I have a fascination with doorways and love to photograph them when I’m on holiday. I’m fascinated because I think they say a lot about the places I visit: I like to speculate about what’s behind the door and what kind of place the building was in the past. I’m attracted to old, quirky and picturesque doorways because they have more character than modern one’s.
In October this year my wife and I went on holiday to Malta. It’s an interesting island. Malta has stunning coastlines, some beautiful old towns and villages, and the awe-inspiring Grand Harbour in Valletta. The people are polite and friendly too. Although Malta is a very crowded island and some of the modern building development dominates too much, it’s still a good place to visit.
When we were on on holiday I took hundreds of photographs of the island, and I’ll publish some of them in a future essay. In this essay though, I want to focus on eight doorways. They range from the commonplace to the grand, but I think they all have a story to tell.
Strait street in Malta’s capital city of Valletta, was once notorious for it’s bars and clubs. Malta has a history as a British military base and Carmen’s Bar is one of the places that developed to entertain the troops. Strait Street is now undergoing a resurgence, but this doorway is a reminder of its past. I have visions of a smoke-filled bar behind the doorway, with shady bouncers on the door. Perfect for a Maltese film noir!
Making a Grand Entrance
Despite all the new building, Malta has some fascinating architecture, especially in Valletta and some of the smaller towns like Vittoriosa and Mdina. Here are two examples from Valletta.
I love this slightly faded grand doorway with it’s pillars, wooden balcony, and the hint of marbled splendour indoors. The doorway tells much of the story of the building. The stone pillars and the marbled entrance, hint at it’s original purpose as a lavish private residence, the Palazzo Ferriera, built in the mid nineteenth century. Then there’s the large gilt sign, ‘Gio. Batta Delia’, from the days when it was a store that sold china and glassware and was advertised over the archway as a ’Showplace of Fine Arts’. In 2009 it became a Tommy Hilfiger clothing store, with much of the interior restored to its old splendour.
You’ll see intricately carved stone doorways and heavy wooden doors like this in most of Malta’s older towns. Malta has a history as an important military centre, with Valletta’s Grand Harbour as the centrepiece. I think this doorway reflects some of the confidence and grandeur of Valletta in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The building is part of Valletta’s old theatre and now houses the theatre museum. I can imagine affluent theatregoers stepping down from their carriages outside this door.
Shops and Workshops
Although I like the grand entrances of Malta, I think some of the simpler doorways are fascinating too. The next four photographs are from different places on the island, all with stories to tell.
The city of Birgu, also known as Vittoriosa, across the Grand Harbour from Valletta, is peaceful and picturesque. It’s a great place just to wonder round in and soak up the atmosphere. Although Birgu is technically a city, it’s more like a small town or large village, and this ‘Economical Grocery’ is very much in tune with the feel of the place. The grocery store is now closed, but I liked the ornate doorway and low key advertising.
I was really taken with this doorway, another one from Birgu. Briffa a common surname in Malta and artistika means artistic. Sadly I can’t make out the lettering on the left hand side of the sign, so I don’t know what kind of shop it was. What I like about this doorway is how harmonious it feels: the shape and colour of the door, the shape of the sign, and the warm sandstone of the building all blend in together.
This heavy old wooden door is at a gift shop in Valletta. I loved the texture of the wood and the iron bolts and locks. They give you a sense of security: you were certainly going to be safe in that building! The old enamel signs no longer advertise products in the shop, but I like the nostalgic reminders of shopping from the past. I like the idea of Viking Milk!
This neat and functional doorway to a gilder’s workshop is in Mdina, the old capital of Malta. A lot of the doorways I liked in Malta really harked back to the Island’s past, but this one was for a thriving business. Through the window we could see the gilder at work, and the workshop was crammed with picture frames, statues and ornaments. Malta has hundreds of churches, all fantastically ornate, so I imagine that there’s no shortage of work for gilders on the island.
The Grandest Doorways of all
Any photo-essay on Maltese doorways wouldn’t be complete without a picture of a church. I can’t remember ever seeing anywhere with more grand churches than Malta. Some of them are immense, and everywhere you look on the island you can see their huge red domes on the skyline. Even the smallest of villages has one. This picture is of Mosta Dome. The impressive doorway is a fitting introduction to the interior, which is spectacular.