On one recent morning I counted, nine kinds of tomatoes, five varieties of strawberries, four different zucchinis, eight different greens (not counting the herbal types), six miniature vegetables, and eight other things I had to ask about to find out what they were -- all this in one of about a dozen vegetable stands. In other Roman markets you find good fruit and veg, but it is dumped into boxes and bins. Here, long years of competition (the market's been here since 1869) have made for glorious displays: antique baskets (never for sale -- I've tried) hold carefully arranged frutta, verdura, melone -- pyramids of color, interlocking stacks of stems, herbs arrayed in straight, fresh rows, carefully culled berries, unblemished bananas uniformly colored and somehow uniformly curved. There are big bags of spices open to the air and adding to the delicious riot of smells. The refrigerated meat stalls have all the choicest cuts (admittedly, at the dearest prices), and the eyes staring up at you from the fish wagons are always clear and the gills are fresh red. One of Rome's best bread bakeries -- many say the best of all -- is at one corner of the square. Follow your nose to "il Forno".
I particularly like to stop and watch the little old man that uses a variety of amazing utensils (all cheap) to slice, spiral, dice, and curlicue vegetables while keeping up a constant sales patter in many languages ("seventeen of more", he told me), depending on the audience he attracts. Nobody else can really use those things, but he's an expert and is great fun to watch.
One of the best things about the Campo market is that the space is big enough to allow easy movement around the stalls. It can get crowded -- tourists sometimes arrive in groups of 50 or more -- but it's nowhere near as cramped as the smaller markets in other neighborhoods.
There's even enough space for sidewalk cafes and restaurants around the fringes. The bars, of course, open around 7 AM to serve the early buyers and sellers. And, if you hit the Campo late in the morning, some of them will be open for coffee and perhaps even for an early lunch. Lunch during the mid-afternoon cleanup of the Piazza is picturesque but not necessarily pleasant.
In the center of the square is the massive brooding, bronze statue of Giordano Bruno, raised by international subscription in 1887. On the ledges of the low platform below its base you can usually find a few brooding, bronzed foreign teenagers who look like they've spent the night there after running out of money -- often there is one with a guitar and several with backpacks, really looking tired and depleted. Perhaps they've been wandering, never aging, since the '60s?
The Campo dei Fiori has been attracting their ilk for at least 600 years, however, and documented penniless arrivistes who haunted the Piazza included Caravaggio, Benvenuto Cellini, and Enrico Fermi. Other great artists of the renaissance and later also came to the Campo for refreshment and adventure, and, after Pope Alexander VI Borgia died, his former mistress, Vanozza Catenei, the mother of four of his children including Cesare and Lucretia Borgia, bought a big hotel on the Piazza and settled into quiet respectability. There are still many hotels in the area. Kings, queens, princes, princesses, the nobility, popes and prelates, and us commoners all came and still come to the Campo dei Fiori market to see what's happening.
The Piazza has, of course, a whole different life at night. It's cleansed of market debris by late afternoon and at about 10 PM the serious restaurant crowd just starts to arrive. On summer nights, expect to see half a thousand diners and strollers at midnight -- but thatâs a whole other story.
So who was bronze, brooding Giordano Bruno? Before the market moved from Piazza Navonna, what was happening in Campo dei Fiori was often an execution. There is no accurate count of how many were hanged and burnt at the stake in the square, but it was second in popularity as a place of public and ignominious death only to the Foro Boario. Common criminals were most often killed in the Foro Boario and heretics in the Campo dei Fiori. The most famous victim of the Roman Inquisition was Giordano Bruno, executed for heresy at the site where his statue now stands.
Bruno is famous in our times because he has been co-opted post-mortem by various political and social movements, all of whom claim to be his intellectual successors. Bruno was certainly the most famous philosopher of his own time -- he taught at universities in Paris, London (where he frequented the court of Queen Elisabeth I and knew Shakespeare and Dee), Wittemberg, Marburg, Prague, Frankfurt, Zurich. Wherever he went, he was a libertarian and challenged academic, religious and civil authority -- he had the unenviable distinction of formally being excommunicated by the Catholics, the Calvinists, and the Lutherans, and he led the peripatetic life of an academic contrarian.
His disregard for academic and religious authority is what has endeared him to generations of freethinkers, revolutionaries, and anti-clericals until today, but they evidently either don't know or ignore Bruno's religious belief structure which was even more rigid than the Pope's. Bruno wanted everyone to believe in "Divine immanence", that there is an infinite uniform universe of stars, inhabited planets, structures, etc., with no real center (that is, neither geocentric nor heliocentric) and -- this is where he differs from some modern cosmologists -- that all of this is God. He publicly ridiculed Popes and churchmen as well as other philosophers and "natural scientists" and astronomers who would not accept his all-encompassing religious belief.
Unlike Galilleo a generation later, Bruno refused to recant in the face of the Inquisition's torch, and he was publicly burned on February 17, 1600. The Church still maintains, and on good evidence, that his execution had nothing to do with his espousal of a Copernican heliocentric solar system and everything to do with public religious unorthodoxy. This, of course, doesn't excuse his immolation by his formed co-religionists, but at least it explains what the Inquisition had in mind when it struck the match.
Campo dei Fiori -- not to be used in place of a visit!
Old and modern images: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/LeftBank/7798/Vasi/Vasi28.html, and
Photograph collection: http://wings1.buffalo.edu/AandL/Maecenas/rome/pza_campo/thumbnails_contents.html and
Info on the Piazza and neighborhood: http://www.aa.uidaho.edu/baron/campo.htm
Catholic Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03016a.htm
SETI -- Folly of G. Bruno: http://www.setileague.org/editor/brunoalt.htm
More Bruno links: http://www.pagesz.net/~stevek/intellect/bruno.html and