjoy cooking and my favorite dishes are Sicilan. Sicily and its people are unique, there is so much to write about and I love to share my experiences with those who want to know more about this paradise. More about my bio here

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Some of my happiest memories of Palermo are those spent wandering the markets. I stayed virtually next to ù Capo in a small piazza at the southern end, which I totally enjoyed, but my favorite was the Ballarò. The sensuality of all of them was palpable…the variety, the color, the smells. Totally vibrant experiences!

    • Perfect, Gary! The street markets of Palermo say reams about the Sicilian mindset. I found the people to be kind and helpful. All I had to do was to try things their way, which wasn’t at all difficult.

  2. Much more exciting than museums!
    Another thing, I consider the market vendors experts in marketing for how they arrange and promote their mercandise. Does someone agree?.

    • My spouse and I are contemplating a trip to Sicily. Would appreciate your experiences. Thank You – David Supple-CT

      • David, when (what time of year) do you plan to travel to Sicily? How much time do you want to spend on the island and what do you think you’d like to see there?

        T.

  3. I agree that it is dying and will be all over without intervention in the area. I give it 5 years if neglected

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