Brief History of Doors

Stone door in Hampi (India)

A door is a coupled or otherwise mobile barrier that allows access into an enclosure. A door’s primary and principal purpose is to present security by regulating access to the portal (doorway). Conventionally, it is a panel that fits into the portal of a house, room, or vehicle. Doors are usually made of a material befitted to the task of which it is to perform. Doors are generally attached by straps within the gateway but can be moved by other means such as slides or balancing.

Let’s look at the Brief History of Doors

The earliest in records are those exhibited in the paintings of some Egyptian tombs, in which they are shown as single or double doors, each in a single piece of wood. Doors were once believed to be the literal doorway to the afterlife, and some doors leading to important places included designs of the afterlife. In Egypt, where the climate is intensely dry, there was no doubt of their warping, but in other countries, it was necessary to frame them, which according to Vitruvius was done with stiles and rails: the spaces enclosed being filled with panels (tympana) let into grooves made in the stiles and rails. The stiles were the upright boards, one of which, tenoned or connected, is known as the hanging stile, the other as the middle or meeting stile. The horizontal cross pieces are the top rail, bottom rail, and middle or intermediate rails.

The most aged doors were made of timber, such as those associated with in the Biblical depiction of King Solomon’s temple being in olive wood (I Kings vi. 31-35), which were carved and overlaid with gold. The doors dwelt upon in Homer seem to have been cased in silver or brass. Besides olive wood, elm, cedar, oak, and cypress were used. A 5,000-year-old door has been found by archaeologists in Switzerland.

All ancient doors were hung by pivots at the top and bottom of the hanging stile which worked in sockets in the lintel and sill, the latter being always in some hard stone such as basalt or granite. Those found at Nippur by Dr. Hilprecht dating from 2000 BC were in dolerite. The tenons of the gates at Balawat were sheathed with bronze (now in the British Museum). These doors or gates were hung in two leaves, each about 2.54 m (100 in) wide and 8.2 m (27 ft) high; they were encased with bronze bands or strips, 25.4 cm (10.0 in) high, covered with repoussé decoration of figures. The wood doors would seem to have been about 7.62 cm (3.00 in) thick, but the hanging stile was over 360 millimeters (14 in) diameter. Other sheathings of various sizes in bronze have been found, which proves this to have been the universal method adopted to protect the wood pivots. In the Hauran in Syria, where timber is scarce the doors were made in stone, and one measuring 1.63 m (5.3 ft) by 0.79 m (31 in) is in the British Museum; the band on the meeting stile shows that it was one of the leaves of a double door. At Kuffeir near Bostra in Syria, Burckhardt found stone doors, 2.74 to 3.048 m (8.99 to 10.00 ft) high, being the entrance doors of the town.

Ancient Greek and Roman doors were either single doors, double doors, triple doors, sliding doors or folding doors, in the last case the leaves were hinged and folded back. In Eumachia, is a painting of a door with three leaves. In the tomb of Theron at Agrigentum there is a single four-panel door carved in stone. In the Blundell collection is a bas-relief of a temple with double doors, each leaf with five panels. Among existing examples, the bronze doors in the church of SS. Cosmas and Damiano, in Rome, are important examples of Roman metal work of the best period; they are in two leaves, each with two panels, and are framed in bronze. Those of the Pantheon are similar in design, with narrow horizontal panels in addition, at the top, bottom and middle. Two other bronze doors of the Roman period are in the Lateran Basilica.

The Greek scholar Heron of Alexandria created the earliest known automatic door in the 1st century AD during the era of Roman Egypt. The first foot-sensor-activated automatic door was made in China during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui (r. 604–618), who had one installed for his royal library. The first automatic gate operators were later created in 1206 by Arab inventor Al-Jazari.

Copper and its alloys were integral in medieval architecture. The doors of the church of the Nativity at Bethlehem (6th century) are covered with plates of bronze, cut out in patterns. Those of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople, of the 8th and 9th century, are wrought in bronze, and the west doors of the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle (9th century), of similar manufacture, were probably brought from Constantinople, as also some of those in St. Marks, Venice. The bronze doors on the Aachen Cathedral in Germany date back to about 800 AD. Bronze baptistery doors at the Cathedral of Florence were completed in 1423 by Ghiberti.

Of the 11th and 12th centuries there are numerous examples of bronze doors, the earliest being one at Hildesheim, Germany (1015). The Hildesheim design affected the concept of Gniezno door in Poland. Of others in South Italy and Sicily, the following are the finest: in Sant Andrea, Amalfi (1060); Salerno (1099); Canosa (1111); Troia, two doors (1119 and 1124); Ravello (1179), by Barisano of Trani, who also made doors for Trani cathedral; and in Monreale and Pisa cathedrals, by Bonano of Pisa. In all these cases the hanging stile had pivots at the top and bottom. The exact period when the hinge was substituted is not quite known, but the change apparently brought about another method of strengthening and decorating doors, viz, with wrought-iron bands of infinite varieties of design. As a rule three bands from which the ornamental work springs constitute the hinges, which have rings outside the hanging stiles fitting on to vertical tenons run into the masonry or wooden frame. There is an early example of the 12th century in Lincoln; in France the metal work of the doors of Notre Dame at Paris is perhaps the most beautiful in execution, but examples are endless throughout France and England.

The earliest Renaissance doors in France are those of the cathedral of St. Sauveur at Aix (1503). In the lower panels there are figures 3 ft (0.91 m). high in Gothic niches, and in the upper panels a double range of niches with figures about 2 ft (0.61 m). high with canopies over them, all carved in cedar. The south door of Beauvais Cathedral is in some respects the finest in France; the upper panels are carved in high relief with figure subjects and canopies over them. The doors of the church at Gisors (1575) are carved with figures in niches subdivided by classic pilasters superimposed. In St. Maclou at Rouen are three magnificently carved doors; those by Jean Goujon have figures in niches on each side, and others in a group of great beauty in the center. The other doors, probably about forty to fifty years later, are enriched with bas-reliefs, landscapes, figures and elaborate interlaced borders.

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