Amongst the free eye candy visible to anyone strolling the streets of Paris are doors of astounding beauty and history. No need to stand in a long museum line or shell out a fistful of euros to view this spectacle. The only requirement: slow down and look around!
Doorways hold symbolic power as gateways or as portals to the unknown. The historic doors of Paris invite us to travel into the past and imagine musketeers and nobles, Belle Èpoque beauties and gents, writers, painters and flappers.
Doors may be the only remnant of an ancient building. Facades get remodeled over the centuries. Doorways can be a convenient method of dating a building.
Older doors are often porte-cochères, carriage entrances into the courtyards lying beyond. Look for doors dating to the 1600’s in the Marais and on Île-Saint-Louis. They are wooden with two leaves.
Usually one of the leaves will have a door knocker indicating the pedestrian entrance. Studded nails affix wooden plaques arranged in decorative grids. The earliest nails were round headed. Nails were not only decorative; they protected the wood from damage by carriages knocking against it.
As the century progresses, the designs evolve. Moldings and ornamental carvings appear.
The door is from the Hôtel de Saint-Aignan at 71 rue du Temple. It was built in 1640 and named for the Duc de Saint-Aignan after he purchased it in 1687. He was a favorite of King Louis XIV and became Minister of State.
Two carved Medusa heads by Renaudin on the door of 47 rue Vieille-du-Temple are oft photographed images in the Marais.
Notice how dramatically these porte-cochères have morphed during the 1600’s.
By the 1700 and 1800’s the style had become more ornate and rococo.
Wrought iron began being used in doors in the late 1700’s and flourished in the 1800’s as new and easier handling processes developed during the Industrial Revolution. Initially small wrought iron grids were inserted into the upper part of doors.
In the mid-1800’s, Renaissance elements became popular.
The sinuous lines of Art Nouveau made their appearance in doorways of the late 1800’s up to World War I.
The last great historical era for Paris doors is the post World War I Art Deco period. This lasted into the 1930’s when the depression and then World War Two took its toll.
Try taking an evening walk to look at doors. Entryway lighting highlights the details of glass and iron doorways.
The doors of Paris represent a beautiful and accessible part of the city’s artistic patrimony. Seize the opportunity to appreciate the free historical panorama visible from the sidewalks of Paris.