Old wine, I mean really old wine!

Deep inside Monte Kronio on Sicily seen above, an ancient secret has been kept for millennia in the hot, humid and sulfurous caves.


People have been visiting the caves of Monte Kronio since as far back as 8,000 years ago. They’ve left behind vessels from the Copper Age (early 6th to early 3rd millennium B.C.) as well as various sizes of ceramic storage jars, jugs and basins. In the deepest cavities of the mountain these artifacts sometimes lie with human skeletons.

One of the most puzzling of questions around this prehistoric site has been what those vessels contained. What substance was so precious it might mollify a deity or properly accompany dead chiefs and warriors on their trip to the underworld?

Using tiny samples, scraped from these ancient artifacts, the analysis of scientists revealed a surprising answer: wine. And that discovery has big implications for the story archaeologists tell about the people who lived in this time and place.

How the discovery of prehistoric wine in Italian caves made us rethink ancient Sicilian culture


In November 2012, a team of expert geographers and speleologists ventured into the dangerous underground complex of Monte Kronio. They escorted archaeologists from the Superintendence of Agrigento, going down more than 300 feet to document artifacts and to take samples. The scientists scraped the inner walls of five ceramic vessels, removing about 100 mg (0.0035 ounces) of powder from each.

It was found that 4 of the 5 Copper Age large storage jars contained an organic residue. Two contained animal fats and another held plant residues, thanks to what was believed to be a semi-liquid kind of stew partially absorbed by the walls of the jars.

But the 4th jar held the greatest surprise: pure grape wine from 5,000 years ago, and these Monte Kronio samples are some of the oldest wines known so far for Europe and the Mediterranean region.

This is an incredible surprise, considering that the Southern Anatolia and Transcaucasian region were traditionally believed to be the cradle of grape domestication and early viticulture. Later studies used Neolithic ceramic samples from Georgia, and pushed back the discovery of traces of pure grape wine even further, to 6,000-5,800 B.C.

There are tremendous historical implications for how archaeologists can now understand Copper Age Sicilian cultures.

From an economic standpoint, the evidence of wine implies that people at this time and place were cultivating grapevines. Viticulture requires specific terrains, climates and irrigation systems.

Archaeologists hadn’t, up to this point, included all these agricultural strategies in their theories about settlement patterns in these Copper Age Sicilian communities. It looks like researchers need to more deeply consider ways these people might have transformed the landscapes where they lived.

The discovery of wine from this time period has an even bigger impact on what archaeologists knew about commerce and the trade of goods across the whole Mediterranean at this time. For instance, Sicily completely lacks metal ores. But the discovery of little copper artifacts – things like daggers, chisels and pins had been found at several sites – shows that Sicilians somehow developed metallurgy by the Copper Age.

The traditional explanation has been that Sicily engaged in an embryonic commercial relationship with people in the Aegean, especially with the northwestern regions of the Peloponnese. But that doesn’t really make a lot of sense because the Sicilian communities didn’t have much of anything to offer in exchange for the metals. The lure of wine, though, might have been what brought the Aegeans to Sicily, especially if other settlements hadn’t come this far in viticulture yet.

Wine has been known as a magical substance since its appearances in Homeric tales. As red as blood, it had the unique power to bring euphoria and an altered state of consciousness and perception.

All of this is taken from https://www.thelocal.it/20180215/prehistoric-wine-italy-inaccessible-caves-rethink-ancient-sicilian-culture

The awesome riches of Venice in late 16th century


Giovanni Botero (1544—1617), an eye-witness, wrote of Venice:

Not only is there bread in abundance; there is also an incalculable wealth of all goods and delicacies, which are brought hither, not only by the rivers and canals of the mainland, but also by the sea, from as far afield as Egypt, Syria, the Archipelago, Constantinople and the Black Sea.

To Venice come the oils of Apulia, the saffrons of the Abruzzo, the malmseys of Crete, the raisins of Zante, the cinnamon and pepper of the Indies, the carpets of Alexandria, the sugar of Cyprus, the dates of Palestine, the silk, wax and ashes of Syria, the cordovans of the Morea, the leathers, moronelle, and caviar of Caffa.

There is such a variety of things here, pertaining both to man’s well-being and to his pleasure, that, just as Italy is a compendium of all Europe, because all the things scattered through the other parts are happily concentrated in her, even so Venice may be called a summary of the universe, because there is nothing originating in any far-off country but it is found in abundance in this city.

The Arabs say that, if the world were a ring, then Ormuz, by reason of the immeasurable wealth that is brought thither from every quarter, would be the jewel in it.

The same can be said of Venice, but with much greater truth, for she not only equals Ormuz in the variety of all merchandise and the plenty of all goods, but surpasses her in the splendor of her buildings, in the extent of her empire, and, indeed in everything else that derives from the industry and providence of men.

