It is hard to walk around Florence for long before one starts to notice what look like tiny windows at the base of many of the city's palazzi. Known as buche del vino or buchette del vino (holes of wine), they were the means by which families sold their wine direct to the public. Cutting out the middle men had obvious advantages for both buyers and sellers.
The trade was strictly monitored by the authorities and a few plaques detailing the opening hours can still be seen. The buche del vino were often referred to as tabernacoli del vino, as their shape resembles that of small shrines (tabernacoli).
The English writer Tobias Smollett (1721-77) wrote about the buche in his book Travels in France and Italy (1766): "...in every palace or great house in this city, there is a little window fronting the street, provided with an iron knocker, and over it hangs an empty flask, by way of a signpost. Thither you send your servant to buy a bottle of wine. He knocks at the little wicket, which is opened immediately by a domestic, who supplies him with what he wants..."
The practise died out in the first half of the twentieth century and the buche were either simply sealed up or removed altogether. However, a few have been adapted to other uses.
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