The Wine Windows of Renaissance Florence Dispense Wine Safely Again During COVID-19

Everything old is new again and Tuscany’s buchette del vino—wine windows—are definitely rolling with the times.

As Lisa Harvey earlier reported in Atlas Obscurabuchette del vino became a thing in 1559, shortly after Cosimo I de’ Medici decreed that Florence-dwelling vineyard owners could bypass taverns and wine merchants to sell their product directly to the public. Wealthy wine families eager to pay less in taxes quickly figured out a workaround that would allow them to take advantage of the edict without requiring them to actually open their palace doors to the rabble:

Anyone on the street could use the wooden or metal knocker ... and rap on a wine window during its open hours. A well-respected, well-paid servant, called a cantiniere and trained in properly preserving wine, stood on the other side. The cantiniere would open the little door, take the customer’s empty straw-bottomed flask and their payment, refill the bottle down in the cantina (wine cellar), and hand it back out to the customer on the street.

Seventy years further on, these literal holes-in-the-walls served as a means of contactless delivery for post-Renaissance Italians in need of a drink as the second plague pandemic raged.

Scholar Francesco Rondinelli (1589-1665) detailed some of the extra sanitation measures put in place in the early 1630s:

A metal payment collection scoop replaced hand-to-hand exchange

Immediate vinegar disinfection of all collected coins

No exchange of empty flasks brought from home

Customers who insisted on bringing their own reusable bottles could do self-serve refills via a metal tube, to protect the essential worker on the other side of the window.

Sound familiar?

After centuries of use, the windows died out, falling victim to flood, WWII bombings, family relocations, and architectural renovation.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has definitely played a major role in putting wine windows back on the public’s radar, but Babae, a casual year-old restaurant gets credit for being the first to reactivate a disused buchetta del vino for its intended purpose, selling glasses of red for a single hour each day starting in August 2019.

Now several other authentic buchette have returned to service, with menus expanded to accommodate servings of ice cream and coffee.

Given this success, perhaps they’ll take a cue from Japan’s 4.6 million vending machines, and begin dispensing an even wider array of items.

They may even take a page from the past, and send some of the money they take in back out, along with food and yes—wine—to sustain needy members of the community.

The Buchette del Vino Associazi Culturale currently lists 146 active and inactive wine windows in Florence and the surrounding regions, accompanying their findings with photos and articles of historical relevance.

Via Atlas Obscura

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Virtual Tour of Ancient Rome, Circa 320 CE: Explore Stunning Recreations of The Forum, Colosseum and Other Monuments

If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’re likely familiar with the simulation hypothesis, the idea that conscious experience is nothing more than a computer program. This concept has many sci-fi implications, from Matrix-like scenarios to the radical idea that everything in the universe is software, run by incomprehensible beings who might as well be gods. One of the more plausible versions suggests that we are living in an “ancestor simulation,” designed by future human societies to recreate their past.

Presumably, simulated ancestors would create their own ancestor simulations and so on, ad infinitum. There’s no way to know where on the continuum we fall, but wherever it is, ancestor simulations are on the way… maybe. They’re rudimentary at the moment, consisting of immersive video games and VR recreations of ancient cities.

Each iteration, however, is better than the last, as we have seen in the case of Rome Reborn (or Rome Reborn®), a 3D digital modeling project designed to recreate the city’s architecture as it was in 320 CE, through expert renderings informed by architectural historians and "virtual archaeologists" like Dr. Bernard Frischer, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia.

Back in a 2012 Open Culture post, Matthias Rascher explained the significance of this year, “when Rome’s population had reached its peak (about one million) and the first Christian churches were being built.” Historians will also recognize 320 as following directly on the heels of the Donation of Constantine that gave the city to the Pope. We can tour the virtual streets of this rapidly changing ancient city, though the burgeoning population is nowhere in evidence. Nothing moves, grows, or changes in Rome Reborn. In that sense it is still like so many previous representations of antiquity.

Now in version 3.0, Rome Reborn began as a 3D model in 2007, and was first owned by the Regents of the University of California. It now operates, under the auspices of the University of Virginia, as a private company called Flyover Zone. They have other such digital recreations in their product line, including “Athens Reborn®, Hadrian's Villa Reborn®, Baalbek Reborn®, Egypt Reborn®, and Historical Games®.” Rome Reborn’s designer, Danila Loginov, has released increasingly detailed promos of the project over the years, and you can see these many videos here.

To fully experience this simulated Rome, you’ll need a Virtual Reality headset. The third version of the 3D model has been made publicly available. “You can immerse yourself in the ancient city and even enter into some of its most famous buildings while listening to the commentary of highly qualified experts,” the Rome Reborn site promises. Famous buildings one might explore include the Roman forum and the Basilica of Maxentius. It is not an experience based in realism. In some of the simulations “you can opt for a whirlwind  flyover tour of the city,” notes Meilan Solly at Smithsonian.

