An old tradition has been revived in Florence, Italy due to the COVID-19 crisis. This tradition dates back to the Middle Ages when the plague was a part of everyday life. The wine windows are once again in use during the COVID-19 pandemic and allowing people to enjoy refreshments safely.
There are many architectural masterpieces in Florence such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Duomo. However, one architectural feature which has been largely forgotten is the wine windows, which are known as ‘buchetta del vino’ in Italian. They are little hatches in walls of historic houses, that were once the dwellings of the Florentine elite.
These wine windows were originally made to sell cheap wine to the Florentine poor and working-class from at least the 16th century. There are about 150 of them within the city walls and there are more in its hinterland.
A cocktail being served through the wine window of the Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi. ( Associazione Buchette del Vino )
Wine Windows to Serve in a Time of Plague
There is a dedicated association to the conservation and promotion of these hatches which is called the Wine Windows Association. Its president, Matteo Faglia, said that “People could knock on the little wooden shutters and have their bottles filled.” Often the wine was sold by some of the best-known Italian wine-making families, such as the Antinori and Ricasoli.
The wine windows were originally constructed in response to the ever-present threat of illness and plague in Florence. During the Black Death, in the 14th century, as much as half of the city’s population died. In the following centuries plagues and epidemics of infectious diseases such as smallpox would regularly kill many people.
“People could knock on the little wooden shutters and have their bottles filled.” ( Steve Lovegrove /Adobe Stock)
Mr. Faglia observed that those who constructed the hatches “understood the problem of contagion.” The wine would be passed out the window and payment would be placed on a small plate so that the seller would not have to touch the customer’s coins.
The Fear of Contagion
Often the buyer would only buy the wine and had to return the flask. Naturally, in a time of plague the wine-seller did not want the returned container for fear of becoming infected. To overcome this the president of the Wine Window Association stated that “the client was allowed to fill his or her flask directly by using a metal tube which was passed through the wine window, and was connected to the demijohn on the inside of the palace.” Other purveyors of wine would only sell bottled vintages during epidemics and plagues.
The custom remained popular well into the 20th century. The New York Post quotes Mr. Faglia as saying that “The wine windows gradually became defunct, and many wooden ones were permanently lost in the floods of 1966.” However, they are making a comeback thanks to the restrictions currently in place in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, which requires social distancing. Italy has been one of the countries worst hit by the current pandemic, with 35,000 fatalities.
Social Distancing but Still Selling Cocktails, Wine, and Ice Cream
In times of crisis people improvise, and Florentine business owners are using their wine windows to boost their business in the time of COVID-19. Several wine shops have reopened the hatches for the first time in ages.
“The wine windows gradually became defunct, and many wooden ones were permanently lost in the floods of 1966.” ( Steve Lovegrove /Adobe Stock)
They are being used to serve a variety of refreshments and not just the excellent local Tuscan wines . An ice cream parlor in the heart of historic Florence now sells ice cream and gelato from its window. One intrepid entrepreneur has even begun to sell cocktails to thirsty locals and tourists.
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The wine windows are a great way to ensure that social distancing is being observed. This can help to reduce the rate of transmission of the virus. Local people are relishing an opportunity to enjoy a stiff drink after almost two months of lockdown.
Moreover, the wine windows are proving to be a hit with visitors. They are taking selfies at the wine windows and putting them on their Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media platforms. The once-forgotten hatches in the wall are now known around the world.
Centuries-old wine windows found across the city have been reopening as an innovative way to serve food and cocktails. (Associazione Buchette del Vino )
Will Wine Windows Stay Part of the New Normal?
The Wine Window Association hopes that Florentines and visitors will now appreciate these historic hatches. The president of the association stated to Insider that “We want to put a plaque by all the wine windows” to raise awareness of this unique Florentine tradition.
It is also possible that the wine windows may be in use for some time because of the societal changes due to the worst global pandemic since the Spanish Flu (1918-1920).
Tuscany's medieval 'wine windows' have reopened to serve wine, Aperol Spritz, gelato, and coffee in a tradition that dates back to the Plague
When Italy went into lockdown in February, the nation came together to battle COVID-19. Opera singers and musicians regaled neighbours from their balconies while rainbow flags hung from windows with the words andrá tutto bene – everything will be alright.
In Florence, creative restaurant and bar owners have now taken inspiration from a medieval architectural quirk to keep their businesses and the spirit of the city alive. According to Florence’s Wine Window Association, a handful of wine windows have opened across the city – some for the first time in living memory.
