Alongside the sweeping curve of the Grand Canal just north of the Ponte Rialto, separated from the bedlam of the Ruga Degli Oresi tourist shops by the Banco Giro building and Chiesa San Giacomo di Rialto, the ERBARIA is a quiet oasis for calm contemplation of the historic core and the flow of life in Venezia.
Virtually this entire neighborhood of Venice — the heart of the City — burned in the great Rialto Fire of 1514, except for lead-roofed San Giacomo, considered to be the oldest church in Venice.
The reconstruction of the area re-established and “modernized” its hold on banking, commerce, key functions of the City and the Republic, and on the Rialto Markets, the central food markets of Venice. Architect Jacopo Sansovino designed the Fabbriche Nuove di Rialto building in 1553 parallel an earlier fabbriche built soon after the fire, among the rows of replacement buildings on either side of Ruga Degli Oresi and out to the Canale. The designs placed professional, business and governmental offices over retail space adjoining the market squares that segregated the types of foodstuffs for quality and tariff control (and a boon to wholesalers or shoppers), and now host many bacari on the Ground Floor.
After import and tariff control functions were separated between Mare (seaborne) and Terra Firma shipments, this area kept the “mainland trade” control functions. The new complex of buildings and campi provided organized, contemporary spaces suitable to help fulfill the mission.
The Erberia was the greengrocer market – fruit and vegetables – now mostly contained within the Campo San Giocomo to the west, squeezed by the souvenir vendors. Around the corner, the Naranzeria focused attention on citrus sellers, while to the northwest, one soon enters the sprawling Pescaria, the famous fish market.
At the south end of the Erberia, the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi (Chamberlains, Treasury of the Republic) designed by Bergamasco in the early 16th-Century, shares the narrow side of its irregular polygon, its canal front on Fondamente delle Prigioni, a name that reminds one of the courts and jail within it.
Today, although the Erberia no longer houses the produce market function, in exchange, this pleasantly urbane space is open to cafes and bacari seating for at least three establishments (in clement conditions – acqua alta can wash the whole Erberia). It may be the most completely and authentically Renaissance public space in the City.
The nearby Rialto Bridge with its lines of gawking tourists is virtually invisible behind the Camerlenghi, so views across the Grand Canal to the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the Al’Ponte Antico hotel (a hidden gem!) and coterie of palazzi are allowed to be the stars in a wonderful backdrop to the busy water traffic, unblocked by any vaporetto stop and only punctuated by the few gondole that are based there.
We have greatly enjoyed a number of sojourns in the Erberia over the years, always at a pleasant table, savoring a light repast and ombra or a refreshing spritz while engaged in priceless, pleasant conversation in the afternoon sun.
We have yet to try all of the establishments lined up under the Sottoportego dell’Erbaria, accessed from the Naranzeria or through their “inland” entrances off of the Campo San Giacomo. We tend to return to what has comforted us with quality food, beverages and gracious hospitality in the past, but the temptation of such gentle adventure will not long be withstood!
Perhaps we will see you there, engaged in a little mandatory dolce far niente outside the bacaro next door. Then, we can raise our glasses to each other in salute…