This roughly two-hour tour is like nothing any ancient Roman ever experienced. “Comparatively, the two site visits place users in the driver’s seat,” Solly writes, “affording them freedom to roam through reconstructed streets and halls.” It’s not quite the stuff of a simulated universe just yet, but it may not be too far in the future before Rome Reborn® fully lives up to its name. Learn more about ancient Rome, circa 320 CE, in the videos here, and learn more about Rome Reborn at their official site.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Explore the Ruins of Timgad, the “African Pompeii” Excavated from the Sands of Algeria

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Fifteen centuries after its fall, the Roman Empire lives on in unexpected places. Take, for instance, the former colonial city of Timgad, located in Algeria 300 miles from the capital. Founded by the Emperor Trajan around 100 AD as Colonia Marciana Ulpia Traiana Thamugadi, it thrived as a piece of Rome in north Africa before turning Christian in the third century and into a center of the Donatist sect in the fourth. The three centuries after that saw a sacking by Vandals, a reoccupation by Christians, and another sacking by Berbers. Abandoned and covered by sand from the Sahara from the seventh century on, Timgad was rediscovered by Scottish explorer James Bruce in 1765. But not until the 1880s, under French rule, did a proper excavation begin.

Today a visitor to the ruins of Timgad can see the outlines of exactly where each of its buildings once stood (especially if they have the aerial view of the photo above, recently tweeted out by Architecture Hub). This, in part, is what qualified the place for inscription on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

"With its square enclosure and orthogonal design based on the cardo and decumanus, the two perpendicular routes running through the city, it is an excellent example of Roman town planning," says UNESCO's web site. Its "remarkable grid system" — quite normal to 21st-century city-dwellers, much less so in second-century Africa — makes it "a typical example of an urban model" that "continues to bear witness to the building inventiveness of the military engineers of the Roman civilization, today disappeared."

"Within a few generations of its birth," writes Messy Nessy," the outpost had expanded to over 10,000 residents of both Roman, African, as well as Berber descent. "The extension of Roman citizenship to non-Romans was a carefully planned strategy of the Empire," she adds. "In return for their loyalty, local elites were given a stake in the great and powerful Empire, benefitted from its protection and legal system, not to mention, its modern urban amenities such as Roman bath houses, theatres, and a fancy public library." Timgad's library, which "would have housed manuscripts relating to religion, military history and good governance," seems to have been fancy indeed, and its ruins indicate the purchase Roman culture managed to attain in this far-flung settlement.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Timgad's library is just one element of what UNESCO calls its "rich architectural inventory comprising numerous and diversified typologies, relating to the different historical stages of its construction: the defensive system, buildings for the public conveniences and spectacles, and a religious complex." Having outgrown its original street grid, Timgad "spread beyond the perimeters of its ramparts and several major public buildings are built in the new quarters: Capitolium, temples, markets and baths," most of which date from the city's "Golden Age" in the Severan period between 193 and 235.

Image Alan and Flora Botting via Flickr Commons

This makes for an African equivalent of Pompeii, the Roman city famously buried and thus preserved in the explosion of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79. But it is lesser-known Timgad, with its still clearly laid-out blocks, its recognizable public facilities, and its demarcated "downtown" and "suburbs," that will feel more familiar to us today, whichever city in the world we come from.

via Architecture Hub/MessyNessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Take an 360° Interactive Tour Inside the Great Pyramid of Giza

You can’t take it with you if you've got nothing to take with you.

Once upon a time, the now-empty Great Pyramid of Giza was sumptuously appointed inside and out, to ensure that Pharaoh Khufu, or Cheops as he was known to the Ancient Greeks, would be well received in the afterlife.

Bling was a serious thing.

Thousand of years further on, cinematic portrayals have us convinced that tomb raiders were greedy 19th- and 20th-century curators, eagerly filling their vitrines with stolen artifacts.

There’s some truth to that, but modern Egyptologists are fairly convinced that Khufu’s pyramid was looted shortly after his reign, by opportunists looking to grab some goodies for their journey to the afterlife.

At any rate, it’s been picked clean.

Perhaps one day, we 21st-century citizens can opt in to a pyramid experience akin to Rome Reborn, a digital crutch for our feeble imagination to help us past the empty sarcophagus and bare walls that have defined the world’s oldest tourist attraction’s interiors for … well, not quite ever, but certainly for FlaubertMark Twain, and 12th-century scholar Abd al-Latif.

Fast forwarding to 2017, the BBC’s Rajan Datar hosted "Secrets of the Great Pyramid," a podcast episode featuring Egyptologist Salima Ikram, space archaeologist Dr Sarah Parcak, and archaeologist, Dr Joyce Tyldesley.

