As I was buzzing around town photographing citofoni, I realized there was another common feature of Milanese doors that has always fascinated me. The little door inside the big door.
Many of the older palazzi have large double wooden doors, big enough to let a horse-drawn carriage trundle through, into the inner courtyard. Though Medieval in appearance, they are frequently equipped with fisheye mirrors, flashing lights, and the ubiquitous, passo carrabile sign to keep people from parking their cars in front of them. But they also have, if you look closely, the aforementioned small doors designed into the woodwork of the larger doors for people to pass in and out easily on foot.
Some of the portoni, or big doors, are so ornate in design, that their smaller doors are perfectly hidden from view. You can really only detect their presence if you notice their small brass-plated keyholes or the vertical cuts at the bottom.
These are the equivalent of cat doors for people. And in the oldest buildings, they are often much shorter than the average modern man, so that stooping is required to pass through. I love these details. Absurd as it may seem, it’s become a habit of mine to try and find the little doors inside the big doors as quickly as possible. A silly game I play when cruising around Milan on bike or foot. Modern doors have carried on the tradition, and while the game of finding the little doors is not nearly so satisfying, just admiring the architectural flourishes surrounding them is.
But the best of all, is spying someone slipping out through the small door, as if they’re leaving a secret reality in order to slip seamlessly into the one the rest of us inhabit, or traveling through a time warp from some nameless then to the well-known now. There’s something about the little doors themselves that inspires a certain furtive posture, a particular way of trying to enter or exit unnoticed, so that no matter how innocent the errand, one looks suspect. These doors are private. They hold secrets. This is clear.
[If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Can I come in?”]