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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of Mercato del Porcellino in Florence

What is Mercato del Porcellino?

Mercato del Porcellino is a market founded in the 11th century that’s named after a famous bronze statue.

Mercato del Porcellino

Mercato del Porcellino History

This historic central market, also known as the New Market, to distinguish it from the ancient Old Market no longer in existence, has a couple of interesting oddities. The first derives from its name. Mercato del Porcellino translates to ‘Market of the Little Pig’ due to its close proximity to the bronze fountain of the piglet in question, one of the most popular monuments in Florence (which you’ll find on the south side of the market). In fact, the fountain depicts a wild boar rather than a piglet and is a copy of the ancient Roman marble original dating from the 2nd to the 1st century BC, that’s now on display in the Uffizi Gallery. The fountain sits on a bronze base ornamented with amphibians and small animals typical of the woods and marshy areas a boar would frequent. There are numerous other copies of it around the world, including the UK, United States, Australia, Canada, and Japan.

An ancient tradition that remains very popular today has evolved around the statue: it was believed that stroking the snout of the boar and placing a coin in its mouth while making a secret request could bring good luck. If the coin was ejected by the force of the flowing water and slipped through the grate over the drain below, the request would be granted. The slope of the grate is such that most coins do fall through, and these are regularly collected by the city and given to charity. Due to the tradition – noted by Scottish literary traveller Tobias Smollett in the 1760s – the snout of the statue has a notable sheen compared to the rest of the body, because of continuous rubbing by optimistic visitors.

The original fountain was commissioned by Cosimo II de’ Medici to provide the workers of the market with a continuous supply of water. It was cast in the 1620s by renowned Tuscan sculptor and Baroque master Pietro Tacca. However, the original was replaced in 2008 by a modern copy. Tacca’s bronze is now located at the Museo Stefano Bardini in Florence’s Palazzo Mozzi.

The other peculiarity of the market is the pietra dello scandalo (or ‘stone of shame’), a disc marked in bicoloured marble at the centre of the loggia, which cannot be seen when market stalls are present. During the Renaissance, debtors would be chained to a post by this stone, forced to remove their underwear and then abase themselves on the ground, as a humiliating punishment. A colourful Florentine expression arose from this: stare col culo per terra (literally, ‘to stand with your arse on the ground’) – which means ‘to be broke’.

The round stone has further historic significance. It represents a wheel from the traditional ox-drawn cart, the carroccio, which was the symbol of the Florentine Republic. It was here that Florentine troops would gather before combat. The market originally sold silk and precious objects, but today it offers leather goods, souvenirs, and T-shirts.

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