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  • Writer's pictureMary Gray

A Brief History of Mercato Centrale in Florence

What is Mercato Centrale?

Mercato Centrale is Florence’s most famous market, designed in 1874 by Giuseppe Mengoni, in one of its liveliest districts, San Lorenzo.

Mercato Centrale

Rufus46, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mercato Centrale History

The name Mercato Centrale (which translates to ‘Central Market’) tends to trip up first-timers in Florence. Though the entire San Lorenzo district is buzzing with commercial activity, the traders, hagglers, and bargaining souvenir-hawkers you’ll find on the streets aren’t technically part of the Mercato Centrale; they comprise, more broadly, the Mercato di San Lorenzo. The busy pavilion at the district’s heart, however, is what we’re talking about here.

On the ground floor, you’ll find boisterous butchers and fishmongers and the requisite mix of quibbling regulars and curious visitors in the queues before each trader. There are extensive fruit and vegetable stands and a multitude of speciality shops offering meat, extra-virgin olive oil from around the region, cheeses, condiments, and other pantry staples that Florentines and Tuscans will routinely stock their kitchens with – though it’s true that premium prices are charged for them in this location. And the Mercato Centrale has unbent a bit over the years in order to cater to tourists – you’ll find souvenir Italy-shaped limoncello bottles alongside more specifically local produce.

One thing that remains stubbornly untainted by visitors’ tastes is the famed lampredotto sandwiches, which you’ll find served up in various snack kiosks on both the ground and first floors. The main ingredient of this dish is boiled abomasum – that’s the fourth stomach of a cow, basically. A staple of Florentine street food, it’s cooked with tomato, celery, onion and parsley and then served on a crisp panino accompanied by salsa verde. You might say it’s an acquired taste… or not, but if you’ve come all this way, well, a lampredotto is pretty much the one thing you can’t try elsewhere, and there are few better places to order it than in this bustling market hall!

Head up to the first floor for a slightly less rough and ready experience. This area of the market was closed for many years until, after a major revamp, it opened in 2014 as a kind of gourmet food court with themed events, famed chefs and tasting stations (spin-off locations have since opened in Rome and Turin). More refined than their downstairs counterparts, the food stands here offer specialities from all over Italy: you’ll find Neapolitan pizza, Sicilian arancini, fresh handmade pasta and deep-fried guilty pleasures.

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