Circa 1631. Picture an uneasy Florentine, gingerly pacing up to an aperture in the wall beside a grand palazzo gate, placing his straw flask at the sill of a little window. As he counted his coins before depositing them in the metal scoop &ndash coins that were shortly to be disinfected with vinegar by the cantinière &ndash could he have known that humanity would be resorting to similar cautions roughly four centuries hence
A Window Into Another Time
Florence&rsquos famed wine windows, known more romantically as the buchette del vino, are little contraptions, constructed originally in the 16th century for influential winemaking families to evade taxes and sell their wines directly to the public (as sanctioned by the Medici dynasty). They made a hushed reappearance during the pandemic as a result of the social distance restrictions which were in effect at that time.
According to the Florence-based Wine Windows Association, at least 150 still survive in Florence's old centre, and around 140 can be found in Tuscany. They date back to the time of the plague, when they were utilised as anti-contagion measures, allowing merchants to sell wine and top up bottles without coming into contact with the consumer. They can be found at the side of every palazzo entrance in the wine-loving city, alcove-like doppelgangers of the grand adjoining gates themselves.
The little portals had doors on the inside to be knocked on, and were connected directly to the cellars or other storage of the purveying house. The last of the knockers, unfortunately, were pilfered in the recent past and quite a few of the windows defaced by vandals. Several of the buchette were damaged by the flood of 1966, bombings during Second World War and plain neglect and vandalism.
While a 2005 book by architect Massimo Casprini terms them finestrini, (Italian for &lsquowindows&rsquo), the 17th-century scholar Francesco Rondinelli, in his book on the outbreak of the bubonic plague in the 1630s, referred to them as sportello, meaning opening. As the second wave of the catastrophic Black Death struck this part of Europe, these devices helped people access their wine while practicing what we have, in the current pandemic, termed social distancing.
Take A Tour
Today you can go on a tour exploring these and tasting the wines available. The Wine Windows Association has championed the revival of Florence's wine windows, which has installed plaques under the pint-sized wall openings in addition to promoting the tradition via tours. According to the Florence-based cultural organisation, it's not just wine that's being served via the little windows these days, with the bizarre sight of hands handing clients gelato, coffee, spritz, and even books. The buchette del vino can be found all across Florence, but the most of them are in the Santo Spirito neighbourhood and the city centre.
Find Out More
The Associazione Buchette del Vino, an organisation formed in 2015 for the preservation and documentation of the medieval relics, has a world of information about these windows, including a map that is constantly updated and which you can use to go on a self-guided tour. This association is also responsible for encouraging the installation of plaques at these places in order to facilitate their identification and conservation.