Wine Windows, or buchette del vino, are little hatches which were originally used to sell surplus wine direct to Florence’s working class.
The Wine Window Association’s president Matteo Faglia told Insider: “People could knock on the little wooden shutters and have their bottles filled direct from the Antinori, Frescobaldi and Ricasoli families, who still produce some of Italy’s best-known wine today.”
Wine windows: why the historic plague-inspired booze holes are back
Appearance: The must-have plague-related architectural feature of 2020.
Hey, I like wine. Of course you do. Everyone likes wine. But drinking wine these days is fraught with danger.
Not for me. My streaking and puking days are far behind me. No, not because you’re an obnoxious blackout drunk. Because of coronavirus.
Oh yes. For a brief moment I forgot about that. Exactly. Sitting in a bar with a bunch of droplet-spreaders sounds like hell on Earth to a lot of people.
But I have to have alcohol. Enter the wine window.
The what? Cast your mind back, if you will, to the Italian plague of 1629–1631. The bubonic plague tore across what is now northern and central Italy, killing possibly as many as 2 million people – about one-third of the population. It was a dark, fearful time. But, you know, people still wanted to get drunk.
And so? And so enterprising merchants struck upon the idea of the buchetta del vino: a hole in the wall through which flasks of wine could be passed to people on the street. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica says they were first mentioned in a book published in 1634.
I suppose that, in those days, the buchetta del vino was the only thing that could offer residents even the tiniest crumb of respite from the merciless spectre of death. Yes. Anyway, they’re back – and you can Instagram them now. Cute!
They are? They are! Restaurants have started to reopen their wine windows as a way to serve customers during the Covid-19 outbreak. According to Lonely Planet, in Florence alone you can find windows serving wine, cocktails, coffee and gelato.
Amazing. The answer to all our problems can always be found in history. Well, no. I’m pretty sure the answers to this specific problem can only be found in cutting-edge medicine. But, still, it’s great news for anyone who ever dreamed of being handed an ice-cream through a wall.
It just goes to show, there’s nothing like a health crisis to get people drunk. You’re right. Sales of beer, wine and spirits have soared during lockdown.
I want to see a wine window. But aren’t you worried about travelling abroad at the moment? As an alternative, you can lie down by my front door while I pour some pinot grigio through the letterbox.
Do say: “Italy is reviving the wine window.”
Don’t say: “Finally, time for me to patent my Jägerbomb ditch idea.”
Italians Revive An Old Wine-Serving Custom In Florence
In the era of social distancing, Italians in Florence have revived the custom of serving wine through pint-size windows in centuries-old buildings.
Over the centuries, Europeans have suffered plagues and pestilence. And when Italy became the first Western country hit by the coronavirus pandemic in March, the city of Florence discovered that one of its architectural quirks is perfect for social distancing. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: A walk to Florence is an outdoor lesson in Italian Renaissance architecture. And a close look at many buildings reveals something unique to Florence - pint-sized windows. The arched openings are framed in pietra serena, the local sandstone.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking German).
POGGIOLI: Here's one that attracts the attention of a German tour group and their guide. It's topped with an inscription in stone listing the opening hours when wine was served here in the past.
MARY FORREST: This is probably dating from, I would think, from the 1600s.
POGGIOLI: American Mary Forrest has lived in Florence for decades. She explains that the street's name - of the beautiful women - signals the profession once practiced here.
FORREST: We can deduce that this was a popular area in the evening (laughter) and that wine was probably a very useful beverage to have on hand.
POGGIOLI: Forrest is a founder of an association promoting wine windows.
FORREST: The wine windows are a detail, but they're very important because they're an essential part of the history of the city.
POGGIOLI: They date from the mid-1500s when the grand duke, Cosimo de' Medici, allowed noble families to sell the wine they had produced directly from their palaces. The windows are exactly 12 inches high and 8 inches wide.
MATTEO FAGLIA: You can put inside just a flask, not bigger bottle.
POGGIOLI: Matteo Faglia is president of the Wine Windows Association. He says a century later, they became indispensable during the plague that devastated the city. Historian Francesco Rondinelli wrote that at the time.
FAGLIA: Wine windows had been very, very useful to sell not just wine, also other foods, without touching the seller.
POGGIOLI: Suddenly, they became useful again in the recent lockdown.
Vivoli Cafe is a Florence ice cream landmark. Giulia Gori, daughter of the owner, says its tiny window had long been boarded up.
GIULIA GORI: (Speaking Italian).
