Everybody's been talking about Florence's "wine windows" (buchette del vino), the little arched windows around the city that were built in the 16th century to sell wine. They've even been featured in a recent episode of Stanley Tucci's "Searching for Italy" show on CNN. There are around 150 of them, most within the city center with ~100 more in other towns in Tuscany. They date back to the time of Cosimo I de’ Medici, who decreed that wealthy families could sell the wine that they produced in their country estates directly to the public from their city homes. Later, in 1630, they were a perfect way to sell wine in a "socially distanced" manner during an outbreak of the Plague.
They understood the concept of contagion back then so they had various ways to keep themselves safe. According to one historian from 1634, "they passed the flask of wine through the window to the client but did not receive payment directly into their hands. Instead, they passed a metal pallet to the client, who placed the coins on it, and then the seller disinfected them with vinegar before collecting them" (from Francesco Rondinelli's “Relazione del Contagio Stato in Firenze l’anno 1630 e 1633”). You can read that story and lots more about these "little doorways of paradise" at the official website.
Amazingly, they were still used into the 20th century, but changes in shopping habits (= the arrival of bigger wine shops) started to make them redundant, and then the great flood of 1966 was the final nail in the coffin as the water invaded all ground-floor spaces. Some restaurants have opened theirs again (as well as the famous Vivoli gelateria), which is what landed them in the news last summer. I must have come across them many times in my 20 years here in the city but never paid them much attention. So one day last summer I decided to go on a scavenger hunt and track down as many as I could. Most of them were uninteresting, barely noticeable bricked-up or cemented-over architectural features, faded forms on the forlorn façades of buildings whose past splendor was now defaced by graffiti, scaffolding, or neglect. But I loved all of them as silent testimony to a centuries'-old tradition. Come along and see what I found!
Some of them are like a "mini-me" of the great door they're next to.
Others are like "psssst!.... duck into the alley!"
The popular restaurant "Il Latini" has one...
... as does the Buca Lapi.
The place below has a lot going on... I spoke to a pharmacist across the street who explained that it was a grand villa that belonged to the son of Galileo, but everything was in Latin so I moved on.
This one is appealing to the "I've fallen and I can't get up, but still want more wine" crowd:
Here, a faded Medici crest can be seen above this grand doorway:
This wall looks like it's been through a lot!
I love how the wooden door has been carved to match the heavy stones of the wall.
Partisan wine windows on the Left and the Right:
And now a few close-ups...
The bookbinders at Abacus have one, which they decorated with a little disco ball! 🙂
A few have been "touched up" with a Sharpie, while others have been turned into doorbell panels.
This one dispenses Holy Wine* 😉
*(actually, this isn't a "wine window" but was for donations to keep the candle burning in a tabernacle next to it)
Some are stately and grand:
Some are positively X-rated. Scroll ahead if you have a delicate nature:
(Glad to see they're wearing masks) 😄
This one has been covered over so you can barely see it. It's in the wall of a lingerie & sex shop and I think it would be hilarious if they opened it up again! (then it really would be a "little door to paradise"😉)
It took me all day and I must have seen 100 of them, but in the end... I wound up finding myself. 😄
And here's how you can improvise your own wine window: get a box of wine, put it in a window. Voila!
That's it for the tour! You can see so much more (and find a map so you can do some sleuthing of your own!) here. Or let me know when you're in town and I can show you around. You can chip in to my "wine fund" by clicking on the "donate" button above in the menu, or just leave a comment below (you have to log in first, upper right, so the website knows who you are; nothing is done with this information so don't worry about selling your soul to the internet!). Subscribe below to get notified every time I post (usually once a week), and check out my podcasts in the tab in the menu bar. I'm brand new at it so try to keep them short, sweet, and interesting!
Ciao for now, alla prossima! (see you next time)