When retired Florentine editor Matteo Faglia founded an association in 2015 for the preservation of a small, centuries-old, ubiquitous yet overlooked architectural feature in Florence, little did he expect that a global pandemic would re-establish their popularity.
Le buchette del vino - wine windows - are foot-high, dome-shaped holes in the thick, stone palazzi of the Renaissance city that six centuries ago were used to sell wine. Now, with the need for physical distancing - not to mention to add some cheer to Florence's semi-deserted streets - bars, bistros and even a gelateria are once again pushing open the wooden doors of their buchette and selling everything from glasses of Chianti to ice cream.
"It's been delightful to see the rediscovery of these very particular Florentine windows, though it's unfortunate it's taken a health crisis," Faglia said. "The fact that we talk about them and understand their historical role can only enrich our experience of the city."
Buchette began appearing in the 1400s, when Cosimo de Medici, a banker and ruler of Florence, appeased the nobles, whose power he had usurped, by granting them the right to sell the wine they produced in the hillsides surrounding Florence tax-free from their homes.
While Florence's nobility were keen for the profits, Faglia says, they were less thrilled with the idea of welcoming lower social classes and drunken people into their homes, which is likely why the windows were devised. When the bubonic plague struck Florence in 1630, the desire for class distancing morphed into the need for physical distancing.
"Right after the black plague, historian Francesco Rondinella wrote a book in which he recounts the wine windows playing an essential function during those years, namely to allow the contactless sale of wine to prevent contagion," Faglia said.
Almost 200 of the once many hundreds of wine windows remain scattered throughout Florence.