Once a week in the city of Turin, 100,000 visitors descend on Porta Palazzo, Europe’s largest open-air market. For over 150 years, this sprawling market has offered a cornucopia of footwear, clothes, house wares, toys and food from across Italy and around the world. With over one thousand merchants and 700 street vendors, Porta Palazzo is a commercial hub whose opportunities have always attracted newcomers to the city.
Unique to Porta Palazzo is the Balon flea market and its mix of registered, formal and informal vendors. Since 1935 irregular migrants have had the right to ‘exchange’ goods on the market by a special city statute. In the heart of the Balon, a hot air balloon rises 150 meters high every day, giving its passengers a breathtaking view over the city of the Savoy. The attraction was inaugurated in 2012, as a tribute to one of the possible etymologies of the market’s name, according to which ‘balon’ refers to an air balloon that took off from this neighborhood in the 18th century.
Although there is no historical evidence of that episode, the balloon has now become a symbol of this open-air emporium, the largest in Europe, which has been bustling with activity since the second half of the 19th century. To this day, once a week the Balon attracts a crowd of browsers, collectors, and tourists who walk around the most diverse objects.
And once a month, the surrounding streets are packed with antique dealers’ shops, which display the best they have to offer for the Gran Balon, making a visit to this noisy and inspiring market even more interesting.