by Conor White
Italy was initially one of the countries that was most heavily impacted by the spread of COVID-19. At the beginning of the global pandemic, the epicenter of the virus had spread from Wuhan, Hubei Province in China to the region of Lombardy in Northern Italy. In response to the huge spike in cases and deaths from the virus, the Italian government imposed a nationwide police-enforced lockdown which confined people to their homes for several weeks, except for emergency needs. After a number of weeks, restrictions began to ease, but social-distancing measures and face-covering requirements remained in place and continue to remain in place today as cases of the virus are still circulating in the Mediterranean country.
As a means of adhering to health and safety measures, the people of the city of Florence in Italy’s Tuscany region resorted back to actions that were once used during the time of the Black Death in the 14th Century. During the Late Medieval Period, rich Italians who owned vineyards would sell their wines directly through a tiny window in the wall of their dwelling as a way for commerce to continue in a socially-distanced manner, while reducing the risk of catching the Plague.
Hundreds of wine windows can today be found dotted around the city of Firenze (Florence) and the surrounding region of Tuscany. These maps by the cultural association Buchette Del Vino show the location of these windows, the largest concentration being located in the historical center of Florence, then expanding outwards to the surrounding areas and the province of Tuscany as a whole. These wine windows are being used again today by some enterprising owners amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as Italians continue to practice social distancing. But it’s not just wine anymore: Aperol Spritz cocktails, coffee, and gelato among other things that are exchanged through these little hatches along Florentine streets.
There are 149 wine windows in Florence that are located inside the old city walls, with another 24 located on the outskirts. There have been 93 windows identified outside Florence in 28 localities in Tuscany. The Wine Windows Association (Buchette del Vino, Associazione Culturale) aims to protect and provide testimony regarding the existence and state of preservation of the Florentine Wine Windows and are currently working on a census of the historic artifacts.
Whether it’s the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 or the Plague pandemic of the Late Middle Ages, Tuscans guarantee that commerce continues in their cities, while ensuring to socially distance themselves from others in order to stay healthy and prevent the spread of deadly illnesses.