The Mercato Centrale in Florence is situated in the San Lorenzo district of Florence, an easy walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station, and a pulsating shopping hub. The surrounding outdoor area is so covered with stalls selling handbags, belts and souvenirs that you could almost be forgiven for walking past the indoor market building, constructed in 1874. The ground floor is similar to many other big markets around the world - vibrant, busy, and mainly selling incredible local produce to locals. It is only when you take the escalator to the first floor that you experience something completely different.
The primo piano was opened in Spring 2014, in an attempt to revitalize the market and indeed, the area of the city in which it stands. The idea is simple, but extremely effective: provide a modern space for eating and drinking with an eclectic range of indoor street food that is Tuscan in origin and sourced from the market downstairs, created by local artisan producers.
But hang on a minute! I hear you say, this is a blog about football, isn't it!? Well yes it is, but Fiorentina themselves have astutely become involved with the revamped market. At the heart of the first floor lies a Fiorentina Store, where not only can you buy merchandise, but also tickets for forthcoming games. Two small screens above the facade of the store show highlights of Fiorentina games on a loop which people can view whilst tucking into their lunch. The atmosphere when the Viola are playing away must be something to behold as fans can drink in the bar (open until midnight) whilst watching the game live on a big screen. The partnership between Fiorentina and the revamped market also comes into play on social media, with the market actively promoting the games by using #mercatoviola; but most importantly, Fiorentina reap the benefits of their physical presence in the building, where "foodies" and other tourists from around the world can become aware of the purple team that represents Florence.
In a city synonymous with history, Mercato Centrale provides the ultimate modern meeting place. The experience in the market is ultimately a social one - where else could you turn up in a group and all choose something different to eat whilst still sitting together? And the clientele is as mixed as the choice of food: before the home game versus Sevilla, fans of both clubs could be seen enjoying a drink, a group of Italian businessmen were enjoying a lunch of oysters and prosecco and (perhaps strangest of all) an elderly man selling mozzarella from a trolley was stopping to pose for selfies with people of all nationalities!
Whether you plan to go and see Fiorentina next season, in five years or just someday, the Mercato Centrale is definitely worth adding to your list of 'must sees' in Florence.