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Over the centuries, Europe has suffered through plagues, pestilence and the Black Death.
When Italy became the first Western country to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the city of Florence discovered that one of its unique architectural quirks was perfect for coronavirus-era social distancing.
A walk through its narrow, winding streets provides a lesson in Italian Renaissance architecture. And a close look at many of the buildings reveals pint-sized windows in arched openings framed in the local sandstone, called pietra serena, “serene stone.”
On Via delle Belle Donne, a German guide points out a wine window to a group of tourists. The window is topped with an inscription in stone, listing the opening hours when wine was served here in the past.
This reporter’s guide is Mary Forrest, an American who has lived in Florence for decades. The inscription “is probably dating from the 1600s,” she says. She is one of three founders of an association born five years ago to promote knowledge and appreciation of wine windows — of which many Florentines, until recently, knew close to nothing.
Forrest explains that the street’s name — which translates “of the beautiful women” — signals the profession once practiced here.
“We can deduce that this was a popular area in the evening and that wine was probably a very useful beverage to have on hand,” Forrest says, chuckling. It was open, she says, “even on holidays.”