Have you ever noticed those small little windows in the walls of the old palazzi in Florence—not really windows at all but more like Lilliputian doors? Miniature copies of their full size counterparts, the main entrances to each palazzo, these tiny doors are made of solid wood, sometimes decorated with carvings or iron studs, and even have their own little knocker. They come complete with jambs and Romanesque or Gothic style arches hewn in the local stone. Whatever were they for? Too high and far too small even for children, but also too low to be windows.
Whether or not Francesco Redi had just visited one of them in the 17th century when he wrote Bacco in Toscana in 1685, praising wine we shall never know, but behind these little doors the lords of Florence ran what was likely one of the most appreciated initiatives Florence ever offered its citizens: a knock on the doorlet and a handful of coins procured a glass, mug or flask of the finest red wine from the local vineyards— Impruneta, Careggi, Radda, Pomino or Montalbano.
Once there were hundreds of these bizarre little taverns along the streets of old Florence. Obviously the landowners of the time found it was well worth selling their wares retail as well as wholesale. Nevertheless, there were strict laws governing the opening times, as testified by the inscription over the doorlet in Via delle Belle Donne.
But not so many remain intact today. Some have fallen into neglect, others blocked up to gain more space. Neither are they always easy to recognise, as many have been adapted for today’s life style in Florence— converted into state-of-the-art name plaques, or used to disguise the gas or electric light meter.
But it’s fun to hunt for them. Via Maggio seems to be particularly rich in them. Look out for the elegant doorlet in Via del Giglio set in a framework of ashlars and still bearing the inscription vendita di vino (‘wine for sale’), or the one on the corner of Via dei Bardi and Lungarno Torrigiano.