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For visitors in any context, doors hold a special significance. As I worked my way through some of the archived materials from the University of Washington Italian Hilltowns Program housed in the Civita Institute’s Sala Grande, it was clear that I wasn’t the only one interested in doors and gates and windows. But a noticeable difference was the focus of the interest. Student projects documented architectural styles, details, age, and construction materials. My interests lay more along the lines of the enormous variety of doors in Civita. Every door seemed to have its own particular beauty that it carried along with its long, imagined history.

The ancient Romans had advanced architectural elements and were known to have used single, double, sliding, and folding doors. In fact, the Roman god Janus is the god of doors and doorways, which makes him of course, the god of beginnings and endings. So I began my discovery process with doors.

Doors also symbolize transitions. At the simplest level, a doorway represents movement from one place to another, but in religion, mythology and literature, it can also depict the passage from one world to another. A deeper personal meaning arises when doors, gates, and passageways serve as symbolic transitions for individuals experiencing change. Nearly everyone has a memory of stopping to take a deep breath before crossing some kind of threshold—an interview, a meeting with a teacher or mentor, or a dining room filled with laughing, happy people, none of whom we know.

Taking that step across a doorway means you’ve crossed a boundary. It might be a place where two places (or cultures or experiences) meet, or taking chances and leaving the past behind. These were all appropriate musings for a visitor in Civita and rich mapping material. In composition and layout, this map reflects these concepts of intimate and outsider; public or private as well as mapping locations and offering architectural styles and details.

For visitors in any context, doors hold special significance. Here in Civita, since I am most certainly a visitor, I’ve found myself taking a particular interest in them, although I am hardly alone in this respect.

Here in the Civita Institute’s Sala Grande there are years of archived materials from the University of Washington’s Italian Hilltowns Program, which was based here in Civita di Bagnoregio and conducted for many years by Astra Zarina, one of the co-founders of the University’s Rome Center. After spending several hours browsing through the materials, it became obvious that doors and gates (and windows) occupy a good portion of the students’ study, but with a noticeable difference in focus.

Student projects tended to document architectural styles, details, age, and construction materials. My interests lie more along the lines of discovering and describing the enormous variety of doors here in Civita, every one of which seems to have its own particular beauty that it carries along with its long, imagined history. Many in fact are wonderful examples of palimpsests, something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. And then, there is their meaning.

The English word “portal” is, in fact, derived from the Latin portalis or Italian porta which means “door” or “gate.” Doors and doorways have been symbolic across cultures for as long as history has been recorded. A door is, of course, both an entrance and an exit, so it has been associated with portals and passageways on many levels throughout history. Doors are closely related to gates and thresholds because the three share some very similar symbolic features and sometimes work together to create passage.

Doors were first seen in recorded history on paintings inside Egyptian tombs. The ancient Romans had advanced architectural elements and were known to have used single, double, sliding, and folding doors. Fun fact: the Roman god Janus is the god of doors and doorways (which makes him, naturally, the god of beginnings, endings, and transitions.) Doors still continue to symbolize all of these elements today.

First and foremost, a door is an entrance. On a literal level, this will usually lead to the inside of something (a house, building, or other structure). But on a metaphorical level, a door can become an entrance to nearly anything, although in ancient art it is most commonly used to symbolize the entrance to another world. On a personal level, a door might symbolize whether you are an intimate or an outsider.

The other common symbolism for doors, and one that particularly interests me, is transitions. At the simplest level, a door or doorway symbolizes the transition and passageway from one place to another, or can symbolize the passage from one world to another in religion, mythology, and literature. But a deeper meaning arises when doors, gates, and passageways serve as symbolic transitions for individuals experiencing change. Most of us have a memory of taking a deep breath before crossing some kind of threshold, be it to an interview, a meeting with a teacher or mentor, or a dining room filled with happy, laughing people, none of whom we know.

Doors are associated with privacy, control, and protection much more than a welcoming, open-view gate. Often a doorway provides little view to the other side when closed. And when open, we generally take far less notice of them.

Taking that step across a doorway also means you’ve crossed a threshold and thresholds are typically boundaries or points at which two places (or cultures or experiences) meet. It is where two worlds come together and provide the traveler a point of passage. Crossing the threshold means taking chances and leaving the past behind. All appropriate musings for a visitor in Civita, and rich mapping material.

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