There’s a place in Padua where politics, art and food lived side by side for centuries. Between the two main piazze, piazza della Frutta and piazza delle Erbe, there’s in fact the ancient Palace of Justice of the city. But looks (and names) can be deceiving, cause this is not a regular, boring courthouse like many others. One the one hand it is full of peculiar corners, on the other hand is still nowadays full of life, people and… food, food everywhere! 😀 I recently found out a new, pleasant reason to go there more often when it’s lunch time and I have blog tasks in the surrounding area: a new covered market stall where to taste a delicious, soft and unique focaccia, Violante’s Deli.
I met Violante’s Deli owner Elisa on the occasion of an event at her market stall and I immediately felt at ease with her. Other than a beautiful girl (my photos don’t do her justice), she is very lively and funny. We immediately thought about a collaboration and came up with the idea of revealing the many secrets and quirks of the building hosting her lovely shop. And here we are.
Palazzo della Ragione, literally Palace of Reason, is one of my favourite places in town, and you’ll soon understand why.
Core of the city, symbol of the medieval past and one of the most beautiful landmarks you bump into when you reach the historical center of Padua, Palazzo della Ragione and the surrounding area are full of grace. And all padovani, Padua citizen, love it dearly and go there, for one reason or another, almost every day.
A courthouse with a market
Other than the former, ancient, Hall of Justice, active until 1700s (then moved elsewhere), it is the seat of the covered market. Both the palace and the covered market date back to 1200s. Isn’t it impressive? So, once, while upstairs there was a process going on, downstairs greengrocers where selling their best fruits and veggies to the customers, fishmongers were showing the freshness of their sardines and smells and perfumes of fish, cheese, bread, fruits and wine filled the bystanders nostrils.
Quite in the same way as nowadays! Yes, because, although the courthouse has been moved, the market still remains, for the joy of citizens and tourists, who love to mingle in the crowd and explore its many stands.
The secrets of Palazzo della Ragione (interior)
- Its upstairs hall is the largest in Europe without columns. Probably for the impressive size of the hall, Padua citizens call the entire palace simply “Il Salone” [eel sah -LOH -neh], i.e. The big hall.
- Consequently, the covered market, located right under the Salone, is called “Sotto (il) Salone”, under the big Hall.
- The frescoes adorning the Salone walls are one of the largest and most rare medieval astrological cycles survived to this day. The ideator of the cycle was a friend of Marco Polo, one of the most erudite persons of his times, three times charged with heresy by the Inquisition by the Inquisition: Pietro d’Abano. The first decoration was by Giotto, but it went sadly lost during a fire.
- On a side of the hall you can admire a huge (6 metres high) wooden horse. It was once part of a Medieval joust paraded through the city center. On the opposite corner there’s the Pietra del Vituperio (Insult Stone): debtors had to undress in front of a public and sit there 3 times in a row pronouncing “Cedo bonis” (I give up the goods), before being expelled from Padua. In Padua a related idiom still survives: “restare in braghe di tela” (to remain in short pants, meaning being broke) derives precisely from this custom. This punishment replaced imprisonment. And it was suggested by Saint Anthony.
The secrets around and about… and under the Salone! (exterior and… more)
- Built starting by 1218 (800 years ago exactly this year), its roof has the form of an inverted ship hull (added in the 1300s). A tornado took off the roof (then replaced) in 1700s.
- After a restoration, people can now visit the dungeons of the Palazzo to admire the Medieval and Roman remains. Visits (fee €6) take place on Tuesday, Thursday (4pm – 6pm) and Saturday (10am-12pm, 4pm – 6pm). But remember to book in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone call at 333 6799660.
- The access staircase is called Iron staircase, la Scala dei Ferri. There are other three staircases, but they’re now closed to the public. Their names (Wine, Herbs and Birds) refer to the good sold once at the closest corner of the city market.
- Descending the access staircase, turn left. You are now under the Volto della Corda, the Rope Vault. All traders who were surprised cheating were tied by their wrists, lifted up to 3 meters high and then dropped.
- Just past the Volto della corda, notice on the facade of the palazzo some carvings. They are units of measurement (for flour, grains, bricks and fabrics), used to have a point of reference, necessary to avoid quarrels and unmask liers during negotiations. This corner is therefore still called “Canton delle Busie” (Corner of lies).
- From here, walk under the arcades and along the market stands, in order to reach the corner of the Palace. Here, stop and notice the peculiar capitol without column. Rumor has it that it was omitted on purpose as an excuse to declare war to Vicenza, guilty of stealing it.
- Turn left again, keep walking along the Palazzo and enter the second door on the left. That’s where you’ll find another secret of this amazing place: Violante’s Deli.
A gourmet secret inside the Salone: Violante’s Deli stall
Violante’s Deli is a new Italian street food venue in Padua, located at the number 19 stall of the Sotto Il Salone, the covered market between piazza delle Erbe and piazza della Frutta. Precisely, on the side along via Squarcione. (See the map below the post). Being part of a covered market, it is halfway between a stall and a shop, actually.
Here you can find a new, revisited, enlightened version of the famous Focaccia Genovese. The one here served is steam cooked, round shaped and extremely fluffy. More than a focaccia, a “cloud”. Iyt is in fact nicknamed Nuvola, Cloud, precisely for its lightness and softness, combines perfectly both with savoury and with sweet ingredients.
The Nuvola comes in three sizes: small, medium and large. You can choose your favourite from a menu or invent your own focaccia. Also, you can choose some different, small size Nuvole, just to try out various combinations.
The choice of the ingredients is accurate and aims to present only high quality products: prosciutto crudo di Parma, porchetta trevisana, fresh mozzarella di bufala, parmigiano stagionato, cocoa and hazelnuts cream, figs jam and mascarpone and so on.
The first time I had one with pancetta (similar to bacon but thinner) and avocado and it was delish. The second time I picked up a take away focaccia with burrata, pistachios pesto, mint and cherry tomatoes. Divine. I ate it at home, since I had many articles to write and little time to eat.
So yes, you can eat it there or take it away to your home, your office or… just eat it out in the close piazza. Last time I chose a focaccia with ham, mozzarella and salad (with two lovely edible violets).
I ate it sitting on the staircase in Piazza dei Signori, which is 2 minutes away.
Who is Violante?
Violante is Elisa’s daughter. Before putting her heart and soul in this food related activity, Elisa used to work as a graphic designer. That’s why signs, menus, fliers and chalkboards displaying her products are so beautiful. After the birth of her daughter, Violante, Elisa moved to Padua and started this new business.
The Salone choice
She opted for this location, the Salone, to pay tribute to Padua’s market long tradition. It is also a strategic location in the core of the historical centre, perfect for a yummy pause at lunch, merenda, aperitivo or evening bite.
I warmly suggest you to take your time to visit the Hall with the frescoes, explore all the details of the Palazzo that I listed in this article and then stop at Violante’s Deli to grab a bite before continuing with your visit of Padua.
Opening hours: Closed on Monday. Tuesday to Thursday: 11am to 9pm
Friday: 11am to 10pm, Saturday: 10am to 10pm, Sunday: 11am to 2pm
Sotto il Salone – Stall number 19
Piazza delle Erbe/via Squarcione – Padova