Under the Hall
The centuries-old tradition and history of commercial Padua through its ancient stores
What it is and where it is
In Padua there is a little touristy but magical place, off the Giottesque or spiritual routes, a place where the true Paduan identity is grasped. It is the path that winds among dozens of little stores and boutiques Sotto il Salone, that is, in the long covered corridors that have welcomed the city's commercial life for 800 years. The Sotto il Salone area is located under Palazzo della Ragione, the imposing building that has served as the city's civil court since the 13th century, now a destination for tourists from all over the world and a venue for exhibitions and displays.
Why it is special
Under the Hall is the oldest covered market in Europe. Here even today, among the butcher shops, fishmongers, wine shops, dairies, and bakeries, you can find the typical products of Paduan cuisine, from boiled meats to fish, from sweets to cheeses, from cold cuts to wines. Here you can taste at spritz hour the traditional dishes of Veneto gastronomy, sipping "a shade" of local wine. The stores are historic and characteristic: some stand on ancient Roman ruins, others incorporate 14th-century columns, and still others preserve coats of arms and walls from the 13th century.
Not to be missed
Sotto il Salone is well worth a visit on Saturday mornings, when the 50 or so stores are swarming with people and Paduans are looking for the best horse meat or freshest eel for Sunday lunch, and the bars are getting ready for aperitifs of prosecco and hot sandwiches with cod. You catch the beating heart of Padua, with the ancient flavors and authentic scents of the city.
A bit of history
The Sotto il Salone stores have occupied the ground floor of the 13th-century Palazzo della Ragione, built as the seat of administrative justice, for 800 years. Inside, on the second floor, is the immense hanging hall with its wooden hull roof and frescoed walls (217 linear meters of frescoes) depicting the months, zodiac signs and planets. Before the 1420 fire that devastated the roof of the palace, the ceiling was frescoed by Giotto and his collaborators with a pictorial cycle depicting the stars and planets. Unfortunately, nothing remains of all this. The Under the Hall covered market has operated continuously for 800 years. The type of goods sold has changed over time: in communal times, sellers of fine cloths, furs and scrapers of parchment were found there.
For those who want to, every Saturday afternoon, except during low season, there is the Padua Slow Tour, specific tours in the company of city tour guides. In addition, Under the Hall, along the central corridor, there is a staircase that descends into the basement of Palazzo della Ragione. Here is an archaeological area of ancient Patavium, the Roman Padua.