Scotti, Dom Paschal. Galileo Revisited: The Galileo Affair in Context (p. 28). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

The wine windows of Florence.

Anyone with a careful eye can spot interesting little windows, set in century’s old palazzi, all around Florence.  There are allegedly 130 of them in the city.



These little windows, known as the bucchette del vino, are relics of Florence’s wine trade in the medieval period.


Whenever such a window appeared, indicating the home of a wine producer, a customer could knock on the nearby door of the palazzo, order the amount, and collect their merchandise from the small window.  The windows thus served as a counter for the exchange of the product and the money.  The small openings were a crucial component of how local wines were bought and sold, directly from producer to consumer.

Customers typically brought their own jug, bottle or glass, placed it through the window, waited for a servant inside to fill it, and then passed money through to complete the transaction.

A typical window featured a small door, and when the customer knocked, it was opened for business.

Windows were generally large enough to accommodate a fiasco, the straw-bottomed bottle traditionally used for Tuscan wines.

Millions of bottles were passed through the windows without the need for “go-between” taverns or wine vendors: this intriguing commercial enterprise was unique to Florence.

Of course there is an association devoted to preserving the historical heritage of Florence’s wine windows: http://www.magentaflorence.com/association-ancient-wine-windows/ You might be surprised to learn the the Association was formed formed only last year, but has the mission of  acquainting the modern world with the story of the wine windows.

Of the more than 130 extant wine windows in Florence, most of them belonged to prominent dynasties such as the Ricasoli, Antinori, Niccolini and Martelli families.  The wine producing family would bring wine produced on their Tuscan estates to their city homes and market it in the city using this informal manner, a forerunner to the ever-present vinaio (wine and sandwich counters) of today.


Piazza della Libertà, Firenze

Chances are, you don’t know this Florentine piazza, even though it’s right in the city.  Unless you live near this particular neighborhood, you probably wouldn’t have reason to ramble over to it.


But, maybe you should!  The Piazza della Libertà.


I happened to be there on a recent evening, on my way to meet a friend for dinner at a great neighborhood trattoria, and the sky was particularly dramatic as I walked by the piazza’s centerpiece, the neoclassical arch pictured above.

Piazza della Libertà is, in fact, the northernmost point of Florence’s historic center, at the end of Via Cavour. The piazza was created in the 19th century when the Viali di Circonvallazione was constructed around the city.   You can find the piazza in the center of this Google map.

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The most recognizable aspect of the piazza is the neoclassical Arco di Trionfo dei Lorena, or the Triumphal Arch of the Lorraine, which was constructed on this spot in the 1730s to celebrate the arrival of the new rulers of Tuscany, the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty.

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The arch was begun after 1737 in order to be finished in time for the January 1739 arrival of Francis Stephen of Lorraine, Holy Roman Emperor and Grand Duke of Tuscany.  Francis traveled to Florence with his wife, Maria Theresa, and his brother Charles.  They arrived on 20 January 1739 and stayed 3 months. Tuscany was governed by a viceroy, Marc de Beauvau-Craon, for the entire reign of Francis.

220px-Maria_Theresia_Familie Francis I and his family, by Martin van Meytens

The arch is attributed to Jean Nicolas Jadot, who was sent to Florence in anticipation of the arrival of the new ruler.  It is likely that Francesco Schamant of Lorraine also helped design the arch.  The statuary was added later, in 1744.

To celebrate the arrival of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, the newly-constructed arch would have been decorated with many ephemeral elements, including tapestries, to greet the new rulers as they processed along the Via San Gallo and into Florence in January 1739.  Below are the Grand Duchy of Tuscany’s flag and coat-of-arms.

Coat of arms
 The Arch was constructed just outside of the walls of Florence and in particular just outside the 14th-century Porto San Gallo, the main northern gate of the city. The gate is shown below.

The arch itself has 3 openings, a larger central one flanked by two smaller ones.  Ten classical columns with Corinthian capitals are attached to the arch. Most of the sculpture on the arch were added later, after the entry of the Habsburg rulers.  The sculptural program was probably produced locally.  They include bas-reliefs and depictions of flags and arms. The southern facade has two double-headed ages, which were the symbol of the Habsburg dynasty.  An equestrian statue is mounted on top of the arch; it is supposed to depict King Francis.



Six allegorical figures perch along the plinth, appearing to cringe as they are besieged by the swirling traffic that zooms around the piazza.

As for the rest of the elliptical shaped piazza, it was designed by architect Giuseppe Poggi in the 1860s and 70s; it is surrounded by palazzi Poggi designed, and has a pool with fountains in the center of the tree-lined park.

The square was originally named Piazza Camillo Cavour; it was changed in 1930 to Piazza Costanzo Ciano, in 1944 to Piazza Muti, and in the 1945 to Piazza della Libertà.