Porta Portese

by Alexandra

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Porta Portese is a famous (infamous?) flea market in Rome, open on Sunday mornings. I put off going for ages, because I was under the impression that you had to be there at the crack of dawn, which isn’t true. All the stalls are still there late morning, so you can have a lie-in and still spend plenty of time exploring the market.

I go to Porta Portese once every couple of months, but I often come away empty-handed. I can remember everything I’ve ever bought there, and it doesn’t amount to much – a suitcase, a packet of couscous, some silk scarves, a bedspread, a cactus, a Renato Zero record, a framed black and white photo of Venice, and a 10 euro motorbike helmet (my parents persuaded me to upgrade to 90 euro helmet).

The problem with Porta Portese is that it’s so massive, I get overwhelmed and can’t decide what to buy. The other problem is that so much of the stuff being sold at Porta Portese is complete crap, so after a while, everything starts to look like crap. It only takes twenty minutes of browsing for my sense of judgement to disappear, and I can no longer distinguish between good quality products and absolute rubbish. Some of the stalls look particularly suspicious, and a lot of stolen goods end up at the market. The protagonist of The Bicycle Thieves goes to Porta Portese in the hope of finding his stolen bicycle, and it’s probably the first place where most Romans would look.

There are only three things in the market that I would confidently label “not crap”. A stall that only sells cacti, a stall called Il Mezzaro that sells lovely Indian textiles, and a busker called Trashman Blues – a talented one-man band.

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What else will you find at Porta Portese? There’s always an interesting mix of people – nuns, tourists, pickpockets – and it seems as though you can buy almost anything. Antique furniture, paintings of the Virgin Mary, fur coats, power tools, vinyl, comics, light bulbs, GameBoy games, chandeliers, shells, gas masks, stuffed animals, saddles, 1 perfume, underwear, videos, incense, blow-up dolls, terrible paintings (really terrible paintings)…

Here are some pictures to illustrate the variety of Porta Portese. The t-shirt in the first photo reads “Sample Text: place your text place your text place your text place your text”. But hey, it’s only 1.50…

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I always think of Porta Portese as an interesting cultural experience, rather than an opportunity to do some proper shopping. It’s a fun way to spend a Sunday morning – just hold on tightly to your bag…

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