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Piazza della Repubblica, commonly known as Porta Palazzo (or Porta Pila in Piedmontese dialect), is located in the Aurora district. With an impressive extension of over 51,000 square meters, it is Turin’s largest square and hosts Europe’s largest open-air market.

The name of Porta Palazzo

Porta Palazzo derives its name from the ancient Roman gate that served as the northwestern entrance to the city. The Porta Palatina, considered one of the best-preserved Roman gates globally, remains a testament to its historical significance. The reference to Palazzo likely relates to the nearby Casa del Senato, a medieval building behind Piazza 4 Marzo.

Porta Palazzo
Market of Porta Palazzo

Over time, the southern part of the square has remained well-connected to the cathedral (Duomo) and Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace), leading to its continued common designation. The northern side primarily encompasses the Borgo Dora neighborhood, extending toward the Mosca Bridge and the former Porta Milano railway station.

Corso Regina Margherita bisects the square, and historical records suggest therapeutic springs dedicated to Saint Barbara and Saint Massimo once existed in this area. In fact, until 1926, the thoroughfare was known as the “Viale di Santa Barbara e San Massimo”.

Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica originated from Vittorio Amedeo II’s desire to renew the northern area of the city. In 1701, he entrusted the project to Filippo Juvarra. The plan included a tree-lined square surrounded by Baroque buildings with porticoes and other avenues built on the demolished walls. Juvarra created an opening on today’s Via Milano to connect it with what is now Corso Giulio Cesare. Similarly, the entire Quadrilatero Romano area was redeveloped with new buildings.

Porta Palazzo
The market of Porta Palazzo in 1935

Initially intended as a military square, it was later named Piazza della Vittoria in memory of the Battle of Saint Quentin, won by Emanuele Filiberto in 1557. The current octagonal shape was defined in 1830, with the creation of porticoed palaces connecting Piazza della Repubblica and Via Milano.

Starting in 1837, it was renamed Piazza Emanuele Filiberto and took on a commercial character. The spacious area ensured better hygiene and soon attracted markets from the nearby Piazza delle Erbe (now Piazza Palazzo di Città) and Piazza del Corpus Domini.

In this zone, the Arsenale Sabaudo and the Maglio were established, along with the first factories in Borgo Dora.

The final modification occurred in 1946 when it was renamed Piazza della Repubblica in honor of the newly formed Italian Republic, while the adjacent square in the Quadrilatero Romano retained the name Emanuele Filiberto.

Porta Palazzo and immigration

Starting in the 1960s, Porta Palazzo became a reference point for many Italian immigrants arriving in Turin in search of work. On Sundays, it was a place where laborers for construction were sought, and also where impromptu street performances could be enjoyed. Among these, the “King of Porta Palazzo” stood out.

The unique social context, the immense market, and the associated urban and social challenges encouraged the presence of volunteer associations and social initiatives, including the establishment of SERMIG and similar organizations.

The market of Porta Palazzo

In the 1980s, Italian immigration from southern Italy was completely replaced by people of African and Asian origin. In other words, Piazza della Repubblica transformed rapidly. Perhaps this is one reason why the title of “Queen of Porta Palazzo” is no longer bestowed.

Finally, since 1996, the entire Porta Palazzo area has undergone a redevelopment project, resulting in improved roads and the restoration of some Juvarrian buildings. Notably, in March 2006, the lighting of the Paralympic Flame took place here.

The clock

The Clock Canopy. This structure was built in 1916 under the name Pavilion IV. We are in the midst of World War I, and all steel mills are serving the war effort, except for one. A small steel mill works exclusively on the construction of Pavilion IV. Later, during the 1996 redevelopment, the pavilion was renamed with its current designation. Inside, there is a market solely for food products, featuring 88 numbered stalls. Outside, an adjacent area hosts artisans and farmers selling their goods, often of dubious origin, earning it the nickname mercà dij busiard (the market of liars).

The clock of Porta Palazzo

As we pass from stall to stall, amidst stacks of fabric, the cheerful flutter of ribbons and lace hanging from the beams, we encounter the pungent smell of textiles, occasionally replaced by the aroma of flowers. Moving on, we explore trinkets, pottery, and glassware. But the true highlight of Porta Palazzo lies in its gastronomy.

Guido Gozzano

The Porta Palazzo market

Pavilions II and V. These two pavilions were constructed in 1836 for the sale of food products. The first, with 18 stalls, is dedicated to the fish market. Around these pavilions, on the streets, over 700 stalls are set up daily, selling everything from groceries to clothing, household items, tools, and flowers. In recent years, while Italian merchants still survive, most of the stalls are managed by Asians or Africans.

Porta Palazzo
The fish market of Porta Palazzo

Galleria Umberto I. Located in the southern part of the square, the Galleria Umberto I stands where the Palazzo dei Cavalieri once was. It housed the Mauriziano Hospital from 1575 until 1884. A few years later, utilizing the corridors of the old hospital, a cross-shaped commercial gallery was created, dedicated to the new sovereign, Umberto I. Inside the gallery, you’ll find the ancient Mauriziano Pharmacy from 1575.

The Umberto I gallery

Emporion. In 2006, Emporion—the European Association of Markets—was founded in Barcelona. Porta Palazzo is one of the founding members, along with Kozponti Vasarcsamok in Budapest, Borough Market in London, and La Boqueria in Barcelona. The association aims to foster cultural exchange, opinions, and social integration, with the intention of expanding its network to other significant international markets.

The Balon

Porta Palazzo – The Balon

A special mention goes to the Balon (which means ‘balloon’ in Piedmontese). Located in the northern part of the square, in the Aurora district, this historic flea market in Turin has been a destination for enthusiasts and collectors since the 18th century. Originally known as the ‘Market of Iron Junk,’ it still retains its charm today. The name might have medieval origins: this area was referred to as ‘burgum ad pillonos,’ which could be a distorted version leading to ‘Borgo del Pallone’ (Balloon Village). However, French documents from the siege of Turin in 1706 indicate the zone as Faubourg de Balon.