POGGIOLI: "But during the lockdown, we started using it again," says Gori. "The customer rings the bell, places an order, and we put the ice cream cup on the sill, avoiding direct contact with the customer." The lockdown is now over, but at Babae wine bar, owner Claudio Romanelli is still using his little window for business.
CLAUDIO ROMANELLI: So this is how it works. We have this little bell. And you rang it.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)
ROMANELLI: So we come here, ask you if you want red or white wine.
POGGIOLI: I would like red.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Florence.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR&rsquos programming is the audio record.
Italians Are Reviving The 17th Century “Wine Window” Tradition That Was Used During The PlagueJulija Svidraitė
During this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all kinds of businesses are looking for different ways to keep providing their services while ensuring social distancing. Thanks to people&rsquos creativity, such practice had recently managed to revive Italy&rsquos legendary wine-selling tradition dating back to the 17th century.
These &ldquoWine Windows&rdquo, or buchette del vino, that you can see in the photos below, were used by vintners in Italy to sell wine during plague pandemics that took place in the 17th century.
Currently, these adorable little &ldquowine windows&rdquo are being used again to serve customers wine, cocktails and other drinks while still maintaining social distancing
Turns out, there&rsquos even a society called The Wine Windows Association and its whole purpose is to protect and promote them.
&ldquoToday, during our period of covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the owners of the wine window in Via dell&rsquoIsola delle Stinche at the Vivoli ice cream parlor in Florence have reactivated their window for dispensing coffee and ice cream, although not wine. Two other nearby wine windows, that of the Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi and that of Babae in Piazza Santo Spirito, have taken us back in time by being used for their original purpose&mdashsocially-distant wine selling,&rdquo The Wine Windows Association writes on their website.
These windows were first introduced in the 1500s
According to the website of The Wine Windows Association, &ldquoFrancesco Rondinelli, the Florentine scholar and academic, in &ldquoRelazione del Contagio Stato in Firenze l&rsquoanno 1630 e 1633&rdquo, during the terrible bubonic plague epidemic occurring in Europe at that time, reported that wine producers who were selling their own wine through the small wine windows in their Florentine palaces, understood the problem of contagion. 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&rdquo
By the way, Bored Panda had a chance to ask one of the members of The Wine Windows Association named Mary Forrest some questions. When asked, how the idea to create a society like this came to be, Mary told us this: &ldquoMatteo Faglia and Diletta Corsini had been photographing the wine windows for several years and in 2015 decided to form an organization to protect and promote them.&rdquo
&ldquoSince the wine windows are hundreds of years old (most of them date from the 1500s and 1600s), we want to preserve them wherever possible. Many have been lost, covered over, or destroyed. We also do research to learn more about their uses. We are also cataloging them. Before the formation of the Association, nobody knew how many there were in Florence or in other Tuscan cities,&rdquo Mary Forrest told us.
When asked, how many &ldquowine windows&rdquo are currently open and working, Mary said this: &ldquoOnly 4 or 5 windows are currently in use by the restaurants who have them. However, there are well over 150 in downtown Florence, as well as some in surrounding Tuscan cities and towns.&rdquo
&ldquoThere are well over 150 in downtown Florence, as well as some in surrounding Tuscan cities and towns&rdquo
&ldquoThe restauranteurs who revived their use should be congratulated for using their imaginations and originality in reviving their use,&rdquo added Mary Forrest. &ldquoThe wine windows are an architectural feature which is unique to Tuscany, and well worth seeking out the next time you are in Florence.&rdquo
To learn more about these &ldquowine windows&rdquo and The Wine Windows Association, you can visit their website here.
Here&rsquos what people are saying about these &ldquowine windows&rdquo
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Julija Svidraitė is a Bored Panda writer and photo editor who recently got her bachelor's degree in Psychology. Before Bored Panda, Julija worked as a social media specialist and a content creator at a marketing agency. She has also tried herself in a few different fields working as an intern: from practicing graphic design at a social media marketing agency, to being an assistant at a psychiatric hospital.
Besides writing, Julija is also very passionate about illustrating, reading poetry, drinking coffee, and watching crime documentaries.
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Wine windows: Pandemic revives curious Italian plague tradition
Quarantine, curfews and questionable cures have returned to Italian cities like throwbacks to the 18th century – however one plague tradition has made a welcome return:
Tiny wine windows, small enough to fit a tipple through, are back in use in some tavernas. Hundreds of years old, they are designed to help patrons social-distance while they sip.
The buchette del vino or "wine windows" are a quaint tradition, with a macabre past.
Since the 1600s the pint-sized holes were carved into the sides of wine merchants. The tradition has survived black death, bubonic plague and other historic health emergencies. Now some are back in use because of coronavirus.
