In Florence stands a Baroque fountain of a bronzed boar with a very shiny nose. With a bit of Italian irony, he is called il Porcellino—little pig. Visitors to the city pat Porcellino on the nose and drop a coin down his mouth hoping their wish will come true. Over time, they have shined the snout up nicely.
My first time seeing il Porcellino took a rather circuitous route. I had heard that rubbing the boar’s snout would bring luck…and maybe a return to Florence (which would be good luck indeed)! But I was unsure of its whereabouts, the only thing I knew was that it was near a market. Being our first visit, I went to the biggest market I could find (the wrong one it would turn out) and started looking.
A man hawking for customers outside a restaurant asked me what I was looking for. I explained.
“Maybe you would like to meet my little friend with the big nose,” he said, making a gesture with his hands showing a wide expanse. (The fact his hands were near his waist, made the exchange seem suggestive.)
I gave him a whithering look, pivoted on my heel, and started to stomp away. It was then I saw a wooden statue of Pinocchio outside the restaurant (they’re all over Florence) and realized the man was talking about another predominant proboscis.
I broke into laughter. The man looked at me knowingly. He had indeed meant the double entendre, but I didn’t find offense. He explained I needed Mercato Nuovo, not Mercato di San Lorenzo (where I was) and sent me off in the right direction.
I still didn’t find it. Dejected, I went back to the hotel.
That night Jon and I had dinner at a restaurant called Osteria del Porcellino. We heard what sounded like wooden carts rumbling across the flagstones. After dining, we decided to figure out what the ruckus was. We realized that vendors were taking down their stands from a loggia-covered market…Mercato Nuovo. With most of the carts gone, the lights glinted off the shiny snout of the pig. There, in all its porcine glory was il Porcellino.
A Brief History of the Boar Statue
One might wonder why a Florentine fountain is designed in the shape of one of these hairy beasts. Wild boars roam the Tuscan countryside menacing people driving along the road, rooting up gardens, causing problems for farmers, and even causing drug dealers grief. In 2019, wild boar reportedly sniffed out and destroyed a $20,000 hoard of cocaine. (November 13, 2019, The Local IT)
I’ve heard that wild boar are terrifyingly mean and one should avoid them at all costs, which I do…unless they are featured in one of my favorite dishes—pasta al cinghiale. Boars are quite common in Tuscany, whether as food, foe, or fountain.
In 1560, the story of the fountain’s creation all began when Pope Pius IV gave a gift of a marble Roman replica of an ancient Greek bronze boar to Cosimo I de’ Medici (the Grand Duke of Tuscany). Cosimo was smitten with the statue and antiquities in general, so he was a happy recipient. That marble statue is now on display in the Uffizi Gallery.
During the rule of Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Baroque master Pietro Tacca finished a bronze reproduction of the marble which he originally designed for the Palazzo Pitti and its expansive Boboli Gardens where statuary lines the walkways and there are fountains galore. Completed in the 1630s, Porcellino briefly graced the Pitti estate before finding its home in Mercato Nuovo—a marketplace with a lovely loggia covering it.
The “new market” was located closer to Palazzo Vecchio (the seat of government) than the old market in Piazza della Repubblica. The fountain provided water to fabric merchants who bartered and specialized in their trades there. The market’s structure was built in the 16th century to be used for the sale of silk and other luxury goods, but later for selling its famous straw hats.
Today, it’s mainly a tourist market that sells souvenirs and other tchotchkes, but one can also find some of the leather goods the city is known for. If the stalls are down for the night, you can find a stone in the center with a wheel design. This stone represents a wheel from the carroccio—the traditional ox-drawn cart of the area. But it is also supposed to be the pietra dello scandalo—a place of shame where debtors were held on display.
Porcellino is even portrayed in a story by one of the greatest fairy tale writers of all time—Hans Christian Andersen. “In front of a sort of market… stands an artificial but beautifully fashioned metal pig. A fountain of fresh clear water gushes out of the animal’s mouth. Age has turned it dark green; only its snout shines as if it had been polished, and so it has by the many hundreds of children and poor people who take hold of it with their hands when they put their mouths to its mouth to drink the water. It is an interesting picture to see the perfectly formed animal embraced by a handsome, half-naked boy putting his young lips to its snout.” (Link to full tale of “The Metal Pig”)
One can see Porcellino statues around town, glimpse it in movies, read about it in books, or view copies all over the world.
Legend has it if you rub the snout of il Porcellino it will bring you good luck—better fortune is to be had if you put a coin in his mouth and it rolls into the grates below. Some say that the original story was that rubbing the nose meant a return to Florence—a Trevi fountain-esque spin on the tail. Since I always want to return to Florence, every time I leave the city I pat Porcellino’s nose and give the “fountain gods” an offering a coin so that I may come back.
It has worked…and I hope, regardless of the pandemic, my luck will continue and that soon I will be back in my beloved city making the boar’s nose even shinier.
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