As you meander the streets of a vintage city like old Cartagena, Colombia, take time to notice the details – plant-strewn balconies, antique cracked windowsills, the intricate doorways with sometimes massive doors and… the door knockers.
Yes, antique door knockers adorn the doors of many older period houses and mansions. Cartagena is known for door knockers, aldabas, which were used to indicate the status of the residents inside. The larger and more elaborate the aldaba usually signaled wealth and referenced status. Lizards, for example, were associated with a family’s royal Spanish heritage.
The use of these attention-getters is said to date back several thousand years to ancient Greece. Doors replaced hangings for improved safety and privacy. Spartans would simply yell to alert the homeowner of their presence. The more sophisticated Greeks such as the Athenians adopted for the use of a door knocker.
But not just a door knocker.
Upper-class Greeks had slaves whose sole purpose was to answer the door. In fact, the door-opener slaves were chained to a heavy ring attached to the door in order to greet guests. If the slave fell asleep, the visitor rapped on the door with a short bar of iron attached to a chain. Evidently, some people took to using the bar as a weapon to attack the householder so property owners turned to new technology.
The knocker evolved into a heavy ring fastened to the door by a plate to serve as both knocker and handle. Early designs were based on statues that stood in front of old Greek houses. These statues were created with distorted, grotesque features, and were thought to be useful to banish malevolent spirits and witches. Churches were the exception as they had no such statues outside. They had a holly water stoup by the entrance of the church’s main door that they thought was enough to deter malignant spirits.
Good luck door knockers were used to insure good fortune to the dwelling, and were said to have magical or healing properties. These door knockers were crafted using a motif of good luck charms including horseshoes, stars, suns, angels and flowers. Many intricate door knockers are in the shapes of human heads or mythical beasts.
One popular shape is a hand. This is often seen in Muslim countries, and is thought to symbolize the Hand of Fatima protecting the house from evil as well as showing that the occupants of that house followed the Muslim faith. It was also assumed that there were different knockers, one male and one female, to avoid women opening the door to a man. Each knocker made a different sound, so the woman would know when to open the door.
Elaborate or plain, door knockers around the world have been used to symbolize hospitality and good luck as well as to serve as a warning or to ward off bad spirits. So be sure to keep an eye out for these striking door adornments in the old town sections of Cartagena and Quito as well as in colonial towns such as Colta and Ingapirca in our newest President’s Pick: Ecuador & Colombia Exploration.
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