Italian Life Rules – The Anarchy of Shutters

One sunny autumn day Francesca and I were walking through a narrow medieval street downstream from the Ponte Vecchio.

“Anarchy,” said Francesca, “I like it.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Look up there,” she said, pointing to the top floor of a medieval building in the center of Florence.

“I don’t see anything anarchical.”

“The shutters. They are turquoise.” Francesca pointed at a pair of small shutters on one window on the top floor where a noble family’s servants once lived.

The Grand Duke watches over brown Florentine shutters
The Grand Duke watches over brown Florentine shutters

Sure enough they were a light blue-green — different from every other shutter in Florence. This is absolutely illegal under the code of the Belle Arti, the governing body of all aspects of historical buildings in Florence. All buildings inside the now mostly absent 16th century walls of the city are deemed to be historical.

Shutters in Florence and Tuscany, as well as some other regions in Italy, can only be dark brown, black, dark gray or dark green. Any other color or lighter shade of one of the allowed hues is deemed out of compliance. A homeowner can expect a registered letter in the mail demanding change on threat of a substantial fine.

Another Grand Duke and the window shutters in Piazza Signoria
Another Grand Duke and the window shutters in Piazza Signoria

Shutters are important to the smooth running of Italian life. Not the color, just the use of shutters. Only Americans and the British throw open their shutters and windows on a sweltering summer day in hopes of catching a stray breeze. (As in “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.” (Noel Coward).)

Shutters throughout Tuscany are consistent
Shutters throughout Tuscany are consistent

The Italians know that windows and shutters must be closed by 9am to hold in the night’s coolness and then at sunset they must be opened throughout the house to cambiare l’aria (change the air) throughout the night. Of course, the window in the bedroom will be closed as the occupants retire to prevent the dreaded draft (colpo d’aria) from striking the exposed necks of unwary sleepers. In the morning the process starts again.

The other kind of window shutter, the heavy rolling wood or metal blind, known as an avvolgibile, is found on most modern buildings (less than 100 years old) and provide the same service for standardized windows. (They are also better at denying entry to cat burglars.)

The lack of standardized window frames make traditional wooden shutters a common sight in the historic cities of Italy, but also prevents the use of screens to deny entry of the ever-present mosquitos. Itching tourists frequently complain about why even a five star hotel can’t figure out how to install window screens.

Green shutters do not keep the mosquitos out
Green shutters do not keep the mosquitos out

However those same tourists love the standardization of architectural artifacts, such as terracotta roofs and pale golden painted walls. It helps reinforce the cliché of Florentine and Tuscan style. But perhaps it would be better for Florence and the Florentines to take a risk and flaunt bright yellow, blue or even red and white striped shutters.


Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Life Rules (the book) is coming in Summer 2014. Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback (United Kingdom) (Italy) (Germany) (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

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