The experts were keen to clear up a major misconception that the 4600-year-old pyramid was built by aliens or enslaved laborers, rather than a permanent staff of architects and engineers, aided by Egyptian civilians eager to barter their labor for meat, fish, beer, and tax abatement.

Datar’s question about a scanning project that would bring further insight into the Pyramid of Giza's construction and layout was met with excitement.

This attraction, old as it is, has plenty of new secrets to be discovered.

We’re happy to share with you, readers, that 3 years after that episode was taped, the future is here.

The scanning is complete.

Witness the BBC’s 360° tour inside the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Use your mouse to crane your neck, if you like.

As of this writing, you could tour the pyramid in person, should you wish—the usual touristic hoards are definitely dialed down.

But, given the contagion, perhaps better to tour the King’s Chamber, the Queen’s Chamber, and the Grand Gallery virtually, above.

(An interesting tidbit: the pyramid was more distant to the ancient Romans than the Colosseum is to us.)

Listen to the BBC’s "Secrets of the Great Pyramid" episode here.

Tour the Great Pyramid of Giza here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Tony Hawk & Architectural Historian Iain Borden Tell the Story of How Skateboarding Found a New Use for Cities & Architecture

Wouldn't we enjoy seeing our cities like an architectural historian, in command of deep knowledge about the technology, ideology, and aesthetics of the buildings we pass by every day? For most of us, this would hugely enrich our experience of the urban environment. But then so, less obviously, would seeing our cities like a skateboarder, in command of deep knowledge about how to glide, jump, and bounce along the streets, the buildings, and all the myriad pieces of infrastructure as a surfer rides the waves. The architectural historian learns the city with his mind; the skater learns the city, no less painstakingly, with his body.

The Vox video above brings mind and body come together in the persons of Iain Borden, author of Skateboarding and the City: A Complete History, and Tony Hawk, to whom even those wholly ignorant of skateboarding need no introduction. Their complementary interviews reveal the history of modern skateboarding through the sport's "legendary spots": public-school campuses, abandoned swimming pools, dry drainage ditches, forgotten sections of concrete pipe. In the main this selection reflects the highly suburbanized 1970s in which skateboards first came to popularity in the United States. But at its outer limits, such as the Mt. Baldy pipeline in northern California, it also shows how far skaters will go in search of the ideal place to ride.

Though purpose-build skate parks do exist (their numbers kept low by formidable insurance challenges), serious skaters prefer spaces not expressly designed for skating. This is thanks in large part to the innovations of a skater with less wider-world name recognition than Hawk, but no less influence within the sport: Natas Kaupas. Hawk remembers the thoughts triggered by footage of the young Kaupas skating masterfully through his neighborhood in the 1987 film Wheels of Fire: "Wow, you can skate curbs like that? You can skate benches? You can skate fire hydrants? The whole world is a skate park now." Suddenly, Borden adds, "you didn't need to be in California, or in the Arizona desert, or in Florida anymore. You could be anywhere."

Reviewing Borden's Skateboarding and the City, Jack Layton in Urban Studies highlights its history of "how the assemblage of materials that makes up cities has been – in countless ways – re-imagined by the skateboarder to create acceleration, rotation, friction and flow." It's easy to forget, Layton writes, that "along with facilitating commerce, transport and habitation, cities can be spaces that facilitate play, exhilaration and pleasure." Despite often having been regarded as public nuisances, skateboarders are "a constant reminder that our cities are creative and rich places," says Borden. With the exception of the skate parks secretly constructed in hidden urban spaces across the world, skaters, of course, don't build the city — but they do show us some of its untapped potential.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Introduction to Hagia Sophia: After 85 Years as a Museum, It’s Set to Become a Mosque Again

No tour of Istanbul can fail to include Hagia Sophia. The same is true enough of the British Museum in London or the Louvre in Paris, but Hagia Sophia is more than a museum: it's also spent different stretches of its near-millennium-and-a-half of existence as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a mosque. Stripped of its religious function in the mid-1930s by the administration of President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, remembered for his creation of a secular Turkish republic, the majestic building has spent the past 85 years as not just a museum but the country's top tourist attraction. Now, according to a decree issued last week by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hagia Sophia will become a mosque again.

"Erdogan, like his predecessor Ataturk, appears to be using the fate of the Hagia Sophia to make a political statement and score some points with his supporters," writes Ars Technica's Kiona N. Smith. But so did Emperor Justinian I of the Eastern Roman Empire, who "ordered the cathedral’s construction in the first place for similar reasons."

