ANTIGERM WINE WINDOWS
Yesterday and Today
Year 2020: The covid-19 pandemic arrives. Italy is under lockdown starting March 8th. Everyone is confined to home for two months and then the government permits a gradual reopening. During this time, some enterprising Florentine Wine Window owners have turned back the clock and are using their Wine Windows to dispense glasses of wine, cups of coffee, drinks, sandwiches and ice cream—all germ-free, contactless!
Year 1634: The Black Death or Plague has passed through the city of Florence, leaving death and havoc in its wake. The Florentine scholar, Francesco Rondinelli, writes a report about disease contagion and describes the use of the abundant Wine Windows in the city for the safe sale of wine, without direct contact between client and seller. Diletta Corsini describes this important document regarding Wine Windows and their uses almost 400 years ago.
Florence: the last Wine Window
by Diletta Corsini (translation Corinna Carrara)
The curved façade of the large yellow building set between Via Torta, Via dell’Anguillara and Via delle Burella, marked by two enormous lion heads at the main door offers us the view of a seemingly well-preserved ancient Wine Window from the outside.
Indeed, that little stone framed door positioned, as usual, under one of the windows next to the main entrance was (until proven otherwise) the last ‘active’ Wine Window of Florence.
A pleasant chat with the Marquis Bernardo
Gondi (who was born and lived his
adolescence in this building on Via Torta)
answered some questions that we had long
been waiting for. Namely, when did the Wine
Windows stop functioning and above all why
have they all been abandoned?
The Marquis’ childhood memories dwell
initially on that cart laden with wine barrels
drawn by oxen and occasionally horses that
every week, up until 1958, arrived from the
countryside into the city. The wine for retail
sale from the Wine Windows would not arrive
in demijohns but in special fifty-litre transport barrels.
The carts still had wooden wheels (it was a real sight watching them being made by the artisans, who would soak the oak staves for a long time in water to season and harden them) and with unpaved roads the risk of breaking the glass containers was very high.
At the time the Gondi
Marquis already had flasked
wine arriving from their
countryside estate, as vintners
and restauranteurs preferred
it that way; in this case the
fragile containers were tied
together with straw and
stacked into a pyramidal
form on the cart. This scenic
means of transportation
known as the ‘Crazy Cart’.
But back to our Wine Window, what’s behind it?
The Wine Window on the building, which used to belong to the Butini family, then the Ugolini before being purchased by the Gondi family in the 18thcentury.
It was eventually sold off to the National Employee Welfare Institute of Public Administration (now known as INPS), occupying one of two entrance rooms. The first room originally served as the Gatekeeper’s dwelling, who was called Beppino; the second room housed the barrels and demijohns.
Bernardo Gondi recalled that when the buyers knocked at the wooden door Beppino would open the Wine Window take the client’s flask, fill it up and receive payment. After which he would return the filled flask! Nothing other than wine would enter or leave that small Wine Window, apart from the occasional bottle of fine olive oil from the Val di Sieve farms.
The precious oil would arrive in small thirty-litre barrels, different to those produce for wine, as they had thick banded staves.
It was not really necessary to open
the Wine Window in order to receive
parcels and packages as Palazzo
Gondi door always remained open;
so, deliveries could easily be made
to Beppino through the large palace
gate which prevented free access
into the entrance hall.
As time went past the Wine
Window on Via Torta fell out of use.
The reason for this was the direct
competition from the nearby trader
who began selling bulk wine in his
shop close to the palace.
This ready-bottled wholesale wine
was far simpler than taking a flask
along to the Wine Window, especially as now plastic containers could be used, and clients tended to prefer cheaper
less refined wine.
Furthermore, the end of
sharecropping greatly influenced production costs in Tuscan wineries and finally the 1966 flood made these ground floor canteens inoperable for a long time.
These are the reasons why the Wine Windows fell out of use, no law decreed their demise, but rather the changing times and tendencies.
December 10, 2019.
The Granduke's Wine by Laura Baldini
The English writer John Evelyn in his diary of 1644 refer to a singular fact regarding the Granduke Ferdinando II de’ Medici – a meticulous and fascinating account of the events that go from 1640 to 1706. The leftover wine was sold off by the Granduke in the palace cellars; and even had straw-covered bottles hanging from the main vault of Palazzo Pitti for this purpose.
