Known around the world for being the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is a truly ancient city full of charm and history. Everywhere you turn, you will notice something unusual that often carries an anecdote from the past.
Continue reading to discover the curious secrets of this beautiful town!
Wine Window – Buchette del Vino
Strolling along the narrow streets of Florence you may have noticed tiny windows, framed in stone and with the shape of a tabernacle. During the Renaissance, these small openings emerging from the facades of ancient noble palaces were used to sell wine, just like a wine shop would do nowadays.
As the workday ended, tired workers would knock on the wooden shutters from which a capacious glass of wine would be handed over for the price of two florins – the Florentine currency used at the time –. These windows were located precisely at elbow height so that the exchange could comfortably take place.
The windows were in use until the early 1900s when the local administration shut them down to promote the commercialization of wine and modern stores.
To this day we can count 181 wine windows throughout town. The Florence City Council has restored most Buchette del Vino, placing plaques by them, with the intention of creating a historical narrative around this old tradition.
The modern curious fact is that the windows were opened again during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Stores were closed and could serve takeaway meals only – to avoid close contact with clients, waiters and cooks used the windows to serve the take-out.
Today a couple of cafes keep those windows open and have gone back to using them with the spirit of the Renaissance. Stop by Fishmood in Piazza dei Peruzzi, knock on the window, and ask for your drink to go!
Porphyry Columns – Colonne di Porfido
As Tuscans, we are aware of the dislike between the Florentines and the Pisans, and you may wonder where the nature of the acrimony lies. Alas, not even we have an answer to this question. Hatred has been a part of Tuscan culture since time immemorial and is a given fact for the inhabitants of these two cities. The story we are about to tell again confirms the everlasting conflict between Florence and Pisa, even when the two seem to get along.
This anecdote, or legend – we don’t know for sure-, is a great example of the relationship between the Tuscan cities and can be found on one of Florence’s key monuments, a place of great importance for the story of the city – the Baptistry of Saint John, with its magnificent, gilded bronze doors and awe-inspiring mosaic ceilings. Placed right by the Gates of Paradise, on either side of the door, blatantly stand the two porphyry columns that come in a dark, almost black color – a real eyesore!
In 1117 the Florentine army provided protection to the city of Pisa during the battles to free the Balearic Islands from the Saracens. Although Florence loathed Pisa and its people, it was still one of the four Maritime Republics of Italy, having an essential role in trade networks around the Mediterranean and the connection between Europe, Asia, and Africa. Following the victory over the Saracen pirates, Florence asked Pisa to demonstrate their gratitude by donating the porphyry columns, spoils of war against the Saracens. Of course, the request was an excuse to initiate a dispute if the Pisans had refused.
However, Pisa traced an evil plan. Rumors had it that the porphyry columns could depict the faces of yet unpunished criminals on its shiny surface. The Pisans agreed to gift the columns but not before turning them opaque and almost black to ruin their reflective surface.
The Florentines obtained the once-upon-a-time magical porphyry columns but were definitely mocked!