Built on the site where two cathedrals had previously stood, both burned down in different revolts, "the Hagia Sophia has always been as much a political landmark as a religious or cultural one — so it’s not surprising that it has also changed hands, and functions, at least four times in its history." Ataturk's secularization of Hagia Sophia entailed a restoration of its historic features: "Christian mosaics that had been plastered over in the late 1400s were carefully uncovered, and they shared the domed space with Muslim prayer niches and pulpits."

You can get a clearer sense of what the building's architecture and decoration reveal in the animated TED-Ed lesson at the top of the post. Educator Kelly Wall points to, among other features, the ancient fortifications that "hint at the strategic importance of the surrounding city, founded as Byzantium by Greek colonists in 657 BCE."; the foundation stones that "murmur tales from their homelands of Egypt and Syria, while columns taken from the Temple of Artemis recall a more ancient past"; and, beneath the golden dome that "appears suspended from heaven," reinforcing Corinthian columns, "brought from Lebanon after the original dome was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 558 CE," that offer a reminder of "fragility and the engineering skills such a marvel requires." The BBC 360-degree virtual tour just above goes into greater detail on these elements and others.

According to reports cited by Hyperallergic's Hakim Bishara, "tourists will still have access to the site, although it might be closed to visitors during prayer time." Still, "art historians and conservationists worry that the Turkish authorities might decide to cover up or remove the centuries-old Byzantine mosaics and Christian iconography that adorn the celebrated structure, as was done in other converted churches in Turkey in the past." Good job, then, that irrepressible television traveler Rick Steves has already shot his episode on Istanbul, which (from 9:34) naturally features a visit to Hagia Sophia. But whether as a museum, cathedral, a mosque, or whatever it becomes next, the building will surely remain what Steves called "the high point of Byzantine architecture" and "the pinnacle of that society's sixth-century glory days." And no leader of Turkey, no matter what their beliefs about church and state, will want the tourists to stop coming.

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The World According to Le Corbusier: An Animated Introduction to the Most Modern of All Architects

Among modern architects, was any architect ever so modernity-minded as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known a Le Corbusier? Like many cultural figures well-known outside their field — Franz Kafka, George Orwell, David Lynch — his name has long since been adjectivized, though nowadays the term "Corbusian" is seldom used as a compliment. Many a self-described opponent of modern architecture, whatever they consider modern architecture to be, points to Le Corbusier as the originator of all the inhumanity of buildings designed over the past 90 years, and especially the second half of the 20th century: their drab colors (or lack thereof), their depressing austerity, their forbidding scale, their dark corridors, their leaky roofs. But how much, really, is he to blame?

"Le Corbusier recommended that the houses of the future be ascetic and clean, disciplined and frugal," says The Book of Life, the companion site to Alain de Botton's School of Life. Remembered as an architect but both an artist and engineer at heart, he thought that "true, great architecture – meaning, architecture motivated by the quest for efficiency – was more likely to be found in a 40,000-kilowatt electricity turbine or a low-pressure ventilating fan" than in the capitals of old Europe. For inspiration he looked to modern machines, especially those that had begun appearing in the sky in his youth: "he observed that the requirements of flight of necessity rid airplanes of all superfluous decoration," says de Botton in the animated School of Life primer above, "and so unwittingly transformed them into successful pieces of architecture."

Hence Le Corbusier's infamous pronouncement that "a house is a machine for living in," which first appeared in his 1923 manifesto Vers une architecture (Towards an Architecture). Le Corbusier was a writer — and a painter, and a furniture designer, and an urban planner — as much as he was an architect. "The problem is that both his detractors and his acolytes want to believe that his written manifestos, urbanistic visions, utopian ideologies and theories are compatible with his buildings," writes Jonathan Meades, sometime architectural critic and full-time resident of Le Corbusier's Unité d'habitation apartment block in Marseilles. But "Le Corbusier, writer, has little in common with Le Corbusier, maker of the century’s most profoundly sensuous, most moving architecture": one was a "self-advertising propagandist," the other "an artist-craftsman of peerless originality."

Le Corbusier's headline-making urban-renewal proposals included, Meades writes, "the destruction of the Right Bank in Paris and its replacement with ranks of cruciform skyscrapers"; he also proposed demolishing Manhattan, as de Botton says, "to make way for a fresh and more ‘Cartesian’ attempt at urban design." Le Corbusier's utopian dreams of colossal skyscrapers placed in the middle of vast green parkland and surrounded by elevated freeways led, in this telling, to "the dystopian housing estates that now ring historic Paris, the wastelands from which tourists avert their eyes in confused horror and disbelief on their way into the city." But if cities can still use Le Corbusier's planning ideas as a negative example, they have more to learn from the positive example of his aesthetic sensibility, which remains exhilarating today, even amid a kind of modernity the man himself could never have imagined.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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