When the bubonic plague swept through Europe, it killed one-third of the continent’s population. Originating in Central Asia in 1331, outbreaks then reoccurred over the next few hundred years, with repeat epidemics continuing until 1700s. Over time, people came up with all sorts of innovations to help contain the spread.
In England, hollows were carved into ‘Plague Stones’, which were then filled with vinegar. Villagers and traders would place their coins into the vinegar-filled hollow, in order to make financial exchanges with outsiders without fear of contagion.
Meanwhile in Italy… “wine windows,” or buchette del vino!
These pint-size hatches were carved into the concrete walls of urban wineries and shops so that wine merchants could dispense their wares at a safe social distance.
Historical documents from the time of the last outbreak of the plague in the 1600s describe exactly how they were used. People could knock on the little wooden shutters and have their bottles filled direct from the vendor, who clearly understood the problem of contagion.
First, they wouldn’t receive payment directly into their hands. Instead, they passed a metal pallet to the client to place their coins on, which the vendor would then disinfect with vinegar before collecting them.
Wine vendors also avoided touching any wine flasks that were brought back to be ref-filled by allowing the customer to fill their flask using a metal tube which was passed through the wine window.
As the plague came to an end, the wine windows gradually became defunct. Many were lost, or filled up. But the Wine Window Association is a historical association with a mission to map these forgotten relics, and mark them with a plaque to designate their history and authenticity. According to their website, there are more than 150 wine windows within Florence’s walled city alone, with even more across the Tuscan region.
And now that the Italian government is permitting a gradual reopening, some enterprising wine window owners are bringing them back into use to contactlessly dispense glasses of wine, cups of coffee, drinks, sandwiches and ice cream.
We say cheers to that!
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