The use of the wine window is, quite literally, seeing a renaissance in Florence.
"Everyone is confined to home for two months and then the government permits a gradual reopening," the Wine Window Association website says./>Few realised the history of the 150 pint-sized windows. Photo / Wine Window Association, Facebook.com
"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!"
The president of the Wine Window Association spoke with Travel Insider magazine to explain how - via the buchette - there is direct continuity for some of Florence's oldest wine producers and bars. In some cases the bars are still using the 1600s windows to defenestrate wine from wineries which were around for the first plague./>Wine window: a 16century Italian classic. Photo / Wine Window Association, Facebook.com
"People could knock on the little wooden shutters and have their bottles filled direct from the Antinori, Frescobaldi and Ricasoli families, who still produce some of Italy's best-known wine today."
After being cooped up for months, city dwellers must re-learn how to socialise. A German cafe distributed inflatable hats made from swimming noodles to enforce distance. Bangkok offered its lone customers toy pandas as dinner companions.
U.S. retail giant Walmart converted 160 of its parking lots into summer drive-ins, with fan favourites curated by the Tribeca Film Festival.
In Germany, Berliners flocked to forests and even requisitioned a World War Two bunker for their party fix &ndash pitting raves against regular recreation.
Most socialising has turned virtual, from online quizzes to work drinks and even dating via videoconferencing platforms.
In Asia, their popularity has given rise to a Japanese phenomenon called "on-nomi", or online drinking.
Museums, theatres and concert halls have moved collections online, with some built entirely for a virtual world.
The Virtual Online Museum of Art opened in September, hanging Old Masters alongside digital-only originals.
"Without the limitations of a physical location, access to a museum is possible to anyone with an internet connection," said museum director Lee Cavaliere.
But many venues may not recover without a live audience, experts say, prompting Britain to pledge its biggest ever investment for the culture sector, at $2 billion.
"I want all our cultural institutions to return to normal," said minister Oliver Dowden.
Whatever the next version of normal looks like, many changes are here to stay, said Berkowitz of Resilient Cities Catalyst.
What may have started as emergency measures like open streets or alternative transport will help cities plan for the next shock, he said &ndash "whether that's climate change, civil unrest, or an economic shock".
For Dasgupta of WRI, "if there's any silver lining to this tragedy, it's the opportunity for cities to reset around equity issues".
"If we are smart about it, the disruption from the crisis could help deliver new investments and solutions."
Medieval ‘Wine Windows’ Revived Due to Coronavirus - History
Bar owners in Florence have revived medieval “wine windows” in the city to serve drinks and food safely during COVID-19.
The wine windows, known as buchette del vino, are small hatches carved into the walls of more than 150 buildings in Florence and Tuscany. First introduced in the 17th century, the windows were originally used by merchants to sell surplus wine. During the 1630s, the windows allowed stores to continue doing business while isolating themselves from potentially plague-ridden customers.
Now bars such as Osteria delle Brache (pictured main and below) are offering wine and Aperol Spritzes through the windows.
A cultural association called Buchette Del Vino has mapped them all out and notes that in the 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.”
The association adds that in the year 2020: “The COVID-19 pandemic arrives. Italy is under lockdown starting March 8. 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!”
Matteo Faglia, president of the Wine Window Association, told Insider, “People could knock on the little wooden shutters and have their bottles filled direct from the Antinori, Frescobaldi and Ricasoli families, who still produce some of Italy’s best-known wine today.
“The wine windows gradually became defunct, and many wooden ones were permanently lost in the floods of 1966.
“We want to put a plaque by all the wine windows, as people tend to respect them more when they understand what they are and their history.”
How Coronavirus Put an Ancient Flour Mill Back to Work
The Sturminster Newton Mill has quietly churned on the verdant banks of the River Stour since the 11th century. Through the Norman Conquest and the Black Death, through the Hundred Years War and the Blitz, its water-powered turbine ground wheat into countless sacks of flour for the markets of this medieval town. Even when it became a museum in 1994, the mill continued production, albeit tiny batches of flour to show tourists a bygone way of living.
The mill will grind through COVID-19 as well—just not as a museum.
With flour shortages dogging the United Kingdom and potential visitors trapped at home, the caretakers of Sturminster Newton’s ancient mill have pivoted from performance to production. “When you just have to mill and you don’t have to give a history lesson at the same time, you can just get on with it,” says miller Imogen Bittner. Since its return to the grind in early March, Bittner and her co-worker, Pete Loosmoore, have produced hundreds of pounds of flour to be safely distributed by several local businesses. While the mill needs the revenue as badly as area families need the flour, it’s not exactly what the pair had in mind for this year’s tourist season.
