September 18, 2014

What to see in Florence? The mysterious holes on old town palaces

Florence, Tuscany, Italy
It's no surprise that all foreigners coming to Italy have Florence on top of their to-see-list. But it's a shame when they tell they have no more time than 1 or 2 days to visit the city. This is a post of some time ago about Florence and its main attractions, perfect for a short travel. But Florence is an open air museum, whose 'rooms' would need days and days to be discovered and admired in each of its masterpieces.
And along the old town streets, the glorious past of Florence has left us a lot of curious and intriguing secrets. In fact, the key to these mysterious surprises is always in the intimate history of the city. The history made ​​by the people, their habits, their passions, their beliefs, etc.
Just to make you understand what we are talking about, these post is about one of these mysteries: that of the ancient 'buchette' (little holes) dedicated to a very important product of the culture and economy of the city, that you certainly already have in mind to try when visiting Tuscany...

If you've been in Florence, most likely wandering in the streets of the city you happened to see the little holes, located on the facades of the palaces, located on the ground floor.
These little holes followed a nearly identical style and their height was about 40 cm.
Florence, Tuscany, Italy
What these strange openings ever served? They are called "Tabernacles of wine", arranged in many palaces of the city center, the intuition of Florentine families which turned during '500 from skilled merchants in equally adept landowners.

At the end of the '400, in fact, the great fabrics of linen cloths, the engine driving the economy of medieval and Renaissance Florence, begin to encounter strong competition from northern countries, especially England.
The wily Florentine merchants and bankers reinvested their money in real estate and land, making them safer investments.
So the new landowners invested on foods typical of the area and in particular invested on the "nectar of the gods," the wine.
The little holes are born in relation to this economic change and the strong investment in wine production. This system in fact allowed the wine producers to sell wine, through these openings, per minute, directly on the street, without recourse to other intermediaries, such as taverns.
The little holes were placed on the ground floor matching the inside cellar, allowing an activity similar to that of the workshops where was practiced the trade of wine, where an attendant took care of the sale of bottles of wine at certain times of day. In fact, the sale of wine was subject to a strict regulation.

In these workshops the wine sellers had to pour the wine to customers in jars or containers of a certain dimension and they were not allowed to sell certain types of salty bread that stimulate thirst; the sound of the bells of the evening (the third sound) the trade had to be suspended.
In 16th century the nearby territory was producing about 200,000 barrels of wine per year, equivalent to 85,000 hectoliters, of which 30% was exported regularly in Prato and Florence.
A river of wine flooded the Tuscan cities, fueling a popular, joyful and ironic literature, like proverbs, poems, etc.

Some of the most interesting little holes are the most easy to find right in the heart of the city.
The first is located in the palace said Strozzino, which is located in Piazza degli Strozzi at No. 1, which was built at the beginning of 1420 by Michelozzo on commission of Palla Strozzi, ingenious merchant and humanist, with huge monetary possibilities. The excessive closeness to the ground of the hole leads us to suppose that it was even older of the same palace rebuilt by Michelozzo.
Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Other two are found in Via Dante. The two holes of wine are on the opposite wall to the side entrance of the Badia Fiorentina, in the ancient walls that formed the palaces of the family of Giuochi.
One of the most interesting tabernacles is located in Borgo Pinti n. 27, in the lobby of the Hotel Monna Lisa. It's possible to visit it without any problem because you do not have to get right inside the hotel. Go see it, because it is the only one open to the inside and it is wonderful both for its details and because it represents a rare opportunity to understand its original functionality. The building, was formerly part of the properties of Lenzi, an ancient and powerful Florentine family, whose stone coat of arms is still visible on the facade of the Hotel Monna Lisa and represents a bull head.

When you are in Florence do not rush to lock yourself in a museum, because the real museum is actually the old town with its mysterious secrets to discover.

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