In the past, people of ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians and the Sumerians, used to believe that doors symbolised the entrance to the afterlife. For that particular reason, many doors were decorated with such scenes. It is therefore not at all surprising that most of the doors preserved to this day once adorned places of worship. The earliest reports of the existence of doors come from ancient Egypt. And in many tombs there are still preserved pictures of people crossing the doorway to the afterlife. As you will see for yourself in what is to follow, the story of doors is truly fascinating.
According to historical sources, doors in distant past were constructed in the most simple ways. In places with warmer climate, such as Egypt, doors did not need frames. They were made of a whole piece of wood. In moist places, however, doors needed frames. Doors were just panels made of vertical boards held together by two or three horizontal ones. One of these vertical boards, or stiles, was the hanging stile. It had pivots – one on top and on the bottom, which in turn were inserted in sockets, located on the sill and lintel.
#1 Neolithic wooden door
Age: Around 5000 years
In 2010, during some construction work on a parking lot in Zurich, Switzerland, builders uncovered an interesting find. While digging for an underground parking lot they stumbled upon an extremely well-preserved door. According to archaeologists that dated the door, it was probably built as far back as 3063 BC. About the same time that the construction of Stonehenge began.
The wooden door was made of poplar. The team of expert say it is elegant and solid with hinges that time has spared. It is also distinguished by its “remarkable” design that was thought of to hold together the boards that make the door. Experts say that the severe weather conditions at the time when the door was made the way it was. It was to fit the massive, sturdy houses which were built to protect the inhabitants from the cold winds that blew across Lake Zurich. Archaeologists admit that the door also did a good job to protect people from the elements.
There is some information for another door, made of a single, massive piece of wood. Archaeologists assume it is even older from the Neolithic wooden door found in Zurich, dating it as far back as 3700 BC.
#2 Entry door of the Parish Church of St. Botolph
Country: The UK
Age: Around 1000 years
In the small town of Hadstock, in the county of Essex, there is a church – the Parish Church of St. Botolph. In spite of its size and the lack of tourists, the town is home to one of the oldest doors in the United Kingdom. An interesting fact to point out is that the door is still, to this day, in use!
In 2003, two Oxford scientists took samples from the door in an attempt to date it more accurately. The large oak door was lifted off its hinges and carefully laid on the church’s pews. The scientists took four samples and hang the door back on its hinges on the same day. The results from the tests made showed that the door was constructed between 1040 and 1070, confirming the hypothesis that this was the oldest door in the United Kingdom.
#3 The oak door at the Westminster Abbey
Country: The UK
Age: Around 900 years
The second oldest door in the United Kingdom was dated for the first time in August 2005. It is located at the Westminster Abbey. This is the only Anglo-saxon door remaining in the UK. The door dates as far back as the reign of Edward the Confessor; among the last Anglo-saxon kings of England and founder of the Abbey, born in 1003 AD. Scientists believe that the door is so well preserved today because it is inside the Abbey. It is also constantly in use, which entails some maintenance.
The first thorough archaeological study of the door was performed alongside a scientific dating of the door. A method known as dendrochronology was employed for the purpose. The dating of the door was carried out by scientists from a laboratory in Oxford. They came to the conclusion that the boards used in the construction of the door were made of wood that grew in 924-1030 AD. Because the bark and the sapwood were stripped down, the precise year the tree was cut down could not be established. According to scientists, however, it is likely that the tree was cut down somewhere between 1032 and 1064. The door itself was constructed in the 1050s.
The wooden door is made of five vertical oak boards, held together with three horizontal planks and iron bands. The most unusual thing about the way this wooden door was made are the canals milled into the vertical boards. The horizontal boards in turn are fitted in these milled canals. That way the door appears smooth on both sides. Usually, doors in that period were constructed with a smooth front. The backside of the door, on the other hand, showed the horizontal rails and iron bands, holding the vertical wooden boards together. The construction of the oak door at the Westminster Abbey is truly unique. It shows that it was made to connect two equally important interior spaces.
#4 Ancient Egyptian door in Karnak
Age: Around 3500 years
During routine archaeological work in Karnak in 2010, a team of archaeologists made and interesting find. A big red granite false door was discovered in the tomb of the vezire of Hatshepsut; the second female pharaoh of ancient Egypt.
The door is 175 centimeters tall, 100 centimeters wide, and about 50 centimeters thick. It is engraved with religious texts and tells the many titles of the vezire in whose tomb the door was found. Bearing in mind that the vezire held the title in 1474 BC, archaeologists believe the door is about 3500 years old.
It is interesting to note that the door was never used as a door. In ancient Egypt, fake doors – such as the one discovered – were used for tombs – to send the spirit of the dead to the afterlife.
#5 Bernward Doors
Age: Around 1000 years
One of the oldest doors preserved till the present days are Bernward Doors. They are made of two wings, each made of bronze in around 1050 AD. The doors were commissioned by Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim and depict scenes from the Bible. The left wing of the door depict scenes from Genesis, and the right one – scenes from Christ’s life. The Bernward Doors are rightfully considered to be a masterpiece of Ottonian art.
Each of the two wings of the door was cast whole. Taking into consideration the size of the door (the right wing is 472 centimeters tall and 125 centimeters wide, while the left is 472 centimeters tall and 114.5 centimeters wide) and its weight of 1.85 tonnes, casting the door was a feat for its time. The doors are made of a brass alloy, consisting of more than 80% copper and almost equal parts lead, zinc, and tin.
#6 The north door of the St. Edward church
Country: The UK
Age: Around 700 years
In Stow-on-the-Wold, a small town in Gloucestershire, southwest England, there is a small but beautiful church, named St. Edward. One of the most intriguing sights there is the beautiful seven-century old northern door of the church. To be fair, on its own, the door is not that majestic. The two yew trees that stand guard on each side of the door, however, create the illusion that you are in the world of fairy tales. This is probably the reason why a lot of people tend to speculate that J. R. R. Tolkien, the Lord of the Rings author, was inspired precisely by this door when he described the infamous “Doors of Durin”.
#7 The Boyana church door
Age: Around 700 years
Bulgaria also brags one of the oldest doors in the world, preserved to the present day – and the oldest in the country – the door of the Boyana church. According to scientists, the oak door of the Boyana church was made as far back as 1259. Even more fascinating – one could see knife and bullet marks on its surface. It is interesting to point out that the door shows the name of the master painter who painted the murals in the church. The inscription on the door was read by scientists in 2016 and says “Me, Vasiliy, wrote”. That way the team came to the conclusion that the writing in question was put there by Vasiliy Zograf. He was one of the master painters who painted the church in 1259.
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