The mill in 1880—just before the invention of the automobile. Courtesy of Sturminster Newton Mill
Bittner was born and raised within a short walk of the mill. “It’s something I’ve known all my life,” she says. With Loosmoore on the cusp of retirement, it’s something she’s due to operate on her own soon, as well. She had just finished securing supplies for the season when they decided to close in mid-March with COVID-19 at the gates. “We’d brought in all the grain from the local farm, had it all stacked and ready to go,” says Bittner, “but a lot of the volunteer staff are in a vulnerable age group.”
Most years, between April and September, visitors explore the quaint property and tour the mill to witness a medieval undertaking: harnessing the Stour River to grind local grain with simple machinery. “It’s done very much how it was hundreds of years ago,” says Bittner. “The only thing is we use a Ford Transit to get supplies now and not a hand-pulled cart—bit quicker this way.” The sale of both tickets and the modest amount of flour it produces keeps the museum open, a model that COVID-19 swiftly thwarted.
The production area of the ancient mill is no longer just for show. Courtesy of Sturminster Newton Mill
At the same time, the pandemic also precipitated severe flour shortages throughout much of the country, though not for reasons you might suspect. There’s plenty of flour within England, but it’s all in the wrong bags: Only about 4 percent of the flour produced in the U.K. is sold through supermarkets—the rest is packed and shipped in bulk to commercial bakeries and other manufacturers. Even if larger mills could manage the pivot to smaller packaging, social distancing would preclude industrial-scale production, which demands many hands. Pre-industrial milling, however, can be managed single handedly.
For Bittner, it wasn’t much of a decision: “It was more of a logical step, really.”
As soon as Bittner and Loosmoore found several local shops and bakers to sell their flour, they got the old mill cranking. “When we’re taking visitors, we have to mill very slowly so the flour doesn’t spill out,” says Bittner, “but when you’re actually milling to mill, it’s different.” To date, Bittner and Loosmoore estimate that they have ground and sold just under 1,600 pounds of flour.
Bittner adjusting the speed of the drive belts to grind flour at a more industrial pace. Courtesy of Sturminster Newton Mill
Bittner quickly dismisses questions over the durability of the mill’s machinery. “The mill could easily do 10 times what it’s doing today,” she says, calling it “very solid,” with a water turbine that was “just changed” in 1904. “It could go on forever,” says Bittner, “it’s we who get tired.” She says as long as the flour shortage persists and social distancing is enforced, production will continue through the tourist season.
For now, the mill has been saved and the townsfolk rejoice, inundating the supermarket’s Facebook page with expressions of gratitude. (The mill itself has no social media presence.) Unsurprisingly, the millers discovered a newfound appreciation for the old mill, as well. “It’s different when no one’s around,” says Bittner, “you can hear its creaks, smell its grain—you can really feel the age of it.” It’s not the first crisis this building has seen thanks to its stubbornness, it’s not the last one it will survive, either.
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Italy’s medieval wine windows are being used again to serve contact-free drinks and gelato
Back in the day &ndash and by &lsquothe day&rsquo we mean the 1630s, when Italy was in the grips of a plague &ndash Italian wine merchants invented a nifty way of selling their wares without spreading disease. These buchette del vino or &lsquowine windows&rsquo are tiny openings in the sides of buildings where drinks could be purchased in a socially-distant, contact-free way.
&lsquoThey 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,&rsquo says the Associazione Buchette del Vino. Clever, eh?
The windows, which are unique to Tuscany (there are more than 150 of them in Florence alone), are protected because of their history. And now, they&rsquore getting an unexpected new lease of life, thanks to Covid-19.
Some businesses have reopened their ancient wine windows and started using them, for the first time in living memory, to serve gelato, coffees and even Aperol spritzes in a safe, contact-free way.
&lsquoToday, during our period of Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the owners of the wine window in Via dell&rsquoIsola delle Stinche at the Vivoli ice cream parlour in Florence have reactivated their window for dispensing coffee and ice cream, although not wine. Two other nearby wine windows, that of the Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi and that of Babae in Piazza Santo Spirito, have taken us back in time by being used for their original purpose &ndash socially-distant wine selling,&rsquo says the ABV.
It&rsquos certainly a cool way to get around our current predicament. Ours is a scoop of gelato al pistacchio, per favore.
You can find a full list of Italy&rsquos wine windows here.
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