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Portals of Puglia

A door knocker and key on an antique door in Francavilla Fontana.

A door knocker and key on an antique door in Francavilla Fontana.

Some people are fascinated by clouds. They photograph them endlessly, post them on their social media channel of choice and delight in their endless variations. You could substitute clouds for just about any other subject, but the results of the same: a subconscious attraction to a specific visual subject that permeates one’s personal photo albums.

This gate near Locorotondo features finial details common to the gates of this period.

This gate near Locorotondo features finial details common to the gates of this period.

After fruits and vegetables in markets, I am drawn to doors and gates. Not just any doors and gates, though. They must be old, preferably disused, with knobs and latches that are hopelessly rusted. The best ones have a timeworn patina, with fading paint and splinters. Sometimes the finials are missing; often the doors are listing on their hinges. I can’t help but wonder what’s behind them. And what happened to the people who put them in place so long ago?

This door in the centro storico of Galatina deep in the heel of Italy's boot is still in use today.

This door in the centro storico of Galatina deep in the heel of Italy’s boot is still in use today.

Puglia’s villages and rural countryside are treasure troves of the doors and gates that inspire me. Their colors reflect the palette of this part of southern Italy: the cobalt blue of the summer sky, the deep rust of sunbaked earth and the flinty gray-green of olive leaves shimmering in the breeze. Some of the gates mirror Martina Franca’s love of baroque and rococo in the twists and curls of their ornamentation. Others manifest the sober practicality of rural contadini.

Smaller door within a door on an abandoned trullo in Pascaorsa.

Smaller door within a door on an abandoned trullo in Pascaorsa.

The hand-forged door hinges and latch hardware aren’t used much anymore, but they’re strong and stalwart, still resisting intruders and vagabonds the way they’ve done for centuries. Wooden doors made from oaks felled on this land on abandoned stone houses are still stout, harder than metal after hundreds of years of oxidation. These utilitarian portals are proud, yet unassuming, not unlike the people who made them to last.

Gates like these dot the countryside in the Valle d'itria. They remind me that doors everywhere are just waiting to be opened.

Gates like these dot the countryside in the Valle d’itria. They remind me that doors everywhere are just waiting to be opened.

So I photograph doors and gates like these, stopping abruptly on my bike or when walking through town. They’re all different; all equally compelling. I can’t resist them because they are as much a part of the pull of Puglia as its more celebrated charms—a link to the past here as indelible as the natural environment. May they always remain quietly in place, guarding their secrets for the next generation.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I do this too. I have endless photos of doors, knobs, hinges and all kinds of decorations. Your photographs are beautiful.

    March 23, 2013
  2. You are SO kind, Debra. I need to get my photographic act together so I am now looking at stepping up in terms of my equipment. Everything you see is shot with an iPhone 4s, but for so much of what I want to depict, it’s not really adequate. Any advice re. cameras?

    March 23, 2013
    • I use a Canon G12, point and shoot. You can do more with it than I do, but I don’t have the patience to fiddle too much. I think a good eye is more important than the camera. I just love the detail in these old doors and the peeling paint. Italy is so beautiful!

      March 23, 2013
  3. Anthony Calciano #

    I enjoy reading of the intensity and fondness of Puglia.
    Tony C

    March 23, 2013
    • Thank you so much, Tony. I’m really pleased you’re enjoying revisting your visit to Puglia. Anytime you’re ready for an encore, we’re here. We’d love to see you!

      March 25, 2013
  4. Cynthia Mathews #

    Wow. Stunning blog!! How did I not know about this earlier? Anyway, I love it — have read about 10 earlier posts, and looking forward to more — and have signed up to get the future posts too. Mmm … brought back so many great memories and images from our all-too-brief vacation in Puglia. I’ll share your blog with my daughter too. With you in spirit!

    March 24, 2013
    • Dear Cynthia–I’m delighted you’ve found the blog and are enjoying it. We’re a long way from Santa Cruz these days! I hadn’t realized that you had visited Puglia. When were you here? Where did you go? I’d love to hear more about it.

      March 25, 2013
  5. Jessica Wolf #

    Catherine–these are really beautiful. (I recognize you from our birth class in Santa Cruz! Hope you and your ‘babe’ and family are well!) Have fun in Italy!

    March 24, 2013
    • Hi, Jessia–So happy that you liked the photos and that you got in touch! And I think we know one another from even earlier . . . Trattoria Primizia! I’d love to hear how you’re doing and what you’re up to. All the best–Catherine

      March 25, 2013

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