Florence is an extraordinary city with a large number of surprises, not the least of which are the “wine holes” (or often called “gates of heaven”). The latter have undergone something of a revival in recent times, thanks in part to Stanley Tucci and his excellent “Searching for Italy” series. These miniature gates, located within the walls of many of Florence’s noble palaces, date back to the 15th century, when Cosimo de’ Medici allowed Florentine nobles (as a means of gaining their support) to sell wine directly from their palaces.
This practice was appreciated by the nobility, who could sell without the added costs of a middleman, and by the drinking public, because wines were relatively cheap and easy to purchase. Showcases took on a new and different importance in the 17th century, during the plague, when Florence lost about 12 percent of its population. Storefronts represented a ready way to conduct contactless transactions, something we can all understand today.
And during the height of our pandemic, some wine doors were reopened to serve wine (and sometimes ice cream), avoiding direct contact with customers. At last count, there were 145 wine windows in the historic center of Florence, but there may be more yet to be discovered.