It was 1775 when the Venetian procuratore Andrea Memmi drew up a very forward-looking plan to reclaim the land in the area of Prato della Valle and open it to sports and commercial activities. The result is often described as the second-largest public square in Europe. What is beyond doubt is that Prato della Valle is unrivalled for beauty and variety: 88,620 m2 of pure spectacle!
Since its creation, the square has had a range of different roles: as a public gathering place; as a sports venue (bowls, cycling and, more recently, speed skating, with a number of world records being broken on the fast circuit here); as a music venue and the site of popular firework displays (on 15 August and on New Year’s Eve). It has also come to occupy a far from unimportant place in the Saturdays of numerous Paduans, with a huge market that attracts all sorts of customers. And on the third Sunday of every month, the location is also used for a second-hand market that has things of interest for all kinds of specialist collectors.
Both the Saturday market and the second-hand market make the most of this fantastic setting. A visit here does not involve pushing and shoving to get what you want; it is a pleasant stroll – even if all you are looking for is a new pair of socks. And there are also little gems of dialect poetry as the stallholders try in every way they can to attract customers. Such blandishments work on one and all, regardless of class. Though the colourful mix of regional Italian and family dialect is becoming less and less common, one might still hear a “Signora bea, ecco il prodoto par ti!” [Dear Lady, here’s just the thing for you!].
Come evening, all the stalls are dismantled, and the square goes back to looking as it did before.