This seems somewhat absurd, not because of wine selling, but rather for the habit of hanging straw-covered wine flasks from the main entrance; an obligatory passageway for whoever wanted an audience with the Granduke.
August 10, 2019
Another one in Borgo degli Albizi
Ricciardo Artusi, scholar of Florentine history, is an expert at finding wine windows, especially those which are embedded in the ancient wooden doors of Florentine palaces. Two years ago, (as noted in our Diary of 2016 on this website), he noticed the image of a wine window beneath a thick layer of paint in the main door of the famous Palazzo Medici Riccardi. He has now discovered another, in Borgo degli Albizi, 21, in the entrance door of a palace which carries the family crest of the Albizis. That makes the sixth wine window discovered in this ancient Roman street, equal to the number appearing in Via Santo Spirito.
There are now 146 wine windows in the historic center of Florence, but we hope that others will be discovered in the future.
July 15, 2019
Wine Windows outside Tuscany? by Diletta Corsini
Thanks to Vilma Ortolani, who notified us through our Facebook page, we have learned that the small Emilian city of Faenza also has wine windows.
These wine windows are not exceptionally old, but neither are they new - arising in the first half of the 1800s, as hypothesized by Marco Bassi, expert tourist guide of Faenza.
THOSE STRANGE PORTALS
HOW MANY ARE THERE?
FALSE WINE WINDOWS
THE WINE WINDOWS WEBSITE AND ITS CONTENTS
The intention of the Wine Windows website is to communicate, share, collect and show to the public all the information available regarding the unique Florentine Wine Windows. The Wine Windows have several different Italian names: “buchette” (small holes), “finestrini” (small windows), or “tabernacoli” (tabernacles). We will indicate where they still exist and search out their histories and diffusion in Florentine culture, with the aim of enhancing their value, helping to recuperate them when they have been removed, and to protect them from further damage.
The website is easy to use. The Home Page has various titles and links to recent articles, notifications and book reviews regarding Wine Windows, which will form a permanent archive of the existing information regarding these architectural features.
The Who and What section talks about our Association, its goals and initiatives, with the intent of encouraging participating from the public.
The Maps section shows the locations of the Wine Windows in the city of Florence and its surroundings.
The News and Highlights section will contain updated information which will be published over time, with a List of the various Windows, a photograph and brief description.
The Documents and Photos section contains a Photo Gallery of the most important and beautiful Wine Windows, which will be given a number as part of our census. These will be updated regularly.
The Contacts page serves for viewers who wish to contact us with requests, or who wish to participate in the association or provide information.
The Wine Windows Association was founded to draw attention to these fascinating apertures in the old palaces in Florence and surrounding Tuscan cities. The scope of the Association is to protect and to help citizens and tourists to appreciate these unique architectural features which are particular to the Florentine culture.
What are Wine Windows? They are small openings in the facades of many large houses and palaces in Florence, through which, over the course of three centuries, millions of bottles and glasses of local wine were bought and sold. The wine was sold directly from the producer to the consumer, rather than using a go-between tavern or wine-seller. This unique commercial enterprise, which is particular to Florence, was the result of the imagination and invention of wine producing families in Tuscany who had residences in the city of Florence.
The Wine Windows Association was created to emphasize this unique reality, and to protect these antique apertures from demolition, damage and disrespect.
The Association intends to do a census of the existing Wine Windows, to assist owners in protecting them, restoring them, or even uncovering them—as some have been removed, destroyed, covered up.
We welcome you to peruse this website, which has the intent of inciting your curiosity about these very special architectural features in Florence.
President, Wine Windows Association
Two postcards: one from about 1965 with three views of Via Palazzo dei Diavoli where one or more Wine Windows are visible. The second shows the same scene in 2015—no more Wine Windows!
NOT JUST "BUCHETTE"
These unusual architectural features: “buchette”, in the Florentine palaces have been given many names over time, an interesting indication of the richness of the Italian language.
Here are some of the Italian names and if you know of any others, please let us know:
NICCHIE PORTE DEL PARADISO
Il sito, gestito dall'Associazione Buchette del Vino, è online dal 30 marzo 2016.
I testi sono a cura di Diletta Corsini, Matteo Faglia, Mary Forrest, salvo dove diversamente specificato.
This website is managed by the Wine Windows Association (Associazione Buchette del Vino).
The text has been prepared by Diletta, Corsini, Matteo Faglia and Mary Forrest, except when otherwise indicated.
Buchette del Vino
via della Pergola, 48